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.
No one knows better than children of the Holocaust how the lessons of history must never be forgotten. Yet Americans, whose battle cry was once, “Give me liberty or give me death”, have sat placidly by as a new king was crowned. In America a new king was crowned by the shrug of our shoulders when our neighbors were wrongfully seized. A new king was crowned when we capitulated to a regime that is no longer sensitive to people, but to non-people–to corporations, to money and to power. The new king was crowned when we turned our heads as the new king was crowned as we turned our heads as the poor and the forgotten and the damned were rendered mute and defenseless, not because they were evil but because, in the scheme of our lives, they seemed unimportant, not because they were essentially dangerous but because they were essentially powerless. The new king was crowned when we cheered the government on as it prosecuted the progeny of our ghettos and filled our prisons with black men whose first crime was that they were born in the ghettos. We cheered the new king on as it diluted our right to be secure in our homes against unlawful searches and to be secure in the courts against unlawful evidence. We cheered the new king on because we were told that our sacred rights were but “loopholes” but which our enemies: the murderers and rapists and thieves and drug dealers, escaped. We were told that those who fought for our rights, the lawyers, were worse than the thieves who stole from us in the night, that our juries were irresponsible and ignorant and ought not to be trusted. We watched with barely more than a mumble as the legal system that once protected us became populated with judges who were appointed by the new king. At last the new king was crowned when we forgot the lessons of history, that when the rights of our enemies have been wrested from them, we have lost our own rights as well, for the same rights serve both citizen and criminal.
When Randy Weaver failed to appear in court because he had lost his trust in the government we witnessed the fruit of our crime. The government indeed had no intent to protect his rights. The government had but one purpose, as it remains today, the disengagement of this citizen from society. Those who suffered and died in the Holocaust must have exquisitely understood such illicit motivations of power.
I have said that I was attracted to the case out of my own pain. Let me tell you the facts: a crack team of trained government marksmen sneaked on to Randy Weaver’s small isolated acreage on a reconnaissance mission preparatory to a contemplated arrest. They wore camouflage suits and were heavily armed. They gave Randy no warning of their coming. They came without a warrant. They never identified themselves.
The Weavers owned 3 dogs, 2 small crossbred collie mutts and a yellow lab, a big pup a little over a year old whose most potent weapon was his tail with which he could beat a full grown man to death. The dog, Striker, was a close member of the Weaver family. Not only was he the companion of the children, but in winter he pulled the family sled to haul their water supply from the spring below. When the dogs discovered the intruders they raised a ruckus, and Randy his friend Kevin, and Randy’s 14 year old son Sam, grabbed their guns and followed the dogs to investigate.
When the government agents were confronted with the barking dog, they did what men who have been taught to kill do. They shot Striker. The boy, barely larger than a 10 year old child, heard the dog’s yelp, saw the dog fall dead. and as a 14 year old might, he returned the fire. Then the government agents shot the child in the arm. He turned and ran. the arm flopping, and when he did, the officers, still unidentified as such, shot the child in the back and killed him.
Kevin Harris witnessed the shooting of the dog. Then he saw Sam being shot as the boy turned and ran. To Kevin there was no alternative. He knew if he ran these intruders, whoever they were, would kill him as well. In defense of himself he raised his rifle and shot in the direction of the officer who had shot and killed the boy. Then while the agents were in disarray, Kevin retreated to the Weaver cabin.
In the meantime Randy Weaver had been off in another direction and had only heard the shooting, the dog’s yelp and the gunfire that followed. Randy hollered for his son and shot his shotgun into the air to attract the boy.
“Come on home Sam, Come home.”
Over and over he called.
Finally he heard the boy call back “I’m comin’ Dad”. Those were the last words he ever heard from his son.
Later that same day, Randy, Kevin, and Vicki Weaver, Randy’s wife went down to where the boy lay and carried his body back to an outbuilding near the cabin. There they removed the child’s clothing and bathed his wounds and prepared the body. The next evening Weaver’s oldest daughter, Sarah, sixteen, Kevin, and Randy went back to the shed to have a last look at Sam. When they did, government snipers opened fire. Randy was hit in the shoulder. The three turned and ran for the house where Vicki, with her 10 month old baby in her arms stood holding the door open. As the 3 entered the house Vicki was shot and slowly fell to her knees, her head resting on the floor like one kneeling in prayer. Randy ran up and took the baby that she clutched, and then he lifted his wife’s head. Half her face was blown away.
Kevin was also hit. Huge areas of muscle in his arm were blown out, and his lung was punctured in several places. Randy and his 16 year old daughter stretched the dead mother on the floor of the cabin and covered he with a blanket where she remained for over 8 days as the siege progressed.
By this time there were officers by the score, troops, armored personnel carriers, helicopters, radios, televisions, robots, and untold armaments surrounding the little house. I will not burden you with the misery and horror the family suffered in this stand-off. I will tell you that finally Bo Gritz, Randy’s former commander in the special forces, came to help in the negotiations. Gritz told Randy that if he would surrender, Gritz would guarantee him a fair trial, and before the negotiations were ended, Randy came to the belief that I would represent him. Although Gritz had contacted me before I had spoke to Randy, I had only agreed to talk to Randy. But the accuracy of what was said between Gritz and me and what was hard by Randy somehow got lost in the horror, and Randy’s belief that I would represent him if he surrendered was in part, his motivation for finally submitting to arrest.
And so my friend Allan, you can now understand the pain I feel in this case. It is pain that comes from the realization that we have permitted a government to act in our name and in our behalf in a criminal fashion. It is the pain of watching the government as it now attempts to lie about its criminal complicity in this affair and to cover its crimes by charging Randy with crimes he did not commit, including murder. It is the pain of seeing an innocent woman with a child in her arms murdered and innocent children subjected to these atrocities. Indeed, as a human being I feel Randy’s irrepressible pain and horror and grief.
I also feel your pain, my friend. Yet I know that in the end, if you were the judge at the trial of Adolph Eichmann, you would have insisted that he not have ordinary council, but the best council. In the same way, if you were the judge in Randy’s case, and you had a choice, I have no doubt that despite your own pain you might well have appointed me to defend him. In the end you must know that the Holocaust must never stand for part justice,or average justice but for the most noble of ideals–that even the enemies of the Jews themselves must receive the best justice the system can provide. If it were otherwise the meaning of the Holocaust would be accordingly besmirched.
Alan, I agree with your arguments. They are proper and they are true. I agree that my defense of Randy Weaver may attach a legitimacy and dignity to his politics and religion. But it may, as well, stand for the proposition that there are those who don’t condone this kind of criminal action by our government. I view the defense of Randy Weaver’s case as an opportunity to address a more vital issue, one that transcends a white separatist movement or notions of the supremacy of one race over another, for the ultimate enemy of any people is not the angry hate groups that fester within, but a government itself that has lost its respect for the individual. The ultimate enemy of democracy is not the drug dealer or the crooked politician or the crazed skinhead. The ultimate enemy is the new king that has become so powerful it can murder its own citizens with impunity. To the same extent that Randy Weaver cannot find justice in this country, we too will be deprived of justice. At last, my defense of Randy Weaver is a defense of every Jew and every Gentile, for every black and every gay who loves freedom and deplores tyranny.
Although I understand that it will be easy for my defense of Randy Weaver to be confused with an endorsement of the politics of the Aryan Nation, my challenge will be to demonstrate that we can still be a nation where the rights of the individual, despite his race, color, religion, remain supreme. If this be not so, then we are all lost. If this is not so, it is because we have forgotten the lessons of our histories–the history of the American Revolution as well as the history of the Holocaust.
And so my friend Alan, if I were to withdraw from the defense of Randy Weaver as you request, I would be required to abandon my belief that this system has any remaining virtue. I would be more at fault than the federal government that has murdered these people, for I have not been trained to murder but to defend. I would be less of a man than my client who had the courage of his convictions. I would lose all respect for myself. I would be unable to any longer be your friend, for friendship must always have its foundation in respect. Therefore as my friend, I ask that you not require this of me. I ask instead for your prayers, your understanding and your continued love.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming