Edit: Alright everyone, we're going to have to stop here. Thank you for asking such insightful questions and apologies to those we did not get to! If you want to learn more about Ruby Ridge in the modern context, we hosted a live discussion featuring Barak Goodman and Jess Walter that you can watch now on YouTube.

Ruby Ridge airs tonight at 9/8c on PBS or stream it now on our website.

The 1992 siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, which led to the deaths of Sammy Weaver, Vicki Weaver, and Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan, mesmerized the nation and left some convinced that the federal government was out of control. The event not only became a catalyst for the Oklahoma City bombing, but set the stage for the growth of militia groups today. Echoes of the Ruby Ridge incident can be seen all the way up through January 6 at the U.S. Capitol.

Barak Goodman, director of American Experience’s documentaries "Ruby Ridge" and "Oklahoma City", and Daniel Levitas, author of "The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right" are here to answer your questions about the event that helped give rise to the modern militia movement.

Ask them anything about Ruby Ridge and the rise of the modern militia movement in America!

We’ll start answering questions at noon EDT (one hour from when this was posted).

Ruby Ridge airs tonight at 9/8c on PBS. Stream it now on our website or tonight on YouTube


Comments: 168 • Responses: 14  • Date: 

Quemetires31 karma

Ruby ridge was very far reaching of the federal government wouldnt you say? Similar to the Waco incident. A midified shotgun was what he was accused of selling to an undercover officer. Seems like the feds have already infiltrated these militias and if they were more dangerous something would be done about it?

AmExperiencePBS-20 karma

Edit: To clarify, Barak was not claiming that the Weavers shot first. He was saying that the shootout and subsequent death of a U.S. Marshal led to an escalated response in the Ruby Ridge incident. Apologies for the lack of clarity, we should have been more careful about how we phrased that.

Daniel: Both Waco and Ruby Ridge both originated with law enforcement attention to alleged gun violations, but there is a difference between the two. In Waco, David Koresh and his followers were suspected of stockpiling rather large quantities of illegal weapons. And the BATF was the agency on the scene responsible for addressing that issue.

With Ruby Ridge, the issue of possession of illegal shotguns was simply being used as a pretext to try and turn Randy Weaver into a confidential federal informant as part of a larger federal investigation into the Aryan Nations.

The militia movement didn’t exist until after these events and there were really not many reliable federal informants embedded in the right wing neo-Nazi movement at that time. That was one of the reasons they were trying to recruit Randy Weaver to begin with.

Barak: Often forgotten in these narratives, both Ruby Ridge and Waco essentially escalated because the target of the investigations opened fire on federal agents. You cannot just forget that. We are not excusing what happened at Ruby Ridge, but when you fire on and kill federal agents, you can expect a strong response.

nmj9512355 karma

Often forgotten in these narratives, both Ruby Ridge and Waco essentially escalated because the target of the investigations opened fire on federal agents.


"In the firefight, a shot or shots were first fired from DUSM Roderick, killing the Weavers' dog, a yellow Labrador Retriever, at which time Sammy Weaver is reported to have returned fire at Roderick.[68] After the federal agents began firing, Sammy Weaver was killed by a shot to the back while retreating"

For reference, Sammy Weaver was 14. A 14 year old shot at federal agents after the killed the family's dog, and in turn they shot him in the back as he ran away.

AmExperiencePBS-9 karma

To clarify, Barak was not claiming that the Weavers shot first. He was saying that the shootout and death of a U.S. Marshal led to an escalated response in the Ruby Ridge incident. The statement was phrased poorly, apologies for the lack of clarity.

SploooogeMcDuck32 karma


AmExperiencePBS-4 karma

To clarify, Barak was not claiming that the Weavers shot first. He was saying that the shootout and death of a U.S. Marshal led to an escalated response in the Ruby Ridge incident. The statement was phrased poorly, apologies for the lack of clarity.

the_eddy28 karma

How do you feel about the ATF incinerating a bunch of women and children at Waco?

AmExperiencePBS-9 karma

Barak: It's been pretty well established by evidence that the fires at Waco were set by the Branch Davidians themselves. They were not set by the FBI Hostage Rescue Team. That’s been partly established by mics planted in the compound that captured Branch Davidians’ own words that it’s time to set the fires.

Daniel: The origin of the fires at Waco has been controversial since the event. Oklahoma City addresses this in detail. With all that said, all people of good will agree what happened at Waco was a tragedy that with 20/20 hindsight could have been avoided.

JonathanFranklin23 karma

I interviewed Tim McVeigh in prison, then he wrote me letters for articles I wrote for Spin, Playboy, etc. I'd like to know how important do you think was his war experience in the Gulf? Do you think possibly participation in a massacre affected his life outlook?

AmExperiencePBS9 karma

Barak: Yes, we talk about this in the film “Oklahoma City.” I think it did have a profound impact on him. It helped galvanize his extremist point of view. There was a massacre and he was profoundly shaken by it. But it helped to accelerate his lurch rightward and poison his relationship with the government. I think he became profoundly anti-authority, anti-government and this became the chief fuel behind his motivation to bomb the Murrah building.

NedTaggart22 karma

Do you touch on Lon Horiuchi's participation in this event and other similar events? On one hand, it's not unusual for an FBI sniper to be called to specific locations that later became high profile. On the other hand, Ruby Ridge as well as Waco had a lot of eyes on them, and the judgment of certain actors could be called into question.

AmExperiencePBS19 karma

Barak: Lon Horiuchi was the FBI sniper who shot Vicky Weaver and killed her. As horrifying as his actions were, what may be even more horrifying was that he was operating under rules of engagement that seemed to authorize his shots. That is very disturbing and has led to reforms inside the FBI. As much as we like to think that law enforcement would no longer do that, we still see hair-trigger responses all the time from law enforcement with guns. The more things change, the more things stay the same, I guess.

LoneStarBandit1916 karma

In the nearly 30 years after the incident, how do you think the experience of that chain of events (Ruby Ridge, Waco, OKC) has changed law enforcement policy/opinions regarding escalation of violence?

AmExperiencePBS12 karma

Daniel: For a time, it certainly did substantively change the approach of law enforcement, if you look at what happened at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, that standoff several years ago, and other standoffs, for example the Montana Freemen. Law enforcement after Waco and Ruby Ridge became much more reticent about intervening, although it has to be recognized that the standoff at Waco went on for a very long time before things fell apart.

Perhaps an interesting angle might be questioning whether these events changed law enforcement’s approach toward the danger posed by violent anti government extremist groups. If we learned anything from Jan 6, those government agencies responsible for securing institutions from violent threats have all too often turned a blind eye to the dangers posed by domestic terrorism. We saw that with the OKC bombing. The militia movement was largely off the radar screen of the FBI prior to that event, and as we’re learning now there was not proper intelligence in place prior to Jan 6.

Edit: typo

GTE_Engineering14 karma

Do you view the Branch Davidians that were murdered in Waco as domestic terrorists/a violent anti government extremist group?

AmExperiencePBS10 karma

Daniel: I wouldn’t classify them as domestic terrorists, because they did not appear to have an organized plan or an organized agenda to commit destabilizing political violence. I would certainly say that the ideology promoted by David Koresh was steeped in violent, apocalyptic and anti-government rhetoric, yes.

Barak: There was certainly concern that they were going to bust out with all of their guns and do some damage. But one of the main concerns with the Branch Davidians was the concern that David Koresh was abusing underage girls in the compound, and he was. And I think that’s what fueled Janet Reno’s decision to end the 51-day standoff. He is not blameless by any stretch. I feel terribly about the innocent victims at Waco, but for Koresh himself, there is a lot of responsibility for what happened there.

ManBurrPig12 karma

Often time the term “militia” is associated with far-right sections as you mentioned, is there or are there any large instances of far-left militias in the country?

AmExperiencePBS5 karma

Daniel: One of the factors leading to the formation of the militia movement was fear of gun control. The militia movement was formed in the wake of Waco, Ruby Ridge, and the Brady Bill, an assault weapons ban signed into law by the Clinton administration. And as such, the second amendment has been one of the principal driving forces behind the formation of armed militias. The left wing in the US has no such love of the 2nd amendment. It’s generally a social movement that has aligned itself with gun control. While it’s certainly true there are groups on the left that share similar views about the 2nd amendment, they’re really few and far between.

Barak: There is this comparison to BLM that is often made. I just want to point out that the rallying cry of BLM is to join a civil society on an equal basis, not to separate on a basis of superiority. The comparison makes no sense to me. White supremacist organizations by their very existence are asking for an exalted, superior position in society.

cherrypit499112 karma

Did research into this topic reveal any practices or mindsets that we should be wary of today as we become more polarized as a nation?

AmExperiencePBS2 karma

Daniel: It is important to realize that there are people on the extreme armed right with whom there is very low likelihood of success in engaging with them. Where people are extremely dangerous and extremely violent, there has to be a truly effective law enforcement response. But for the mass of people who are simply getting swept up in these movements, it’s more important now than ever, (because there are more of them now, I believe, than in the 90s) to find ways to bring those people back to the political center and separate them from the individuals and organizations intent on doing grievous harm.

Barak: The advent of the internet is part of the story and makes this observation all the more salient. It is increasingly difficult to separate people from their sources of distorted information when those sources are so narrow and all encompassing. People are harder to reach when they disappear in these rabbit holes.

Fictionalpoet7 karma

Based on your research, have you found any specific trend or unifying sentiment behind the rise of new militias, or do they each have their own reason or issue ( laws, media, etc.) behind their formation?

AmExperiencePBS-3 karma

Daniel: It’s important to distinguish between issues that are used to mobilize, support or arm right-wing insurrection, and the goals of groups who engage with such insurrection. Issues change with the times. The goals have not changed substantially. Certainly, as we saw in Michigan, a driving issue for the rise of recent militias has been resistance to government lockdowns. It’s not a coincidence that militia members in Michigan were planning on kidnapping Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Another issue used to galvanize right-wing militias has been fear and reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement for social justice. But the embrace of just those two issues, that’s a tactical embrace of the issue to mobilize people.

The goals remain the same: an unconditional right to own any weapon that an individual wants to own, and the creation of a more exclusive society that embraces white supremacy and rejects the central ideals of democracy and equality.

Barak: There are variations between these groups, but I think what unites them, in addition to Daniel’s response, is a sense of grievance, a sense of losing their rightful place in society. I don’t think you would see these groups without that sense of losing ground and that the world is against them. This is their way of “fighting back.” It’s this sense of fighting back that fuels them. Whatever the issues may be, they come from the same wellspring, which is grievance.

Plow_King6 karma

are you going to answer any questions?

AmExperiencePBS2 karma

We'll be starting in just a couple minutes!

kathryn134 karma

So much of where we're at today, started back at this time. After researching and working on this project, are you hopeful for the future of America?

I ask because when I look at where we're at, I'm not real hopeful. Btw, thank you so much for all you do.

AmExperiencePBS2 karma

Daniel: The events on Jan. 6 should give everyone great pause and while it is important to be hopeful, violent, insurgent, racist social movements don’t go away on their own. It requires work on the part of civil society to make hope real.

AllTheBandwidth3 karma

What similarities do you see between Ruby Ridge and more recent examples of militia activity in America? How did one help give rise to the other?

AmExperiencePBS2 karma

Daniel: The growing activity of armed right wing militia groups over the past year in response, for example, to state government lockdowns in Michigan, and other events around the country including reaction to BLM protests, is a direct outgrowth of the seeds that were planted by the formation of the militia movement in the early 1990s. It is unlikely that we would have seen the militia movement as we know it today without Ruby Ridge. Certainly, there were other events, including and especially Waco, that acted as catalysts for the formation of these armed militias. But as outlined so well in the film, the resistance and support that swelled around the Weaver family following the events on Ruby Ridge really launched the militia movement. And people today who show up to protests in full tactical gear use the same rhetoric as we saw 30 years ago in the 1990s.

Barak: These right wing groups thrive on a belief that the government is trying to destroy them. And what happened in Ruby Ridge and Waco was the fulfillment of their paranoid belief. And so those events fueled this movement. And it wouldn’t exist without these founding narratives.