Fugitive becomes folk hero in mountaintop standoff

August 26, 1992|By Timothy Egan | Timothy Egan,New York Times News Service

NAPLES, Idaho -- To hear the supporters of Randy Weaver tell it, the man holding off nearly 200 police officers and federal agents from his mountaintop cabin here is not the violent racist depicted by the authorities. But rather, as with other notorious fugitives who have found refuge in this remote wilderness just south of the Canadian border, he is a folk hero.

In the five days since a deputy U.S. marshal, William F. Degan, and Mr. Weaver's son, Samuel, 13, were killed in a shootout, crowds of people have been steadily harassing the officers who are trying to detain the fugitive. He has vowed to die, and to take his three daughters and his wife, Vicki, with him if necessary.

Mr. Weaver, who is wanted on a federal gun charge, has been holed up in his cabin since January 1991, when he failed to appear in court. The federal authorities have kept the cabin under surveillance, hoping, they said, to arrest him without a confrontation. They did not stop visitors, who regularly brought in food and other supplies.

On Friday, the authorities said, six agents approached the cabin and were met by Mr. Weaver and family members. Gunfire

erupted, and Deputy Marshal Degan was slain.

FBI agents said they did not know about any casualties among the Weavers until Sunday night, when they found Samuel's body. The agents, who waited a day to announce the boy's death., said Samuel was killed Friday in the initial exchange of gunfire.

After the announcement late Monday, a crowd of Weaver supporters gathered at the roadblock two miles from the family's cabin, screaming "Baby-killer!" at local police officers and urging retaliation.

Every day the same scene plays out. About three dozen angry men, women and children, many of them Weaver's neighbors, scream "Traitor!" and "We'll get you!" at the police officers at the roadblock. The crowd kicks police cars and shouts obscenities at the federal agents, most of them outsiders, who are manning the roadblock.

Even beyond the continuing confrontation at the roadblock, there is evidence of considerable support in Idaho for Mr. Weaver and other fugitives who have taken on the federal government.

White supremacists, although disavowed by virtually every politician in the state, continue to flourish in Idaho; the headquarters of the Aryan Nations, a radical neo-Nazi group, has been based 60 miles south of here, at Hayden Lake, for more than a decade.

In a curious way, Mr. Weaver's sympathizers seem to mirror gang members in South-Central Los Angeles who have made heroes of young men who vowed to kill police officers. Both groups reject the authorities as outsiders who are harassing the locals for racial or political reasons.

"Randy Weaver just wanted to be left alone, but the government went after his property, after his firearms, and now they're paying for it," said Chuck Sandelin, a Baptist preacher who has lived in northern Idaho for 20 years and who was at the barricade this week shouting his support for Weaver. "That man, Randy Weaver, is a patriot, not a criminal."

Carolyn Trochmann, a friend of the Weavers who has been bringing the family food for the last year, was also at the barricade, along with several of her children.

When she last visited them, a month ago, all of the children except the baby were armed, Mrs. Trochmann said, adding, "I'm proud of Randy, and I hope he doesn't surrender."

Like other supporters of Mr. Weaver, Mrs. Trochmann expressed XTC little sympathy for the deputy marshal who was killed. She said the agents "provoked" the killing by trespassing on Weaver's property, 20 acres of thick forest on a mountaintop just outside this hamlet of 130 people.

The cabin is in Boundary County, which has only a single black family, according to the recent census.

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