WASHINGTON — THE opening rounds of hearings into the Ruby Ridge shootout of 1992 have not been comfortable ones for US law-enforcement agencies.
Randy Weaver, sobbing and wiping away tears, made a deep impression this week on a Senate panel that is investigating what happened in that tragedy in the Idaho back country three years ago. Mr. Weaver said he is convinced an FBI sniper shot his wife on purpose - only hours after federal agents wearing camouflage and ''ninja-style hoods'' had killed his 14-year old son.
Federal Bureau of Investigation officials and other government agencies will now be forced to defend their actions in the standoff at Weaver's cabin, and deny continuing charges that they have conspired to cover up their actions in the years since.
''A new culture'' is emerging in US law enforcement, charged Sen. Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa at the Senate hearing. ''The swashbucklers are in control and it has to stop.''
In dramatic fashion, Weaver contradicted previous law enforcement testimony on a number of important points.
Most importantly, he insisted that an FBI sniper must have been able to see that his wife Vicki was only holding open a door, and was not threatening anyone, when she was killed by a single bullet. The FBI says curtains over a window in the door obscured the view and that the sniper was aiming for an armed man, family friend Kevin Harris, who was running into the cabin with Weaver.
Weaver also claimed that federal agents dressed in full camouflage and ''ninja-style'' black hoods started a previous shootout that left one agent and Weaver's teenage son, Sam, dead.
WEAVER admitted that he had ''made some mistakes'' too - something that FBI officials now grumble is getting lost in the emotion of the occasion. Weaver did not deny selling a sawed-off shotgun to a federal informant and then not showing up for a subsequent court date.
He did so, he said, because he did not think he could get a fair trial. Ironically, the very fact that the hearing is being held contradicted some of Weaver's previous beliefs.
Weaver said he still holds that blacks and whites should be separated - for, he said, scriptural reasons. But he played down his previous assertions that the federal government is a large Jewish-run conspiracy.
After all, if it was, why was he telling his story in front of TV cameras and senators in Washington?
''They're giving me a fair shake now,'' he said.