Bill Moeller Commentary: Recalling a Local Twist on the American Tragedy of Ruby Ridge

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Not too long ago, TV channel 9 repeated a program about the sad event that happened in 1992 on Ruby Ridge, a small spot in the northern panhandle of Idaho. 

It was the epicenter for a small crime that escalated into a major disaster. Briefly, Randy Weaver, a former Army Green Beret, his wife Vicki, son Sammy and daughters Sarah, Rachel and baby Elisheba had built a home for themselves as far away from civilization as they could get. 

A friend, Kevin Harris, lived with them. The trouble began when it was claimed that Randy had committed a crime by cutting off part of the barrels of a friend’s two shotguns. 

He was cited for this but did not show up in court despite the number of times he was called. 

From there, the situation slowly escalated until the area around his home was occupied with armed U. S. Marshal deputies and, eventually, even the FBI.

One day, Sammy was out walking with his dog when someone fired a shot and killed the dog.  He returned fire and killed Marshall W. F. Degan, and then he was in turn killed with a shot in the back as he was retreating. 

A standoff at the scene gradually increased for many days until a surrounding officer shot and killed Randy’s wife as she was coming out of their doorway holding their baby. To Randy, surrender became an impossibility.

It was at this point when a man arrived at the scene and offered to walk up the hill to the house in spite of Randy’s shouted promise to shoot anyone who came close to the home. That took guts! His name was James “Bo” Gritz, pronounced with a hard “I” in his last name. He quietly convinced Randy that anything less than surrender would mean not only his own death but also that of the rest of his family and his friend, Harris.

The upshot was that Randy and the remaining family settled for $3.1 million dollars for the deaths of Sammy and Vicki while Harris received a $380,000 settlement but neither was equal to their losses.

My reason for all of the explanation in the previous paragraphs is because of the man who made that potentially suicidal walk up to the house and calmly brought an end to the situation, “Bo” Gritz.

My interest was raised because two years earlier he and I sat across a table from each other and discussed his run for presidency of the United States! That’s right, we once had a presidential candidate in town and I had shaken his hand.

It was back in 1990 on “Let’s Talk About It,” the program I had started and named on KELA. Bo had served the country as an Army Special Forces officer. He was running as the Populist Party candidate for the presidency under the slogan “God, Guns and Gritz.” 

Four years before that, he had been their vice presidential candidate, but he would not campaign after he found out that his running mate would be Ku Klux Klansman David Duke.

Many candidates for office made their way through that tiny KELA studio. 

I can remember when Sen. Patty Murray was making her first — and successful — run for the United States Senate and I recognized how sincere and intelligent she was. 

I also remember another candidate, who shall remain nameless, running to retain a position she already held and how I was totally entranced for the 30 minutes of the program.

Ah, memories! 

Speaking of which, can you remember the last time you sat on a stool at a counter and ordered a strawberry malted milk shake — in a neighborhood drug store?

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Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at bookmaven321@comcast.net.

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