Mountain Tops

Idaho can be a peaceful place. I’ve spent parts of many summers there. I grew aware, over time, that the northern panhandle had an association with white supremacists, but if you stick to the touristed areas you don’t run into them. During the Ruby Ridge standoff I was busy trying to establish my teaching career in Wisconsin while living in Illinois—I guess my commuting life began all the way back then. I didn’t have much time for the news, and I don’t recall hearing much about the tragedy. It was shortly eclipsed by Waco. Jess Walter’s Ruby Ridge: The Truth and Tragedy of the Randy Weaver Family presents perhaps more than you need to know about this story with no winners and much strange theology. In case you missed it too, here are the basics:

Randy and Vicki Weaver were an Iowa couple who were drawn into the Christian Identity movement. This was a white separatist, apocalyptic survivalist faith. Convinced the world was going to end, they moved to a remote part of northern Idaho and built a cabin on a rocky ridge and stockpiled guns. Being a white supremacist was actually considered bad in the 1990s (now it’s mainstream Republican ideology) and federal marshals and the FBI got involved. The Weavers had four children and that complicated things. Predictably, the government attempt to shoot an extremist family out of their religion ended tragically. The Weavers’ only son Samuel was the first killed, and then Vicki. The locals, including many skinheads, gathered at the base of the mountain in support of the Weavers as the feds led a military operation into a nearly two-week standoff.

Apart from being too long, Walter’s book is an important reminder of many things at this time. Even though America had a Republican president in 1992, white supremacy was considered dangerous and was characterized as domestic terrorism. The standoff at Ruby Ridge quickly became a cause célèbre for religious freedom, no matter how strange beliefs might be. Ironically, even as the trial was going on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco was being stormed. Now we have a “president” who makes it plausible that a “k” has somehow dropped out of Waco, or at least has been tripled. The national narrative is America is for whites only. It’s as if Martin Luther King Jr., Woody Guthrie, and Abraham Lincoln never existed. I would say “How the mighty are fallen,” but that might sound a little too religious for some. Even the Religious Right has, since that time, left the Bible out of the equation.

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