The American Redoubt Series: Ruby Ridge to Redoubt

A brief history of anti-government sentiments in North Idaho

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

Editor’s note: Before delving into the political ethos of the Redoubt movement, we will first examine the politics of North Idaho from the perspective of Ruby Ridge to today. The political psyche of North Idaho was very much influenced by this event, echoes of which awoke a new level of mistrust in the federal government across the nation. To be clear, these are separate movements with distinct precepts from the Redoubt, but past ideologies in North Idaho influenced a climate that can still be felt today. 

A chart showing the rise and fall of anti-government groups across the U.S. Courtesy of SPLC.

In August 1992, the powerful arm of the federal government reached for unassuming cabin owner Randy Weaver near Naples, Idaho. Categorized later as a miscalculation of federal force over a charge of selling an illegal sawed-off shotgun, the event later known as the “Standoff at Ruby Ridge” would leave a lasting impact on the way some citizens viewed their federal government.

The siege at Ruby Ridge, which led to the deaths of Vicki Weaver, 14-year-old Sammy Weaver and Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan, would go on to influence the political complexion of North Idaho for decades to come.

With the rise of the militia movement and the formation of hundreds of patriot groups across the U.S., distrust of the federal government grew during the 1990s. While the Tea Party movement brought many disaffected Republicans under the same banner of limited government, increased controls over immigration and Second Amendment rights, others chose to opt out and joined political migrations in the interest of establishing ways of life aligned with Christian conservative principles.

A History of Dissent

Mistrust of the federal government is not a new phenomenon in U.S. history.

In the “Whiskey Rebellion” of 1791, farmers opposed a federal tax placed on distilled spirits by President George Washington. Protesters were said to have used violence and intimidation to prevent federal officials from collecting the tax. The dispute culminated in 1794, when a federal marshal arrived in Pennsylvania to serve writs for those who had not paid the tax. Over 500 armed men later attacked the home of a tax collector, forcing President Washington himself to lead an army of 13,000 militiamen to quell the rebellion.

Sixty years later, ongoing disputes between the Union and slave-owning southern states led to secession and outbreak of the Civil War, which claimed over 600,000 American lives.

In modern times, anti-government feelings began to emerge around events like Ruby Ridge and, shortly after, the siege at Waco.

Ruby Ridge had a profound impact on the thinking of those whose beliefs aligned with Christian conservative principles. It demonstrated in many people’s eyes a federal government that had far exceeded its authority and mandate. Many viewed their response to what began as a supposed firearms violation as excessive and railed against the chance of it happening again.

“The whole complexion (of this nation’s far-right politics) was shaped to some extent by Ruby Ridge,” said Heidi Beirlich, the Director for the Intelligence Project for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an organization that has studied extremist groups for decades. “I think without Ruby Ridge, we wouldn’t have had McVeigh’s attack in Oklahoma City. We also probably wouldn’t have had the intensity of the militia movement as it arose in the early ‘90s and spread all the way through the 1990s.”

The modern militia movement, with strong roots in American history, was a self-help movement dusted off in response to this perceived federal overreach.

Beirlich said a gathering in Estes Park, Colo., just two months after the standoff at Ruby Ridge helped launched the movement.

Led by white supremacist and former Grand Dragon of the KKK Louis Beam, the United Citizens for Justice banded together to demand criminal indictments against the government agents involved in Ruby Ridge. Over 150 Christian Identity believers and others gathered while Beam addressed grievances against the federal government.

Followers of Christian Identity believe only Germanic, or Anglo-Saxon and Nordic people, are the true descendants of the ancient Israelites, and therefore are the only people who can achieve true salvation.

“Because the white race is God’s chosen race, only whites have immortal souls and/or all others are eternally damned and cannot obtain salvation,” reads a document entitled “Christian Identity Movement” prepared by the FBI.

“The federals have by their murder of Samuel and Vicki Weaver brought all of us here together under the same roof for the same reason,” Beam told the crowd. “For the first time in the 22 years that I have been in the movement, we are all marching to the beat of the same drum.”

As the actions at Waco and later Oklahoma City transpired, the movement gained steam, laying ground for the formation of hundreds of militia groups across the U.S.

“(This meeting) is viewed by groups like SPLC and the Anti-Defamation League as having been the defining moment that launched the 1990s militia movement,” said Beirlich. “We had anti-government groups in the 1970s as well, which were broadly organized under the term posse comitatus, but the quickness for which the militia anti-government movement grew in the late 1990s, where it went from almost nothing to 858 groups as recognized by the SPLC in 1996, is astounding.”

The list grew under President Barack Obama in 2012, spiking at 1,360 groups recognized as “anti-government ‘patriot’ groups” by the SPLC.

The Platform of the Patriots 

Central to any militia movement or patriot group is the idea of  limited federal government.

Lawrence Reed of the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation sums up the argument for limited government as thus: “With regard to government, at the ‘core’ of our core principles are these unassailable truths: Government has nothing to give anybody except what it first takes from somebody, and a government that is big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you’ve got.”

The line of thinking is that more regulating agencies mean more regulations. More regulations lead to excessive taxes to fund social programs viewed by many on the right as unnecessary. In other words, the more they give, the more potential they have to take it away.

Another issue that unites the militias is immigration, with most patriot groups supporting secure borders and only carefully vetted legal immigration. Those who come into the U.S. illegally would not enjoy the rights of American citizens.

“The one thing about the modern-day militia movement, traditionally is, this is not a hate movement,” said Beirlich. “They say it’s not about race, it’s about issues.”

A current snapshot of recognized anti-government groups in the US. Courtesy of SPLC.

However, as Beirlich pointed out, many on the extremes show evidence of a growing anti-immigration stance centered around the Islamic faith.

“The amount of anti-Muslim rhetoric that you find now on patriot websites and forums is incredible,” said Beirlich. “It frankly doesn’t sound any different in many cases as our anti-Muslim hate groups.”

Sandpoint saw an example of an anti-immigration reaction in 2015 when Bonner County Commissioners unanimously voted to oppose Syrian refugee resettlement. No program for the resettlement of any refugees had been considered in Bonner County at the time.

When the Sandpoint City Council later considered an opposite resolution welcoming Syrian refugees, over 100 people swarmed the council chambers to vigorously protest the action. The council ultimately voted to kill the motion.

Finally, strong support and application of the Second Amendment is another key issue that most often unites those on the right.

In what was viewed as a major victory for Second Amendment rights, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in any militia for traditionally lawful purposes, such as home self-defense.

“(That verdict) is an outcome of (the militia) movement as well,” said Beirlich. “I would argue this movement has influenced the Republican party substantially and helped propel the NRA to the position it has today. That Second Amendment interpretation hadn’t existed before, so some would argue our entire relationship with guns in this country has been influenced by this particular movement.”

Second Amendment supporters, on the other hand, argue that the right to bear arms has always historically been a personal right, and that it is only in the polarized environment of modern times that the Supreme Court was required to rule that the Second Amendment applies to all citizens.

Bush, 9/11, Obama and the Rise of the Tea Party 

Beirlich contends that the party which holds the presidency often influences the rise and strength of militia groups and also affects the general mistrust of the federal government.

“These groups sort of wax and wane based on whether Democrats are in office or not,” said Beirlich.

With the election of George W. Bush in late 2000 and the subsequent terrorist attacks carried out by Al-Qaeda on Sept. 11, 2001, the nation appeared to pull together in order to heal the wounds afflicted by a foreign terrorist group.

Beirlich said that “although the anti-government movement went a little dormant under George (W.) Bush, it sprung right back to life with the same themes and the same grievances when Obama came into office.”

The election of President Barack Obama in 2008 was followed by an economic downturn known as the “Great Recession” in which U.S. – and ultimately world markets – were sent into a downward spiral thanks to widespread failures in financial regulation and the practice of toxic mortgages that tanked the real estate market.

As a result, the U.S. endured years of high unemployment, low consumer confidence, a decline of home values and a marked increase in foreclosures and bankruptcies that led to increased federal debt, inflation and rising food and fuel prices.

In the instability following the recession, with anti-federal government feelings rising again under a Democrat president, a new conservative populist political movement called the Tea Party emerged.

The catalyst for this movement came in early 2009 when CNBC commentator Rick Santelli referenced the Boston Tea Party in response to Obama’s mortgage plan relief, which amounted to a federal “bailout” to protect banks from failing on a large-scale basis.

The segment went viral, and within weeks, Tea Party chapters popped up across the country. They were promoted by conservative pundits like Glenn Beck, who called for a platform opposing excessive taxation and governmental intervention in the private sector while supporting strong immigration controls. Tea Party chapters also pushed back against the government-mandated health care plan Obama had been proposing.

The libertarian timbre of the movement drew many disaffected Republicans under the Tea Party banner, and the anti-government tone resonated with the swelling militia chapters across America.

“Originally, most Tea Party concerns had to do with what was going to happen with financial crisis,” said Beirlich. “But it quickly became subsumed by anti-immigrant politicking.”

Beirlich said the Minute Man Movement of 2005-2006, which saw an influx of private citizens patrolling the southern U.S. border for illegal aliens, eventually found a home within the Tea Party movement.

The Tea Party ranks were also teeming with “birthers,” or individuals who believed Obama had been born outside the U.S. and was not eligible to serve as president. Proponents of the conspiracy theory included dozens of members of Congress, television political pundits and future president Donald Trump. Trump maintained his claim against Obama until just before the 2016 election when he stated that Obama was born in the U.S., although recent reports claim he may still harbor doubts as to the former president’s birthplace.

The Tea Party ranks swelled to their highest levels during 2009-2010, with over a third of the nation identifying with the movement. When former vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin resigned as Governor of Alaska in 2009, many viewed her as the new unofficial Tea Party spokesperson.

In the 2010 midterm elections, the New York Times identified 138 candidates for Congress with Tea Party backing, all of whom ran as Republicans. Over half were elected to the Senate and a third to the House. Many of today’s household names in politics were elected into office with the help of the “Tea Party Express,” including Sen. Ted Cruz, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Rand Paul.

“The Tea Party took up anti-government stances and became a transfer point of anti-immigrant and anti-government thinking into the full GOP,” said Beirlich. “You didn’t see the full flourishing of that until the 2012 election when the platform for the GOP included things like Agenda 21.”

Agenda 21 is a non-binding action plan first proposed by the United Nations (UN) in 1992 to support social development issues such as poverty, hunger, health, education, climate change, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, environment and social justice. George H.W. Bush signed the voluntary pact in 1992.

Opponents of Agenda 21 view it as a “globalist” ploy to deny private property rights, undermine U.S. sovereignty and force citizens to move from rural to urban environments. The UN has traditionally been viewed by the Tea Party and the conservative right as a threat to national sovereignty and personal rights.

One of the most outspoken critics of Agenda 21 is American Policy Center president Tom DeWeese, who in 2015 described the resolution as “a new kind of tyranny that, if not stopped, will surely lead us to a new Dark Ages of pain and misery yet unknown to mankind.”

“Agenda 21 began to be seen out of the propaganda of the anti-government world as a socialist plan to take over the country to enforce all these crazy environmental rules and take our cars away,” said Beirlich. “Glenn Beck even wrote a novel to resist Agenda 21 … but, that conspiracy theory ended up in the GOP platform. Mitt Romney had interactions with Kris Kobach from Kansas about putting anti-immigration stuff into the platform. The Tea Party rose up about the financial issues and very quickly started taking up these extremist ideas and eventually became like a funnel from the far right on certain policies into the GOP.”

Beirlich said the Tea Party generally fell out of favor as a protest movement because it ultimately became accepted within the framework of the Republican party.

“The argument is that the Tea Party became subsumed by the GOP,” said Beirlich. “There was no need for a Tea Party chapter if the GOP is responding to your concerns.”

In “Steep: The Precipitous Rise of the Tea Party,” UC Berkeley’s Center for RightWing Studies program director Christine Trost wrote: “A key lesson of the book is to not think of the Tea Party as this separate thing, but to understand it as a core element of the Republican Party. It’s really a question of the future of the Republican Party. Is the party going to be taken over by a very conservative, very active base that’s been growing over the last 30 years, or (is it) going to leave … and go someplace else?”

Political Migration Movements

Reacting to what a growing number of people viewed as a toxic system, various political migration movements arose around the country over the past several decades.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, tens of thousands participated in various agrarian movements across the U.S. known collectively as the “Back to the Land” movement that called for people to take up small tracts of land to grow food on a small-scale basis and live in closer harmony with the land.

The Free State Project is a libertarian movement begun in 2001 that called for at least 20,000 libertarians to move to New Hampshire in order to make the state a stronghold for libertarian ideals. Twelve “free staters” were elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 2010, 11 in 2012, and another 15 in 2014.

Christian Exodus is a political-religious movement first proposed in 2003 that called for “thousands of Christian Constitutionalists” to move to South Carolina to “accelerate the return of self-governance based on Christian principles,” according to their website. The group called for “personal secession” by “disentangling from society” by promoting home schooling, going off the electric grid and instituting self-sufficient farming practices. The movement largely fell off the map in 2013.

“The Back to the Land movement was political, but it was almost like personal politics, like ‘I’ll get my life straight by going back to the land and living in a better way,’” said Beirlich. “It was a hippie kind of thing. Christian Exodus was more radically political. The whole idea … was to get enough people to take over state politics and decide what life is like for fellow citizens. It’s more of a citizen action than Back to the Land. It’s all about reordering the political process.”

Ruby Ridge Redux 

A 21-year grazing dispute between Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management erupted in early 2016 when Cliven’s sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy led a group of armed supporters in occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge building in Oregon for 40 days in protest of the federal government’s court decision against Bundy.

The plight of the Bundys quickly became a rallying cry for patriot and militia groups who viewed the situation as another instance of the federal government’s overreach and regulatory practices oppressing the rights of private citizens.

The Bundys and others who follow their fringe line of thinking followed a philosophy that combines Mormon theology, apocalyptic end-times beliefs and Constitutionalism outlined in the famed “Nay Book,” which is condemned by the Church of Latter Day Saints. Supporters of this philosophy disputed the ownership rights the federal government had in the first place on BLM grazing land.

“That’s the situation that is the most reminiscent of Ruby Ridge,” said Beirlich.

It wasn’t just militia and patriot groups that turned out to support the occupation of the federal building. The Malheur standoff also gained support from elected officials from surrounding states, including appearances by Idaho state representatives Judy Boyle, Heather Scott and Sage Dixon, Washington state representatives Graham Hunt and Matt Shea and Nevada State Rep. Michelle Fiore via telephone.

Beirlich sees the attendance and support of elected officials at Malheur as a troubling circumstance.

“When political figures get involved actively, they give credence and essentially endorse the views of these people,” said Beirlich. “That is very problematic. It makes it a much more volatile situation.”

Juries have been reluctant to convict the participants in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation, although there were several guilty pleas. The actual convictions resulted in prison, fines and supervised release and probation. No prison terms exceeded 18 months.

From Ruby Ridge to Redoubt 

While the events that occurred at Ruby Ridge happened over 25 years ago, the anti-government feelings that rose from its ashes continue to affect the political complexion of North Idaho and the rest of the nation today.

Through the rise of the militia movement, the birth of the Tea Party and its later acceptance within mainstream GOP ideology, and the increased number of people participating in political migration movements, it showed there was a populace hungry to free themselves from what they viewed as an oppressive federal government. The end goal: to remake their vision of a harmonious society in an agreed upon location, to practice elements of self-reliance and prepare their loved ones for the possibility that the house of cards could eventually come crashing down.

In 2011, James Wesley, Rawles (sic) wrote an essay on that he claimed launched a movement to the American Redoubt. Eastern Washington and Oregon, Idaho, western Montana and Wyoming held promise because of its lower population density, reduced risk of natural disasters and a political environment that was growing more protective over individual freedom and liberty.

In next week’s issue, we’ll discuss the political aspects of the Redoubt movement specifically, and examine the impact it has had on North Idaho’s political environment.

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