Waco and Ruby Ridge: The 1990s Standoffs Haunting the Oregon Takeover, Explained
Updated by Dara Lind on January 5, 2016, 9:10 a.m. ET
To many people, the most notable thing about the ongoing takeover of a federal government building in Burns, Oregon, is what it doesn’t resemble: law enforcement’s response to groups of nonwhite protesters, which is often much more aggressive even when the protesters are not armed, occupying government property, or issuing vague threats about being willing to respond with violence.
But it’s hardly unthinkable that law enforcement officials would respond aggressively to armed white right-wing extremists. In the early 1990s, in two high-profile standoffs at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, that’s exactly what they did. And it turned out disastrously for them.
If you want to know why the federal government isn’t going into the headquarters of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge with guns blazing (or even firing tear gas canisters through the windows), you need to understand the standoffs at Ruby Ridge and Waco, and the mistakes the government learned to avoid.
This isn’t to say the events at Ruby Ridge and Waco demonstrate that there isn’t a double standard when it comes to law enforcement’s response to radical protests. To the contrary.
The federal government learned from these standoffs that aggressive tactics can sometimes lead to a public backlash. But the story of how that backlash occurred is arguably more interesting, and more revealing, than the story of the standoffs themselves.