Most everyone knows the story of Ruby Ridge. In the following article Gerry Spence tells a good friend why he agreed to defend Randy Weaver. It is a powerful statement on what is best in America.
The following excerpt comes from Gerry Spence’s From Freedom to Slavery, the Rebirth of Freedom in America (1996)(pp. 13-50). It is reprinted here with the permission of the author. It includes a letter that the Wyoming defense lawyer wrote to a friend who had urged that he withdraw from the Weaver case. Spence’s friend, the Jewish former CEO of Columbia Pictures, expressed concern that Spence’s defense of Weaver would lend credibility to the “despicable” racist and neo-Nazi groups with which the Weaver family had been associated. Randy Weaver’s wife was dead, shot through the head while she clutched her child to her breast. His son was shot, twice. First they shot the child’s arm, probably destroyed the arm. The child cried out. Then, as the child was running they shot him in the back. Randy Weaver himself had been shot and wounded and Kevin Harris, a kid the Weavers had all but adopted was dying of a chest wound. The blood hadn’t cooled on Ruby Hill before the national media announced that I had taken the defense of Randy Weaver. Then all hell broke loose. My sister wrote me decrying my defense of this “racist”. There were letters to the editors in several papers that expressed their disappointment that I would lend my services to a person with Weaver’s beliefs. And I received a letter from my close friend Alan Hirschfield, the former chairman of chief executive officer of Columbia Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox, imploring me to withdraw.
“After much thought I decided to write this letter to you. It represents a very profound concern on my part regarding your decision to represent Randy Weaver. While I applaud and fully understand your motives in taking such a case, I nonetheless find this individual defense troubling. It is so because of the respectability and credibility your involvement imparts to a cause which I find despicable….”
The next morning I delivered the following letter by carrier to Mr. Hirschfield:
“I cherish your letter. It reminds me once again of our friendship, for only friends can speak and hear each other in matters so deeply a part of the soul. And your letter reminds me as well, as we must all be reminded, of the unspeakable pain every Jew has suffered from the horrors of the Holocaust. No better evidence of our friendship could be shown than your intense caring concerning what I do and what I stand for.
I met Randy Weaver in jail on the evening of his surrender. His eyes had no light in them. He was unshaven and dirty. He was naked except for yellow plastic prison coveralls, and he was cold. His small feet were clad in rubber prison sandals. In the stark setting of the prison conference room he seemed diminutive and fragile. He had spent 11 days and nights in a standoff against the government and he had lost. His wife was dead. His son was dead. His friend was near death. Weaver himself had been wounded. He had lost his freedom. He had lost it all. And now he stood face to face with a stranger who towered over him and whose words were not words of comfort. When I spoke, you, Alan, were on my mind.
“My name is Gerry Spence” I began. “I’m the lawyer you’ve been told about. Before we begin to talk I want you to understand that I do not share any of your political or religious beliefs. Many of my dearest friends are Jews. My daughter is married to a Jew. My sister is married to a black man. She has adopted a black child. I deplore what the Nazis stand for. If I defend you I will not defend your political beliefs or your religious beliefs, but your right as an American citizen to a fair trial.” His quiet answer was, “That is all I ask.” Then I motioned him to a red plastic chair and I took a similar one. And as the guards marched by and from time to time peered in, he told his story.
Alan, you are a good and fair man. That I know. Were it otherwise we would not be such friends. Yet it is your pain I hear most clearly–exacerbated, I know, by the fact that your friend should represent your enemy. Yet what drew me to this case was my own pain. Let me tell you the facts.
Randy Weaver’s principal crime against the government had been his failure to appear in court on a charge of possessing illegal firearms. The first crime was not his. He had been entrapped–intentionally, systematically, patiently, purposefully entrapped–by a federal agent who solicited him to cut off, contrary to Federal law, the barrels of a couple of shotguns. Randy Weaver never owned an illegal weapon in his life. He was not engaged in the manufacture of illegal weapons. The idea of selling an illegal firearm had never entered his mind until the government agent suggested it and encouraged him to act illegally. The government knew he needed the money. He is as poor as an empty cupboard. He had three daughters, a son and a wife to support. He lived in a small house in the woods without electricity or running water. Although he is a small, frail man, with tiny, delicate hands who probably weighs no more than a hundred and twenty pounds, he made an honest living by chopping firewood and by seasonal work as a logger.
This man is wrong, his beliefs are wrong. His relationship to mankind is wrong. He was perhaps legally wrong when he failed to appear and defend himself in court. But the first wrong was not his. Nor was the first wrong the government’s. The first wrong was ours.
In this country we embrace the myth that we are still a democracy when we know that we are not a democracy, that we are not free, that the government does not serve us but subjugates us. Although we give lip service to the notion of freedom, we know the government is no longer the servant of the people but, at last has become the people’s master. We have stood by like timid sheep while the wolf killed, first the weak, then the strays, then those on the outer edges of the flock, until at last the entire flock belonged to the wolf. We did not care about the weak or about the strays. They were not a part of the flock. We did not care about those on the outer edges. They had chosen to be there. But as the wolf worked its way towards the center of the flock we discovered that we were now on the outer edges. Now we must look the wolf squarely in the eye. That we did not do so when the first of us was ripped and torn and eaten was the first wrong. It was our wrong.
That none of us felt responsible for having lost our freedom has been a part of an insidious progression. In the beginning the attention of the flock was directed not to the marauding wolf but to our own deviant members within the flock. We rejoiced as the wolf destroyed them for they were our enemies. We were told that the weak lay under the rocks while we faced the blizzards to rustle our food, and we did not care when the wolf took them. We argued that they deserved it. When one of our flock faced the wolf alone it was always eaten. Each of us was afraid of the wolf, but as a flock we were not afraid. Indeed the wolf cleansed the herd by destroying the weak and dismembering the aberrant element within. As time went by, strangely, the herd felt more secure under the rule of the wolf. It believed that by belonging to this wolf it would remain safe from all the other wolves. But
we were eaten just the same.
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