Masks, guns and madness: The dangers of ignoring the rules

Courtesy photo

The weird thing is, I liked Randy Weaver.

Sure, I also thought he was nuts. But he was a likable guy.

I am reminded of Weaver, whose family was torn apart in a standoff with federal officers in Idaho in 1992 in what became known as the Ruby Ridge incident, when I see people acting insane when asked to don a mask.

You’ve seen the videos. People in grocery stores, malls, dental offices — all kinds of public places — grow wild when told masks are required. They scream insults, threaten lawsuits and in sine cases physically attack people.

All because they are asked to wear a mask during a pandemic.

The concept is, masks reduce the likelihood you will shower surrounding people with a spray of possibly deadly droplets, while also reducing the risk you will ingest some.

I wear a mask the rare times when I go out. When I stopped at a convenience store this week to grab some water, I put on a mask. No one else inside was wearing one.

We stopped at a Harrisburg business on Tuesday, and no one else had one on. Still, we kept ours on.

Because it makes sense. The science is clear. And it isn’t about me, me, me ... a difficult idea for millions of people to accept.

They want to do what they want to do at all times. That’s why people dress the way they do in public now, why we hear such foul language so casually spewed even when children and seniors are present.

We have lost a sense of decency, of being aware of others, of trying to be part of a community. It’s what I want right now and the hell with everyone else.

That’s what made me think of Weaver.

A Villisca, Iowa, native, he was a Green Beret who served stateside during the Vietnam War. He returned to Iowa, attended the University of Northern Iowa and dreamed of being an FBI agent.

Weaver was a white separatist who espoused white supremacist beliefs. He also believed in the approaching end of the world, so he did what many others who shared his cockeyed theories did: He moved to Idaho, stockpiled weapons and ammunition and tried to remain off the grid.

If only he had been allowed to remain there, tucked away in a small compound, where he posed little danger to others. It would be a good solution for those who refuse to wear masks — just go to a remote spot and stay there.

But Weaver had caught the eye of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. An informant asked him to obtain a pair of shotguns with modified barrels and Weaver complied, at least according to a warrant issued for his arrest.

He was given the wrong date for a court appearance and when that was corrected, he refused to comply. His wife Vicki wrote threatening letters to federal agencies, saying the “tyrant’s blood will flow.”

It was an idiotic thing to do, like not wearing a mask, and there would be serious repercussions. On Aug. 21, 1992, the U.S. Marshals Service moved in and soon gunfire erupted.

Weaver’s son Sammy, 14, was killed, as was Deputy U.S. Marshal William Francis Degan and the Weavers’ dog, Striker, all died. In a later assault upon their home, Vicki was shot in the face as she held their baby. She died, and the family covered her body with a rug as the standoff continued.

Weaver and his three daughters finally surrendered and was charged with 10 counts, including murder, conspiracy and assault, but renowned defense attorney Gerry Spence took the case despite his disagreement with Weaver’s beliefs and Weaver was found not guilty on all serious charges. He ended up serving two months.

The federal government paid the Weaver family $3.1 million, but no one was criminally charged for shooting and killing Vicki Weaver.

I met Randy and his daughter Sara in the late 1990s after they had published a book on their experiences titled “The Federal Siege at Ruby Ridge.” They were in Whitefish, Mont., to sign copies and promote the book. I was the editor of the local paper, The Whitefish Pilot, and covered the event.

Sara was soft-spoken and friendly. Randy was enjoying the spotlight, laughing and shaking hands with folks.

We talked briefly, and he said he still held to most of his anti-government beliefs. Randy said no one could tell him what to do.

I asked him about driving at night. There was a narrow, two-lane road between Whitefish and Kalispell, Mont. I asked him if he thought it was OK to drive down that road at midnight with his lights off?

Yes, he said. That was his right.

No, I told him, that was insane.

But I still liked him. He was crazy but ... I liked him. I just hoped he was not on the road when I was some night, just like I try to avoid people who won’t put on a damn mask.

While he espoused those selfish, stupid views to me, a few years earlier, Weaver finally admitted much of the blame for Ruby Ridge was the result of his refusal to comply with a court order.

“If I had it to do over again, I would come down the mountain for my court appearance,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1995.

I think the people who rage against the machine and the mask may come to regret their decisions, too.

South Dakota native Tom Lawrence, a former Pioneer executive editor, has written about the state, its politics and people since 1978. Read his blog Prairie Perspective at http://sdprairie.blogspot.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @TLCF26.

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