What I did on my summer vacation, Part 2

OK, now time for Part 2. If you didn’t read Part 1, you probably should...

As you may have deduced from my notes in Part 1, my trip's theme was "Us vs. Them". My goal was to visit the location of some major – and not so major – conflicts between American citizens and their government. The common threads in these conflicts were (1) a sweeping distrust of the government on the part of the involved civilians, (2) an overreaction to that distrust on the part of one or both parties, and (3) the ensuing death/massacre as a result of that overreaction. I chose five locations to visit:

Sand Creek, CO, location of an encampment of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians;
Waco, TX, site of the Branch Davidian complex named Mt Carmel;
Medina, ND, location of a deadly confrontation with tax protestor Gordon Kahl;
Naples, ID, nearest town to Ruby Ridge;
Granby, CO, town partially bulldozed as a result of a zoning dispute.

While many people will recognize these names and incidents, some may not. I won't go into detail about what happened in each case so here are some links to more information. (NB: there are obvious "extremes" in a few of these articles. Read with appropriate BS filters as needed…)

Sand Creek
Sand Creek
Waco (an excellent book, by the way)
Medina (lots of embedded sub-links here...)
Ruby Ridge (another excellent book, with an objective approach even!!)
Ruby Ridge

Sand Creek

As the placard explains, the massacre of these peaceful Indians was unprovoked. The Army misdirected its efforts to stem violence directed towards white settlers by attacking the wrong encampment. While investigative resources of the day were sorely lacking, certainly a little research on the part of the Colorado Territorial Government could have prevented this disaster. Accusations that Colonel Chivington blatantly disregarded orders remain to this day.

As of Nov 2000, the site has been officially designated a National Historical Site. Insufficient land has been acquired to complete the site and negotiations continue with private landowners to secure the necessary land. (Given the recent SCOTUS decision concerning eminent domain, I hope the "negotiations" remain friendly.) The site is several miles north of Hwy 96 and the (ironically named) town of Chivington. It is at this location that the placard can be found. (At the intersection of Hwys 287 and 96, a small placard is in place that indicates that the site is a "work in progress" and essentially encourages people to stay away...) The actual site is unmarked and rather difficult to discern from the road. It's little more than a bend in a dry creek sitting across a planted field. It's visible – barely – here. Given the wording of the placard, it appears the government's "spin" on this incident adheres to the accepted truth. A welcome sign, no pun intended...

While I was meandering around this area, I met an old infantryman (his words) named Ralph. Ralph is a retired attorney from Topeka and a fellow history buff. He was a real character, prattling-on endlessly about various bits of history relating to eastern CO and western KS. He saw action in WWII as part of the 70th Infantry Division, a division that received three battle stars. He was an entertaining old codger and I could have listened to his stories all day. Regretfully, I had a schedule to keep so we said our goodbyes and I went on my way.


Chronologically, the Waco tragedy occurred after the incident at Ruby Ridge but my planned route put me in Texas first. The site was easy to find; maps showing the location of Mt Carmel complex can be found in various books covering the Waco incident. (NB: the maps show a road CR 216-A, which is labeled as "Boys Ranch Road" when approached from Hwy 84. The remaining roads leading to the complex are correctly labeled.) All that remains of the original Mt Carmel are a few underground structures, the buried schoolbus, the concrete foundations, and the swimming pool. With the help of friends, the surviving Branch Davidians rebuilt the chapel on the exact spot of the original. A modest trailer home has been provided for the current Branch leader and a small, one-room visitor's center has been built. It doubles as a museum, replete with memorabilia and various pieces of released trial evidence. There are even some of the FBI's "trophy photos" that show agents in victory poses with the complex burning in the background.

Trees have been planted in honor of each Davidian killed in the two assaults on the complex. Under each tree is a small memorial naming the person for whom the tree was planted. Here is David Koresh's memorial. The Davidians even went so far as to place a memorial for the four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) agents killed in the first assault. That was a humbling sight for me. I'm not sure I could be that forgiving. It was explained to me that the Davidians harbored no ill will towards the agents themselves, only towards those who sent them.

My tour guide was a gentleman named Ron. He is not a Davidian but someone so outraged by the tragedy that he chose to volunteer to the group as a way to channel his frustrations. He was extremely knowledgeable and willing to answer all of my questions. At no point did I feel I was being preached to. Ron walked me thru the complex, pointing out the various remnants, and gave me a quick peek inside the chapel. He indicated that there are only about eight Davidians still living on the property with another handful living in town. Ron introduced me to Clive Doyle who is currently the lead minister at Mt Carmel. Clive was a survivor of both assaults and was one of only three Davidians acquitted in the trial. His daughter was killed in the fire resulting from the final FBI tank assault.

Being on the property gave me the sensation of walking on hallowed ground. It was here, just over a decade ago, that a group of desperate people attempted to hold off a government that could in no way abide anyone or anything opposing its authority. It was a futile struggle since there was no logic or reason to be found in either party. Both sides believed they had a mandate and both sides stubbornly adhered to their beliefs. Eventually, the government was going to – and did – get its way, at the expense of 82 civilian lives. My reaction to all this was three simple words: "What a waste..."


I never made it Medina so I have nothing to report. Sorry...

Ruby Ridge

Ruby Ridge is a long sloping ridge of mountains that descends towards the tiny town of Naples, ID. In reality the Weaver cabin was not on Ruby Ridge!! There are a series of ridges in this area that run east/west, each named after the creek to its immediate north. Just north of Ruby Ridge is another named Caribou Ridge. Caribou Ridge is bracketed by Ruby Creek to the south and by [wait for it....] Caribou Creek to the north. Caribou Ridge is where the standoff between the Weaver family and various agencies of the Federal government took place. The media, in its infinite willingness to pursue the truth, must have assumed that the name Ruby Ridge would stick with Americans better than Caribou Ridge. Who knows...

Caribou Ridge is relatively easy to find if you're willing to follow the clues provided by various authors. (Which I wasn't, since I spent two hours driving around Ruby Ridge only to find nothing...) Once I got my sh!t wired straight, I made my way back to old Hwy 2 and then onto CR 12. Suddenly things started to make sense. For about two miles. Then I came face-to-face with that wonderful American tradition of Private Property. The county roads in this area make their way only so far into the woods, then they become the property of logging companies (I assume) or of individuals.

Such was my fate as I followed CR 12 to its terminus and stared blankly into a sign stating "Private Road – No Trespassing". Oof dah!!... I was afraid that might happen. I knew that, standing where I was, in the middle of a clearing that had been nicknamed "Federal Way" during the siege, I was less than one mile from the cabin site. Ouch!! What to do, what to do?? I thought about playing Sneaky Pete and just driving on. If you look like you know exactly what you're doing, most people won't question your actions. El Puerqo Grande is by no means your average tourist's vehicle and could easily pass for one of the ubiquitous construction, logging, or contracting vehicles that rumble along these back roads. But I had two strikes against me: I had CO plates and I didn't know exactly in which direction to go next. On top of that, history has shown that this is "shoot first, ask questions later" country and I wasn't about to start a gunfight with anybody. But it was so tempting with Caribou Ridge right there!! Somewhere just ahead of me was the Weaver cabin site. So close, yet so far.

So, with some guilt about even considering the Sneaky Pete plan, I chose to honor that private property sign and not trudge onward. I stood in front of the truck, in the middle of the road, for more minutes than I care to recall, hoping that somebody from one of the adjacent houses would come out and ask me what the hell I was doing there or tell me to go away. I was hoping to secure permission to continue, but no such luck. Nobody appeared. In fact, it was so quiet up there one could hear a fish fart. Unlike the survivors at Waco, these people don't want to discuss the Weavers. They don't want to recall what happened. They don't want pasty white Coloradans snooping around their isolated homesteads. So, respecting those wishes, I carefully executed EPG thru a tiresome nine-point turn-around and headed home. On the way out, I saw this. No doubt a result of the Ruby Ridge confrontation.


No luck here, either. The town was quick to repair the damage done by Marvin Heemeyer and there was no visible sign that anything had happened. I did manage to spot what appeared to be a cement plant but, without more details, I could not ascertain any clues as to what damage was inflicted and where.

So, that was my "Us vs. Them" tour. During the many miles I had to cover for this endeavor, I had more than enough time to consider these events and the actors who played their roles in these deadly confrontations. I wanted to find a common thread that led to these disasters and I think I found a few.

First, I believe that there was a concerted effort on the part of the Federal government – with the assistance of a complicit media – to characterize these disenfranchised people in the worst possible ways. Religious cultists. Extremists. Child molesters. Racists. Fanatics. Gun nuts. Once these images were established in the minds of Americans, the Feds were able to act with near impunity. Those that saw thru such tactics and protested were similarly labeled and demonized.

I don't hold the beliefs of Randy Weaver or David Koresh. But then again, defining exactly what those beliefs were is a non-trivial task. The "distortion engines" where at full throttle at all times before, during, and after these regrettable incidents. I wasn't there to witness Koresh molesting children or converting AR-15s to full-auto. I wasn't there to see Weaver giving "sieg heils" at Aryan Nation rallies. Both claim they did none of that. The Feds claim they did. Who do you believe?? Both sides stand to benefit from lying. Koresh and Weaver were willing to die for what they perceived to be the truth. A criminal may be willing to die to avoid capture but, prior to their run-ins with the Feds, neither Weaver nor Koresh were criminals. Yet they were willing to die for what they believed was their innocence. Perhaps they wanted to die as a martyr's ultimate rejection of his lie-filled dossier. That's much different than a car thief shooting it out with the cops.

Second, the Federal government has shown surprising harshness as it deals with those who question its authority. Some of the severest sentences handed out in court today are for supposed crimes against the State. Victims of murder, rape, and kidnapping would consider themselves fortunate to see their assailants similarly punished. On top of that, the Feds cannot accept the notion that an individual might actually perceive a need to defend himself against the actions of the State. But the government is not infallible. It has shown countless times that it is capable of mistakes – sometimes, deadly mistakes. There are going to be incidents where Joe Citizen is going to be compelled to react – maybe even violently – to actions against him. In my mind, this is a perfect opportunity for the Feds to take a step back and re-evaluate their options.

Some of you may be saying, "Well, that's what the courtroom is for." Perhaps. But consider the damage done to an individual or family when the Feds drag them thru the court system. The government has essentially unlimited time and funds to prosecute. Defendants rarely have such luxury. A simple dispute with the Feds can take years out of a person's life before it's resolved. Not to mention the certain bankrupting due to legal costs. This is all possible even if the person is completely innocent. And the Feds have no "loser pays" program. I'm not saying that disputes need to be resolved with gunfire. Certainly not!! But when the Feds see someone so adamant about the their innocence, so willing to challenge their accusers, maybe they should take a deep breath and hear the guy out. Maybe there was a clerical error. Maybe the informant did lie. Maybe he does own that firearm legally. The Feds need to spend more time giving Joe Citizen the benefit of the doubt.

The zeal with which the Feds went after Koresh and Weaver was inexcusable. Neither had previous criminal records and, until pushed, neither had shown a propensity for violence. (Well, that wasn't entirely true in Koresh's case...) Granted, both men had "out there" ideas and confrontational personalities – key ingredients for volatility. But did what these two men do – or should I say, were accused of doing – warrant the overwhelming, pull-no-punches response from the Feds?? I think not. At both Waco and Ruby Ridge, the Feds had the luxury of limitless patience and restraint. In neither case did they choose to exercise it. In fairness to the tragedies, I should add that it's my opinion that Koresh made serious errors in judgement and could have ended the Mt Carmel siege without further loss of life. Many people trusted him to "do the right thing" and they were failed. Had he surrendered, I can only hope that the FBI would have held up their end of the bargain.

(Before I'm accused of promoting lackadaisical law enforcement, let me say that I have no problem with the zealous pursuit, apprehension, and prosecution of real criminals. And by "real", I mean those that have committed malum in se crimes. Additionally, if one of these "real" BGs produces a weapon in the presence of LEOs and his intent is to do harm, may the Boys in Blue promptly send him to meet his maker. Good riddance. And, if asked to do so, I’ll back up that statement in the jury box. But Weaver and Koresh were accused of malum prohibitum crimes – from which there were no victims – that in no way justified the magnitude of force used against them. That statement is doubly true when you consider that fact that the Feds were mostly unable to produce evidence in trial to support their cases.)

And, finally, I think the system of internal reviews and punishment within Federal law enforcement is – or at least was – sorely lacking. Friends reviewing friends. Supervisors wary of knocking an agent off the fast track. Internal memos and withholding of after-action reports. None of these things promote accountability and Constitutional behavior. Independent, third-party review is a must in cases such as these. And it needs to be done quickly before the "blame throwers" get fired-up and agencies hustle to get their stories straight. Inter-agency review is helpful but, due to "cross-breeding", cannot be relied upon to fully expose breakdowns in the system. Additionally, thorough investigations need to be made into the accusations of entrapment and evidence tampering/fabrication. If violations are found, harsh punishment should quickly follow.

And speaking of reviews, I personally think that justice has yet to be served in the cases of Waco and Ruby Ridge. For starters, I believe a fine-tooth-comb investigation needs to be made in both situations to determine Who Shot First. I think the people close to these events – on both sides – need this answer, even if it's not what they want to hear. If the Feds want to be zealous about something, be zealous about answering that question to everyone's satisfaction. I kinda' don't care what it costs to find the answer, either. We waste a lot of tax money on more trivial nonsense than that. Getting satisfaction on this issue is worth a ton of $$$ in my view. Full pardons for the Branch Davidians still in jail as a result of their monkey trial need to happen. And soon.

The real "chain of approval" for the rules of engagement (ROE) for Ruby Ridge needs to be found and the perpetrators drummed out of service. Maybe even prosecuted. Some of the agents on the ground protested the ROE but not all of the agents. I'm thinking a good, solid refresher course in Constitutional Law is in order for all Federal LEOs. And no grading on a curve. Pass/fail only. Former presidential candidate Michael Badnarik or Texas Congressman Ron Paul would probably be delighted to compile material for the courses. (In the FBI's defense – and such a small defense it is – they did bat cleanup in both cases: the US Marshals Service dropping the ball at Ruby Ridge and the BATF initiating the Charles Foxtrot at Waco. But their "showing up late" doesn't absolve the FBI in either case.)

I don’t believe the book on Ruby Ridge will be closed until FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi de-planes in Boise, surrenders to the Idaho State Attorney General, and submits to prosecution for the murder of Vicki Weaver. His actions were malicious, unprofessional, and wholly un-Constitutional. Supremacy clause be damned!! He can claim all week long that he was just doing his job. BS!! That was the same defense used at Nuremberg and it holds the same amount of water.

Thanx for listening,