Standoff: A Short Podcast Series on Ruby Ridge
The first episode of Standoff, a podcast from Slate, is called "Two Shotguns." "Two White Supremacists" could have been another name as the episode centers on how Vicki and Randy Weaver, who believed a race war would commence the apocalypse, ended up on a hill in Idaho where the Ruby Ridge conflict happened. Through four episodes, host Ruth Graham tells the story of the government’s siege on the two white supremacists that led to deaths on both sides (recall: one of the sides being white supremacists.)
In the first episode, Graham says Ruby Ridge is "a story with unsympathetic protagonists, well-meaning villains, and unexpected heroes, a story that, if just a few things had gone differently, never would have been a story at all." Or it’s more a story of antagonists on all sides, with villains who wear swastikas to let you know they’re the villains, and how guns always make everything worse anywhere. That’s of course my framing. To be sure, part of the premise of Standoff is looking at how the siege really did make the two Weavers who died martyrs to the American far right. And it’s useful to learn about why bad people think the things they do and how not to respond to them. Yet I think we’re remiss without frequent reminders that the "two shotguns" were illegally sold by one of the "two white supremacists."
The entire series clocks in at around two hours. Most of my podcast listening takes place commuting, exercising, and/or doing chores. So if you’re like me, you can learn about the the micro and the macro of Ruby Ridge in just a few times on the train, at the gym, or in the kitchen.
Despite my naming and framing quibbles, the saga Graham and Slate present is a compelling one. Episode one lays the foreground: the Weavers, who attended the Aryan Nation World Congress, had four children, a cabin in the woods, and a bunch of guns; federal authorities had a charge against Randy Weaver for illegally selling weapons, a bench warrant after he refused to show up to court, and a bunch of guns. When the Weavers’ paranoia and the feds’ bad information get mixed in, the situation escalates.
We learn in episode two that over two days in August 1992, three people are shot dead: a U.S. Marshall, a fourteen year old boy, and a woman holding an infant. The ensuing ten-day standoff and what it inspired make up the latter half of the series. In episodes three and four, it becomes clear that Randy Weaver is even more horrible and the government even more stupid than they seemed: Randy Weaver is heard bragging about the killing of the U.S. Marshall, and the F.B.I. sniper who mistakenly shot one of the Weavers is actually sent to the disastrous Waco siege the next year.
If I made a list of the worst things in America, the white nationalist far right, law enforcement who incite rather than de-escalate, and gun culture would be high on the list. That the 1992 Ruby Ridge story incorporates all three is crazy. That all are also as big if not bigger problems in 2018 is infuriating. Even if you disagree with me that guns, aggressive cops, and proto-MAGAers are some of the primary devils of our worse nature, Standoff provides some related universal lessons for Americans that come out of the Ruby Ridge incident.
Don’t be part of or follow the ideology of the Aryan Nation or a right-wing extremist group. It makes it more likely you’ll kill someone or get killed than does say, I don’t know, joining an Abrahamic religion with 1.5 billion members.
Don’t respond to people who believe that the world is going to end right outside of their house like you’re playing Call of Duty. People in those groups from #1 are certainly dangerous, but less so when they’re in their remote cabin with four children.
It’s undeniable that anti-institution, white identity grievance is a powerful force in American culture, so Standoff is a worthwhile exercise within the history podcast genre. It would also be cool for Slate and other podcast networks to produce content on victims of the United States government who weren’t white supremacists. There are the ones we locked in concentration camps, the ones we let die in a public health crisis, or the ones whose countries we destroyed. A coalition of Japanese-Americans, gay men, and Iraqi civilians probably won’t capture one of the country’s two major political parties, but since me bringing them up makes me an evil social justice warrior who hates exceptionalism, perhaps talented history podcast producers could tell their stories.