Siege at Ruby Ridge: The Forgotten History of the ATF Shootout That Started a Militia Movement

The Siege at Ruby Ridge is often considered a pivotal date in American history. The shootout between Randy Weaver and his family and federal agents on August 21, 1992, is one that kicked off the Constitutional Militia Movement and left America with a deep distrust of its leadership – in particular then-President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno.

The short version is this: Randy Weaver and his wife Vicki moved with their four kids to the Idaho Panhandle, near the Canadian border, to escape what they thought was an increasingly corrupt world. The Weavers held racial separatist beliefs, but were not involved in any violent activity or rhetoric. They were peaceful Christians who simply wanted to be left alone.

Specifically for his beliefs, Randy Weaver was targeted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) in an entrapping “sting” operation designed to gain his cooperation as a snitch. When he refused to become a federal informant, he was charged with illegally selling firearms. Due to a miscommunication about his court date, the Marshal Service was brought in, who laid siege to his house and shot and killed his wife and 14-year-old son.

Randy Weaver was, in many ways, a typical American story. He grew up in an Iowa farming community. He got decent grades in high school and played football. His family attended church regularly. He dropped out of community college and joined the United States Army in 1970. After three years of service, he was honorably discharged.

One month later he married Victoria Jordison. He then enrolled in the University of Northern Iowa, studying criminal justice with an eye toward becoming an FBI Agent. However, he dropped out because the tuition was too expensive. He ended up working in a John Deere plant while his wife worked as a secretary before becoming a homemaker.

Both of the Weavers increasingly became apocalyptic in their view of the world. This, combined with an increasing emphasis on Old Testament-based Christianity, led them to seek a life away from mainstream America, a life of self-reliance. Vicki, in particular, had strong visions of her family surviving the apocalypse through life far away from what they viewed as a corrupt world. To that end, Randy purchased a 20-acre farm in Ruby Ridge, ID, and built a cabin there.

The land was purchased for $5,000 in cash and the trade of the truck they used to move there. Vicki homeschooled the children.

Continue reading Siege at Ruby Ridge: The Forgotten History of the ATF Shootout That Started a Militia Movement at Ammo.com.

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My Scary Manifesto

You do you; I’ll do me.

I accept that I, as a human being, have no right to initiate force or violate property rights– both those concepts being covered by the statement: I have no right to archate.

You also have no right to archate, but if you do anyway it’s your problem.

I believe that if you are doing something you have no right to do, you are doing something wrong. If you make a habit of it you are one of the bad guys.

I don’t believe in punishment, which I see as revenge.

I do believe in defense.

I also believe in justice, which is punishment’s polar opposite. I won’t go after you claiming “justice”, although if you violate someone and don’t pay restitution I will not lift a finger to help you in any way. I will then advertise the fact and hope you die alone, exposed to the elements and starving for food and water. But it’s not my job, nor any human’s job, to do what nature will take care of just fine without my help.

I don’t believe there’s any such thing as a “right to govern” and see all attempts to govern anyway as archation; as attacks on the life, liberty, and property of others. I’m not obligated to stop you– but I won’t step in and prevent consequences from paying you an unpleasant visit. Play stupid games; win stupid prizes. And I may exercise the right to defend myself and others from your violations– at my discretion. If you choose to violate others, watch your back forever.

I don’t recognize your political government nor its “laws” as anything other than thuggery. The reality is that there will always be bad people around. I won’t let them dictate the terms of my life. Some bad people aren’t somehow “better” than others. If you continually choose to archate you are the same as every other person who continually chooses to archate.

If I try to impose myself or my values on you, you have the right to stop me. Whatever it takes. I have the same right if you are the one trying to impose on me. It doesn’t matter if this imposition and violation is called a “law” or an opinion.

Live and let live. Anything less is barbaric.

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Questioning the Back-To-School Default

Back-to-school time is upon us. My Instagram feed is starting to fill with first-day photos as a new school year begins this week in some parts of the country. For those of us who homeschool, we often get asked, “So, why did you decide to homeschool?” We respond with various personal and educational reasons, including the top motivator for homeschoolers on national surveys: “concern about the school environment.” What always strikes me, though, is that parents who send their kids to school never get asked this question. When was the last time someone asked a parent, “So, why did you decide to send your child to school?”

Societal Expectations and Defaults

Schooling is the default. It’s the societally expected thing to do. It’s also mandated of parents under a legal threat of force, so they may not think much of it. The trouble is that schooling is beginning to take on a much larger role in a child’s life, disconnecting children from family at much earlier ages and for longer portions of a child’s day and year. Even compulsory schooling laws are expanding in many states, to begin at age five and extend to age 18.

I wrote an op-ed about this trend in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, arguing that there are benefits to delaying early schooling for most children and potential harms with sending children to school early, such as increased ADHD diagnosis rates. It can be worthwhile to question the default.

In his book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant writes that a hallmark of originals and change-makers is their tendency to question, and often reject, societal defaults. Grant writes:

Justifying the default system serves a soothing function. It’s an emotional painkiller: If the world is supposed to be this way, we don’t need to be dissatisfied with it. But acquiescence also robs us of the moral outrage to stand against injustice and the creative will to consider alternative ways that the world could work. The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists. (p. 7)

Better options than compulsory mass schooling do exist, and many more would be created if more parents challenged the default. We should be outraged that schooling has seized so much of childhood and adolescence, particularly when the results of all this schooling are lackluster at best and concerning at worst. We should be outraged that government schools increasingly look like prisons and that students are being schooled for jobs that no longer exist. We should question whether a system in which only one-quarter of high school seniors are proficient in math, and only a bit over one-third of them are proficient readers, should be given greater influence and authority over young people’s lives. We should really wonder if it makes sense to place our children in this swelling system, whether they are toddlers or teens. Surely, we should “consider alternative ways that the world could work.”

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Alternative Options

What are these alternative ways? Jessica Koehler has a great article this month at Psychology Today where she lists some of these alternatives and also explains her own journey of shifting from schooling to homeschooling for her children. In addition to homeschooling/unschooling, parents can delay preschool and kindergarten, explore various co-ops and learning centers, take advantage of one of the many micro-schools that are sprouting nationwide, and explore alternative programs for teens, like community college enrollment, travel, or apprenticeships. Or they can build their own alternative to school with other like-minded parents. Other options are virtual learning programs, including public ones, and nearby public charter schools or private schools that can sometimes offer flexible learning and attendance options.

Questioning the schooling default, and acting upon that doubt, can be difficult. It is much easier to put a child on a school bus and be just like everyone else. It is easier to go along. But it may not be better—for you, your child, or the world you could help to create. As Adam Grant says, it’s the non-conformists who move the world. These originals are the ones who question the status quo, refuse to tolerate discontent, and imagine new possibilities. Grant writes:

Ultimately, the people who choose to champion originality are the ones who propel us forward….They feel the same fear, the same doubt, as the rest of us. What sets them apart is that they take action anyway. (p. 28)

We all care deeply about educating children to be literate, competent, inventive, compassionate, and thoughtful. It’s time we question if compulsory mass schooling really has the ability to facilitate these outcomes, for our children and others, or whether alternatives to school might do the job better. It’s time to challenge defaults.

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Battle of Athens: The Forgotten History of the Tennessee Rebellion Against Local Government

The fight for civil rights in America is not limited to black Americans. Nor is the American Revolution limited to the 1700s. Case in point: The Battle of Athens. This was a pitched physical confrontation lasting two days in 1946, but with roots stretching back into the 1930s. It is part of an overall pan-racial resistance to anti-democratic government forms throughout the United States – and an oft-forgotten moment in American history.

A corrupt political machine run by E.H. Crump was centered in Memphis, but had influence throughout the entire state of Tennessee. This extensive influence was used to alter the election laws and charters of cities and counties to make the electoral process more favorable to Crump and his men. Sheriffs and their deputies were paid on a fee system, whereby they received more money the more people they incarcerated — with predictable results. Travelers and tourists were hit hardest, with buses traveling through Crump-controlled areas pulled over and (the entire bus) ticketed for drunkenness.

This was felt particularly sharply in McMinn County, which was historically Republican. It has been alleged that the basis of Crump’s political power was delivering this Republican stronghold to Democrat President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1936 election. The Justice Department investigated election fraud there in 1940, 1942 and 1944, but declined to take action. The poll tax and politicized ballot counting were the most common methods of fraud, as well as that old standby of having dead people cast ballots.

The advent of World War II made matters worse. Most of McMinn County’s young men were off fighting the war. This meant that the county began scraping the bottom of the barrel when it came to appointing lawmen. Ex-cons were not considered unworthy and many were hired to help the county meet its needs. Gambling and bootlegging were permitted for those politically connected individuals within the county. To make matters worse, the machine was firmly in control of the newspapers and schools, and was the most gainful employment in the county.

Continue reading about the Battle of Athens: The Forgotten History of the Tennessee Rebellion Against Local Government at Ammo.com.

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Human Sacrifice: A Grand Old American Political Tradition

On July 25, US Attorney General William Barr ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons to update its execution protocol and schedule five executions starting this December.

Whether you support the death penalty or not — I don’t because I prefer limited government and the power to kill disarmed prisoners in cold blood and with premeditation is by definition unlimited government — it’s worthwhile to ask:  Why? More to the point, why now?

Politics, that’s why.

There’s a presidential election next year. US president Donald Trump’s re-election strategy, for lack of ability to grow his electoral “base,” is to keep that base energized and enthused so that they’ll turn out to vote instead of sitting at home catching up on re-runs of their favorite TV shows. And that base overwhelmingly supports capital punishment.

With this move Trump is quite literally throwing his supporters some red meat.

There’s nothing new about the idea. Indeed, the history of public human sacrifice for political purposes runs all the way back to ancient history in the Americas.

The last large-scale pre-Columbian example of the practice, that of the Aztecs, involved removing the beating heart of the victim atop a pyramid temple before flinging his or her corpse down the steps to the approval of a roaring crowd.

In this way, Aztec kings not only maintained support from their own populace through religious appeals, but kept smaller tribes too busy raiding each other (for sacrificial captives to be given to the Aztecs in tribute) to ally with each other against the Aztecs themselves.

If these five executions occur, they will be the first federal executions since 2003. There have only been three since 1963.

So, again, why? And why now?

Deterrence isn’t an answer that fits. Overall, violent crime (including murder) in the US has trended downward, not upward in recent decades (from 758 per 100,000 population in 1992 to 383 per 100,000 in 2017).

Neither is reducing the costs of incarceration. Of the more than 200,000 federal prisoners, only 61 are on “death row.” It’s unlikely that killing every last one of them would make a big dent in the Bureau of Prisons’ $7.3 billion annual budget.

Speaking which, if money was the problem, all five of the prisoners to be killed could as easily have been left to the justice systems of the states in which their crimes were committed and would have likely been sentenced to either death or life imprisonment without involving federal tax dollars in the first place.

The same is true regarding any moral “eye for an eye” imperative.  Handling this kind of crime, and this kind of criminal, was never supposed to be the federal government’s job.

That leaves politics. Trump is playing Montezuma in hopes of holding on to his adoring crowd.

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The Bayesian Prisoners’ Dilemma

Suppose someone sends you a new article claiming X.  Intuitively, we think, “This will either make you more likely to believe X, or have no effect.”  Once you understand Bayesian reasoning, however, this makes no sense.  When someone sends you an article claiming X, you should ask yourself, “Is this evidence stronger or weaker than I would have expected?” If the answer is “stronger, ” then you should become more likely to believe X.  However, if the answer is “weaker,” then you should become less likely to believe X.

Thus, suppose you initially consider X absurd.  When someone sends you some evidence in favor of X, you should update in favor of X if the evidence is less awful than expected.  You should update against X, in contrast, only if the evidence is even more awful than expected.

Similarly, suppose you initially consider X absurd, but your brilliant friend nevertheless defends it.  The fact that a brilliant person believes X is evidence in its favor.  Given his brilliance, however, his arguments should only persuade you if they are even better than you would have expected from one so brilliant.  When a great mind offers mediocre arguments, you shouldn’t merely be unmoved; you should be actively repelled: “That’s the best you can do?!”

Example: One of the smartest people I know routinely sends me pro-“social justice” links on Twitter.  As a result, I think even less of the movement than I previously did.  If even he fails to defend his view effectively, the view is probably truly devoid of merit.

What, however, should I conclude if this mighty intellect simply stopped sending me links?  One possibility, of course, is that he’s given up on me.  Another possibility, though, is that he’s exhausted his supply of evidence.  At this point, he’s got nothing better than… nothing.

The strange upshot: While Bayesian reasoning seems to imply that persuasive efforts are, on average, ineffective, there is a reason to keep arguing.  Namely: Failure to argue is, on average, an admission of intellectual defeat.  And by basic Bayesian principles, this in turn implies that the continuation of argument is at least weak evidence in favor of whatever you’re arguing.

Stepping back, you can see a somewhat depressing conclusion.  When people are perfect Bayesians, argument is a kind of Prisoners’ Dilemma.

If your opponent keeps arguing, you want to keep arguing so it doesn’t look like you’ve run out of arguments.

If your opponent stops arguing, you want to keep arguing to emphasize that your opponent has run out of arguments.

As a result, both sides have an incentive to argue interminably.  Which, as you may have noticed, they usually do.

Is there any ejector seat out of this intellectual trap?  Yes.  You could build a credible reputation for talking only when you have something novel to add to the conversation.  Then instead of interpreting your silence as, “I’ve got nothing,” Bayesian listeners will interpret it as, “I’ve rested my case.”

[silence]

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