A mini-series dramatization of the controversial 1992 attack by federal agents on the Idaho home of Randy Weaver, a white seperatist. The ten-day siege, begun over a minor gun charge, resulted in the deaths of Weaver's son, wife and dog, and a U.S. Marshall. The incident caused major public outcry against the FBI and U.S. Marshals. Written by
Jonathan D. H. Parshall <email@example.com>
a flawed but basic synopsis of a political tragedy
RUBY RIDGE: AN American TRAGEDY
A CBS Television Mini-Series
Sunday 19 May and Tuesday 21 May, 1996
The movie Ruby Ridge: An American Tragedy is perhaps the most accessible summary of this case but it is not perfect: but, any attempt to present the events spread over a 1983-1992 time frame is going to be inadequate.
The Weavers were far from perfect people, but the reaction to the Weavers by federal law enforcement snowballed into an out-of-control situation that reflected badly on every agency involved.
Randall Weaver was caught up in a BATF investigation of his buddy, Frank Kumnick ("Tony Vickers" in the movie). After four years of BATF informant Gus Magisono presenting himself as a gun runner for a biker gang, Weaver agreed to make two illegal weapons in October of 1989.
In November 1989, BATF Agent handler Herb Byerly ("Burt Yeager") decided Kumnick was all talk and Weaver was just a hanger on. Byerly and Magisono intended to use Weaver to introduce Magisono to Chuck Howarth, move their investigation to Montana and drop Kumnick and Weaver. FBI informant Rico Valentino warned Weaver to avoid BATF informant Magisono. (Can we spell Turf War?) When Magisono asked Weaver to take him to meet Howarth, Weaver told Magisono people were saying he was a snitch and Weaver was not taking him anywhere. Byerly instructed Magisono to have no further contact with Weaver.
In June 1990, at a motel restaurant near town, Byerly and Gunderson approached Weaver with a deal to go undercover or go to jail. Weaver flipped Byerly's card in his face and told him where to go. Byerly filed an exaggerated report against Weaver alleging Weaver was a suspected bank robber. Beyerly had run a background check before approaching Weaver and knew Weaver did not have a police record.
Weaver was arrested and released with a 19 January 1991 court date. Pre-trial services sent Weaver a notice the hearing was moved to 20 March. The new date was actually 20 February; a fugitive warrant was issued when Weaver missed the hearing. Then a grand jury indictment was issued on 14 March before Weaver had a chance to appear in court on 20 March. This is complicated and is glossed over in the movie.
Marshal David Hunt ("Brian Jackson") was caught between a rock (US Attorney Ron Howen ("Matthew Duncan")) and a hard place (Vicki Weaver). The movie shows some of Hunt's problems, but does not explore the tangled obstacles raised by Howen.
In October 1991, Hunt was informed by the local FBI that both the BATF and the US Attorney's Office had exaggerated Weaver's connections to the white supremacists. Hunt developed a surrender deal that needed the signature of Ron Howen: Howen refused the deal insisting on unconditional surrender. Vicki refused to let Randy surrender without a written guarantee that she would keep custody of their kids.
Then the Weaver case was picked up by the Spokane newspaper and repeated by Chicago Tribune, New York Times, and others. This pressured the US Marshal Service HQ to start Operation: Northern Exposure.
The first half of the TV movie ends as the Weaver men are about to encounter three surveillance marshals in the forest at a fork in the trail called the "Y". The shooting at the "Y", the Ruby Ridge Siege, the Ruby Creek Vigil and Protest, and the Weaver-Harris Trial occupy the last half of the movie. At this point in real life, the Frank Kumnick ("Tony Vickers") character is out of the picture, and Weaver's buddy Bill Grider and wife Judy are represented by the movie characters "Tony Vickers" and his wife "Janice" which is why "Janice" pops up out of nowhere in the last half. Artistic license.
The shoot-out at the "Y" in the second half is a lot easier to follow in the movie than the real life incident: the real "Y" was in a dense Northwest rain forest; the reel "Y" is in California pine woods. As US Marshal Larry Cooper testified at the trial, there were so many things compressed into ninety seconds, it was hard to remember what happened first. Sammy Weaver, his dog Striker and US Marshal Bill Deagan ("Danny Barnett") were dead by the time the fateful fourteen shots were fired.
The reports by Dave Hunt ("Brian Jackson") to US Marshal Service Crisis Center got garbled by the time the info was passed by USMS HQ to FBI HQ to the FBI Hostage Rescue Team. The HRT Commander believed the gunfire lasted all afternoon into the night. Hunt's reports in the Crisis Center Log recorded several times that the last gunshots were heard at 11:15 am that morning. The FBI unfairly blamed the Idaho marshals for the miscommunication when it was a HQ USMS and FBI problem.
To sum up within 1000 words, Ruby Ridge: An American Tragedy is not a documentary but is a fair but flawed summation of the case. The movie does not candycoat either the Weavers or the government. If anything, it paints everyone dirty.
Except for the Weavers, Kevin Harris, Bo Gritz, Gerry Spence and Paul Harvey, all the other character names are fictitious including Vicki's family.
Reel names (real names): USMS Ross Jones (Duke Smith), FBI HRT Cmdr Earl Martens (Dick Rogers), FBI Richard Atwood (Danny Coulson), FBI SAC Doug Wilkes (Eugene Glenn), FBI Dwight Stanfield (Fred Lanceley), Roy and Eve Marks (Wayne and Ruth not-Marks), FBI Ken Yamasaki (Lon Horiuchi), Judge Andrew Stratton (Judge Edward Lodge),
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