Sara Weaver, daughter of Jefferson’s Randy Weaver, has found her calling as an author and speaker since her family’s 11-day standoff with federal agents at Ruby Ridge in Idaho.A revised edition of Weaver’s 2012 book is in the works. Weaver believes blood hasn’t been shed at standoffs in Oregon and Nevada because of what her family endured in 1992.In one of the most haunting images of the 1990s, Randy Weaver’s wife, Vicki, is seen at Ruby Ridge in Idaho in a government surveillance photo on Aug. 21, 1992. It would prove to be her last photo. Vicki Weaver was shot and killed at Ruby Ridge by a sniper with the FBI.In a photo shared on her Ruby Ridge to Freedom Facebook page, Sara Weaver (left) is pictured with dad Randy Weaver, a Jefferson native. The surviving members of the family briefly lived in Grand Junction in the aftermath of Ruby Ridge, an 11-day standoff in Idaho with federal agents in 1992 that claimed three lives.

The lessons of Ruby Ridge

In 1992, a local family was ripped apart in a standoff with the federal government. It’s why no one has been hurt in Oregon.


Back in the summer of 1983, longtime Bee & Herald columnist Fred Jess wrote in his ever-innocuous “Etc.” column of a chance meeting with a Jefferson native in the men’s room of a Clear Lake restaurant.

Like all good Iowans encountering one another for the first time in a public bathroom, the conversation centered around the weather.

One thing led to another, and Jess divulged he was from Jefferson.

“Wow,” the stranger said, “I graduated from JHS!”

It turned out to be Randy Weaver, a member of Jefferson High’s class of 1966.

“He and his wife Vicki and three kids have lived in Cedar Falls for about 10 years,” Jess reported, “but at the time they were on their way to a new home in far northern Idaho.”

We all know how that story ended.

The details of the story still bend and change depending on who tells it — from the family’s very rationale for moving to the Pacific Northwest to how an FBI sniper came to take up position 200 yards from their cabin home in 1992 —  but it always ends the same way, with Vicki Weaver, their 14-year-old son and a U.S. marshal shot dead.

What happened at Ruby Ridge in Idaho more than 23 years ago continues to haunt the federal government and inspire those who distrust it.

“After Ruby Ridge and Waco, authorities keep a low profile in Oregon,” a headline in the Los Angeles Times read earlier this month.

“Ghost of Waco stays FBI’s hand in Oregon siege,” read the Jan. 6 headline in Newsweek for a story that makes mention of Ruby Ridge, that 20-acre patch of wilderness near the Canadian border where Jefferson’s Randy Weaver and his family garnered national attention in 1992 during an 11-day standoff with federal agents that began with a simple weapons charge.

Randy Weaver’s oldest daughter, Sara, who was 16 and standing right beside her mother when the sniper’s bullet passed through her head, has now watched the Bundy family of Nevada take two stands against the federal government in as many years.

“They’ve been given some second and third chances, and those chances need to be put to good,” Sara Weaver, 39, explained last week during a phone interview from her home in Montana, her first interview on the subject and also her first interview with The Jefferson Herald.

On Jan. 2, a group of militiamen led by brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy began their occupation of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon to protest the federal prison sentences of two ranchers.

They want federal land turned back over to ranchers and loggers.

In 2014, rancher and family patriarch Cliven Bundy stared down federal agents with a “citizen militia” over unpaid fees for grazing on federal land in a belief that the federal government can’t own land.

He still owes the federal government more than $1 million.

That first time, the feds withdrew.

This time, there are seemingly more Facebook memes poking fun at the militiamen than there are armed agents at the ready.

Sara Weaver believes she sacrificed a mother and brother so that future lives could be spared.

“I hope it’s not taken lightly,” she said.

Sara Weaver, who wound up living briefly in Grand Junction with father Randy in the aftermath of Ruby Ridge, has emerged in recent years as the public face of the Weaver family, finding her calling as an author and speaker.

“My dad was just joking with me, ‘You’re my PR girl,’ ” said Sara Weaver, who also repurposes furniture on the side.

To date, she maintains that the best interview she’s ever done on Ruby Ridge was in 2010 with the one and only William Shatner, believe it or not, for his Biography Channel series “Aftermath.”

“He had the guts to go ahead and do it,” Sara Weaver said. “He’s just a really personable guy and just really easy to talk to.”

The Weaver family bid farewell to Greene County in the late ’90s, looking for a fresh start after being awarded $3.1 million in a wrongful death suit against the government. (The government settled out of court, with one Department of Justice official back in 1995 indicating that the family probably would have been awarded $200 million had it gone to trial in Idaho.)

Today, Randy Weaver and his three daughters — Sara, Rachel and Elisheba — live within 25 miles of each other in northwest Montana, Sara Weaver said.

“There was just a big hole in me,” Sara Weaver said. “I saw the Northwest as my home. Iowa was foreign to me.”

“I felt like Idaho was too painful,” she added. “Montana just had a romantic ring to it.”

She was the first to leave in 1996. Her dad and sisters soon followed.

Now 68, Randy Weaver doesn’t grant many interviews, Sara Weaver said.

Admittedly, he’s been having a “rough time” health-wise, she said, but he’s “on the upswing now.”

Sara Weaver refuses to answer questions on behalf of her dad, saying she can only speak for herself.

With the 2012 publication of her book, “From Ruby Ridge to Freedom,” Sara Weaver came into her own, publicly forgiving the federal agents who shot and killed her mother and brother.

“People are super surprised,” she said. “It makes them question their own emotions and their own grudges and what they hold onto.”

“That’s the gift out of it,” she added. “In the end, this wasn’t for nothing.”

Her embrace of Christianity has allowed her to forgive, and has helped others to forgive as well.

“Everyone has their own Ruby Ridge in their life,” she said.

But she doesn’t believe we should ever forget.

“We don’t want to make the same mistakes,” said Weaver, who’s also been featured in recent years on the “700 Club.”

Ruby Ridge is now a permanent part of the nation’s psyche.

Had it never happened, federal agents may very well have already put the hammer down on the Bundys.

Without Ruby Ridge, there likely wouldn’t be a marketplace for “Don’t Tread On Me” flags, either.

But what Sara Weaver espouses is a belief that both sides need to take a step back.

“The government should listen to her people,” she said. “And the people should listen to their government. There has to be a compromise.”

Sara Weaver is hoping to have a revised copy of her book out later this year.

Last summer, she returned to Ruby Ridge with a crew from the PBS series “American Experience” for a documentary to premiere in 2017 on the anti-government fervor of the ’90s, which culminated in the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh in 1995.

While their cabin is long gone, she and her sisters still own the land.

This time, she took her 14-year-old son Dawson, from her first marriage, with her to Ruby Ridge for the first time.

The “American Experience” filmmakers followed her as she left flowers for her mom, Vicki, and brother, Sam.

“It’s painful in both good and bad ways,” Sara Weaver said. “It’s a place I can feel close to them and let them go at the same time.”

In recent years, Sara Weaver also has trademarked the name Ruby Ridge, a name the media cobbled together in 1992 from Ruby Creek Drainage and Caribou Ridge.

Not long after her marriage seven years ago to a man she met at church named Marc — they refrain from giving out his last name to protect what little privacy they have — a friend asked if she’d ever Googled herself.

“What I found was not representative of my life or what God had done in my life,” she said. “I found a lot of anger and hatred and people using it as a platform for their own violent ideas.”

That’s not the legacy she wants her son to someday inherit.

“People take liberty with your life, your story, your pain,” she said.

She still remembers hearing the words “Ruby Ridge” as a motivating factor in McVeigh’s decision to bomb a federal building.

“I wanted to crawl into a hole,” she said.

“Don’t take life in my name and think you’re doing something good,” she continued. “I’ve lost those close to me in a violent manner, and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”

Eleven days
The aggressive tactics used by federal agents in August 1992 at Ruby Ridge — and again in 1993 at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas — reaffirmed a belief that without the Second Amendment, we’re this side of a police state.

Others just call it paranoia.

At the time, Randy Weaver was suspected of having ties to white supremacists when he sold two sawed-off shotguns to a government informant.

When he, in turn, refused to become an informant himself, the government pursued weapons charges against him.

One missed court date later and U.S. marshals were on his property. Things instantly escalated when marshals shot the family dog, whose barking gave them away.

The incident is widely regarded as a debacle for the government, from the FBI never announcing its presence to the sniper’s shot that mistakenly killed Vicki Weaver, a Fort Dodge native, as she held her 10-month-old daughter.

Intended for family friend Kevin Harris, the shot would later be declared unconstitutional because Harris and Randy Weaver were running for cover.

The saga made for a TV movie in 1996, “The Siege at Ruby Ridge,” starring Randy Quaid as Randy Weaver and Laura Dern as Vicki Weaver.

Kirsten Dunst played Sara.

“I wanted to throw my TV out the window,” Sara Weaver said. “It made us look like a bunch of idiots.”

“And,” she added, “I don’t have blond hair.”

The movie, she said, portrayed the family as wackos. (Ironically, Randy Quaid turned out to be way nuttier in real life. Have you seen him lately?)

In the aftermath of the siege, the FBI sniper, Lon Horiuchi, was acquitted of manslaughter. Harris also was acquitted of all charges. Randy Weaver was acquitted of the most serious charges, serving 18 months for failure to appear.

It was during that time that Sara Weaver and her sisters were sent to live with family in Iowa.

Sara Weaver was enrolled in Johnston High School, graduating in 1994.

For a girl who had been home-schooled up until that point by parents who taught their children to fear the God of the Old Testament, Johnston High School proved to be a surreal place to wind up.

“I felt like an alien,” she recalled.

She still remembers the twin girls who received matching cars for their birthday.

“I couldn’t relate to that,” she said.

Kids at school asked few questions about the family’s ordeal in Idaho.

“I think they were too afraid to approach me about it,” Sara Weaver said.

After graduation, she moved to Grand Junction to be with her dad and sisters. According to a 1995 New York Times story, Randy Weaver had to stay in Iowa under the terms of his probation.

Sara Weaver found work in Jefferson at the Sierra Theatre and the now-defunct Family Table restaurant.

In September 1995, the same month he testified before a Senate hearing on Ruby Ridge, Randy Weaver also served as the marshal of East Greene High School’s Homecoming parade.

“I know I wasn’t a super-happy person,” Sara Weaver remembered. “The people of Grand Junction were great. I myself was a very guarded person.”

She struggled with depression and PTSD.

She also rejected God for a long time, she said, knowing how devoted her mom was, in particular.

She felt God turned his back on them.

“I definitely still do have triggers,” Sara Weaver said. “When a helicopter flies over my house, my first reaction is to hit the deck.”

The memories have scarcely faded.

“I can go right back there,” she said. “It’s always there, but the pain doesn’t have as much control over me.”

She last visited Iowa in 2013 for a grandmother’s funeral.

The drive back to Iowa that year with son Dawson reminded her of that initial trip to Idaho in the early ’80s that Fred Jess chronicled by chance in the local newspaper.

She remembers the family stopping at the Corn Palace, Reptile Gardens and other tourist attractions during their move West.

“When we made the trip to Iowa, we were able to stop at those same places,” Sara Weaver explained. “It was very full circle.”

Sara Weaver online
Stay up to date on Sara Weaver’s writing and speaking career at

Contact Us

Jefferson Bee & Herald
Address: 200 N. Wilson St.
Jefferson, IA 50129

Phone:(515) 386-4161