A graphic in Sunday's editions accompanying the first article in the series on the siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, incorrectly stated that Richard Rogers, former commander of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team, had been suspended Aug. 11 pending the outcome of a criminal investigation of an alleged coverup in the matter. Rogers was censured and suspended for 10 days last January for drafting and recommending the Rules of Engagement at Ruby Ridge, but he was not among those who were suspended Aug. 11. (Published 9/5/95)

The cabin sits on red fir stilts that are beginning to teeter. The once-abundant vegetable garden is blighted by weeds. The door with the bullet hole is gone. A cheap pine replacement stands in its place, courtesy of the FBI.

This is the ramshackle house that Randy and Vicki Weaver built out of handcut lumber, plywood and castoff mill ends, the one that the government called a fearsome "mountain stronghold." Three years ago, hundreds of FBI agents and other lawmen had it surrounded, claiming that they were facing the most dangerous fanatics their anti-terrorist teams had ever encountered. Snipers, assault squads, helicopters, armored personnel carriers, even a shotgun-toting robot were dispatched to deal with the threat.

Now, the nation's highest law enforcement officials are implicitly apologizing to Randy Weaver and his children and vowing to get to the truth of what happened during and after the bloody 11-day siege at the place called Ruby Ridge, a rocky bluff near this small town in northern Idaho's rugged Selkirk Mountains.

It began when three federal marshals, part of a surveillance operation that had spent more than a year spying on the white separatist, suddenly encountered Randy Weaver, his 14-year-old son, Sammy, and family friend Kevin Harris in the woods near the cabin. Every one of them -- the marshals and the members of the Weaver household -- was armed. The first casualty was Sammy's dog, a yellow Lab named Striker, shot by one of the marshals. The ensuing shootout took less than a minute; when it was over, Sammy Weaver and Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan lay dead.

By the end of the next day, an FBI sniper had wounded Weaver and Harris and had shot and killed Vicki Weaver as she was holding her baby.

Well-known locally as a loudmouth with warped views, Randy Weaver somehow had become, in the government's eyes, a one-man army willing to die in a confrontation with federal agents. His wife, who had written apocalyptic letters to government officials, had come to be viewed as a religious zealot prepared to kill her own children rather than surrender.

Yet throughout the siege, Weaver never fired a shot at anyone. A federal jury later acquitted Weaver and Harris of murdering Degan. Most jurors, according to later interviews, concluded that Harris, who killed the marshal, had fired back to defend Sammy Weaver.

For the FBI, Ruby Ridge clearly was a debacle. For many citizens, it quickly became a symbol of law enforcement abuse and overkill. Testimony in the 1993 trial revealed government bungling and misconduct, and subsequent internal federal investigation confirmed it.

Now there are new allegations of official misdeeds, based on evidence that top FBI officials may have perjured themselves or obstructed justice. FBI Director Louis J. Freeh has described the allegations against his agents as "quite shocking" and, if true, a serious breach of public trust.

Freeh's former deputy director, Larry Potts, and four other senior FBI officials have been suspended indefinitely as a result of new scrutiny of both the Idaho siege and the internal inquiries that followed it. The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into an alleged FBI coverup, particularly concerning the "rules of engagement" that gave the FBI's snipers a license to kill, without warning, any armed adult they saw. Senate hearings begin Wednesday, and House hearings are planned. The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility is conducting a broad administrative review of actions by the U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI.

Whatever comes of these probes, many inside and outside the government see Ruby Ridge as a tragic example of misspent resources. After Weaver and Harris were acquitted of Degan's killing, the Weaver family filed wrongful death claims. Last month, the government agreed to pay the family $3.1 million to cut its losses and prevent further litigation.

"Weaver wasn't bothering anyone," a high-ranking Justice Department official said recently. "If the government hadn't messed with him, he'd still be up on that mountain, talking nonsense."

Randy Weaver, 47, who now lives in Iowa, rarely talks about Ruby Ridge, saying it brings back "terrible memories." In a recent interview with the Des Moines Register, he wept and said: "It should never have started. It should never have happened."

A Washington Post review of official records and trial testimony, as well as interviews with some of the people involved in the episode, demonstrates that the government's case against Weaver -- even the original gun charge that made him a wanted man in the first place -- was plagued by dubious informants, questions of entrapment, staged photographs, sloppy investigative work, contradictory statements and repeated FBI resistance to producing evidence.

Several jurors, after sitting through what some believe to be the longest trial in Idaho history, say it left them thoroughly disillusioned with their government. "An incredible injustice has been done," juror Dorothy Hoffman, a 63-year-old college tutor, said in a recent interview. "The farther we got along in the case, the more I thought, This is ridiculous. The wrong people are on trial.' " A Move to Higher Ground

How Randy and Vicki Weaver -- both products of farm families in the Iowa heartland -- came to live "off the grid" in the densely forested panhandle of northern Idaho reflects the subtle rise of the extremist right in America since the 1970s. The couple gradually had become believers in a movement that divines vile Masonic conspiracies from the backs of dollar bills, recommends the hoarding of precious metals and embraces armed resistance against perceived government intrusions.

Much of their inspiration lay in the Bible -- the family hewed closely to the literal word, referring to God as "Yahweh" and Jesus as "Yashua." One reason the Weavers left Iowa in 1983 was its prohibition against home-schooling. In Idaho, it was allowed; Vicki Weaver could make sure that "secular humanism" would not pollute her children's minds.

Randy Weaver, a tractor mechanic, ex-Green Beret and former Amway salesman, told friends that the Scriptures had guided them to this remote ridge 35 miles south of the Canadian border. To them, it was holy ground, a sanctuary where God's rule, not man's, prevailed:

"Every knee shall bow to Yashua Messiah," predicted a sign on the rutted, dirt road at the entrance to their 20-acre tract.

A former executive secretary, Vicki Weaver was the family's intellectual and spiritual beacon, according to family friends and neighbors. She enforced Old Testament injunctions against eating "unclean" foods such as pork and, during menstrual cycles, she separated herself (and later her adolescent daughter) from the men of the house, living a few yards away in a small, wooden shed.

Neighbors say the Weavers' two-story cabin was comfortable; there was no phone, but a generator supplied power for a TV and appliances. They ate homegrown fruits and vegetables and hunted game. At the time of the siege, in addition to Randy, 44, and Vicki, 43, the household included Sara, 16; Samuel, 14; Rachel, 10; Elisheba, nearly 10 months old; and Kevin Harris, 24, whom the Weavers had taken in as a teenager and treated as a son.

Like other so-called "Christian Identity" millennialists, the Weavers believed that they were God's chosen people. Antisemitism and racial separatism became part of their ideology. They spoke frequently of an impending Armageddon that would pit Christians against the evil forces embodied by a government that the Weavers called the "beast."

Northern Idaho was, and still is, a magnet for people who want to be left alone. Boundary County, where the Weavers settled, has fewer than seven people per square mile. There are perhaps a dozen blacks among its 8,639 population. Statewide, Jews number fewer than 500.

Guns are common in the state, and the Weavers had 14: Vicki Weaver and the children routinely wore sidearms. They were prepared for a confrontation -- either with the wild animals that prowled the woods or with the minions of the "Zionist Occupied Government" who, they believed, were out to get them.

Weaver's anti-government views were well known here. In 1988, he ran in the Republican primary as a right-wing candidate for sheriff, offering an unusual platform. He promised to enforce only those laws the people wanted, and passed out Monopoly-style cards promising voters they could "get out of jail free" if he won. He collected 102 of the 486 votes cast.

At that time, Weaver was of no particular interest to federal law enforcement. But the government was keeping a close eye on violence-prone factions in the Christian Identity movement -- notably The Order; the Aryan Nations; and the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord. Paid informants frequently were used to try to infiltrate their ranks. In the Beginning, the ATF

Ruby Ridge began, as did the February, 1993, siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Tex., with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Branch Davidian leader David Koresh caught the government's attention by stockpiling weapons and hand grenades in anticipation of the "end times." Randy Weaver, who shared Koresh's views on Armageddon and the evils of gun control, was snared because the ATF was interested in an Aryan Nations splinter group suspected of weapons violations.

Weaver was no stranger at the annual Aryan Nations Congress in Hayden Lake, Idaho, where attendees talked of establishing a whites-only homeland and exchanged Nazi-style salutes. Activities included a nighttime cross burning and target practice on human silhouettes that sometimes were wearing Stars of David.

At the first gathering he attended, in July, 1986, Weaver met Kenneth Fadeley, a burly ATF informant posing as a weapons dealer who catered to bikers. Fadeley jotted down the attendees' license plate numbers, but took no special notice of Weaver at first. "My job was to see who was leading the movement and who was following," Fadeley later said.

Weaver was not known to be a member of the Aryan Nations or any violent groups, government agents later testified. But he took his family to at least two other Aryan Congresses. After the 1989 event, Weaver invited Fadeley to his home where, according to the informant, he described himself as "prepared to do something dangerous for the white cause," although Weaver didn't specify what he had in mind. Weaver spoke of having met a "very Christian man," whom the ATF recognized as the head of an Aryan Nations splinter group in Noxon, Mont. The ATF began to see Weaver as a possible entree to the Noxon group and told Fadeley to get closer to Weaver.

The two met again Oct. 11, 1989. Fadeley later testified that Weaver, who had no steady job and said that he "wanted to keep feeding his kids," asked if he could become a supplier for Fadeley's supposedly thriving gun business. Weaver asked him what weapons were most popular and when told sawed-off shotguns were in demand, replied, "Just tell me what you want and what size." Illegal Shotgun Transaction

Thirteen days later, Weaver sold Fadeley two shotguns, their barrels cut about five inches shorter than the legal limit, for $300 and a promise of $150 more.

The ATF taped the transaction, but waited several months before going after Weaver on charges of selling the illegal guns. It was June, 1990, when ATF agent Herbert Byerly confronted Weaver at a local resort. Byerly implied that Weaver could avoid prosecution if he assisted in a Montana investigation and asked Weaver to come to the ATF's office in Spokane, Wash., the next day. According to the ATF agent, Weaver tartly replied that it was against his beliefs to become a "snitch."

The encounter reinforced the Weavers' disdain for the federal government. As Vicki Weaver wrote in a June 12, 1990, letter: "We cannot make deals with the enemy. . . . If we are not free to obey the laws of Yahweh, we may as well be dead!" The letter, later widely circulated, was addressed to the "Aryan Nations & all our brethren of the Anglo Saxon race."

Weaver was indicted that December for the illegal sale of the sawed-off shotguns. A neighbor had labeled Weaver as "paranoid" and "defensive," and the ATF decided he was "too dangerous" to be taken into custody in a normal manner.

To arrest him, ATF agents posed as stranded motorists on the snowy road to his cabin. When the Weavers stopped to help, the agents jumped him and pushed Vicki Weaver face first into a snowbank when she turned to run.

"Nice trick," Weaver said as he was being arrested. "You'll never do that again."

The gun charge was pivotal to the later events at Ruby Ridge. Without it, there would have been no months of federal surveillance, no shootings, no standoff.

Yet when it finally came to trial nearly three years later -- by then a minor piece of the murder prosecution -- Weaver was acquitted of the gun charge. To the jurors, it smacked of entrapment.

In notes he took after hearing the ATF testimony about the gun sale, the jury foreman, Jack Weaver (no relation to Randy Weaver), wrote: "I don't much like Weaver, his white supremacist buddies, or their views, but it is beginning to look to me a lot like much of what has happened cannot be laid at his feet."

Though Weaver had no criminal record, the gun charge was a felony and Weaver was locked up overnight in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. He was arraigned on Jan. 18, 1991, without legal representation. U.S. Magistrate Stephen Ayers entered his not guilty plea, requiring him to post an unsecured $10,000 bond and promise to "refrain from possessing" any firearms. Trial was set for Feb. 19, 1991.

The judge warned Weaver -- wrongly, it turned out -- that if found guilty, he probably would have to reimburse the government for the cost of his court-appointed lawyer. To the Weavers, friends say, that meant they might lose their only appreciable asset: their home.

Later, a court official writing to Weaver erroneously put the trial date as March 20, 1991 -- a month later than Weaver initially had been told. It was a typographical error, but Weaver didn't know that.

When Weaver failed to show up in February, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.

Incensed by her husband's looming prosecution, Vicki Weaver wrote to U.S. Attorney Maurice O. Ellsworth, addressing him as "Servant of the Queen of Babylon." "The stink of your lawless government has reached Heaven, the abode of Yahweh our Yashua," said one letter. "Whether we live or whether we die, we will not bow to your evil commandments."

Officials were alarmed by Vicki Weaver's letters. Assigned to do a threat assessment, federal marshals asked ATF agent Byerly for advice on arresting Weaver. "He believes that this charge by the government against him is the beginning of Armageddon," Byerly reported. "The end of the world is coming and he is ready to make his stand in the final battle. I would urge utmost caution."

Marshals asked a couple who lived near the Weavers to intervene. After visiting the family on March 5, they reported that Weaver was still under the impression his trial date was March 20. He was convinced he would be treated unfairly and feared persecution. All five Weavers signed a letter stating they would not leave "this mountain . . . We will obey our lawgiver and King."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Howen had Randy Weaver indicted on March 14, and the U.S. Marshals Service was asked to bring him in. A Special Operation

Worried that they were facing another Gordon Kahl -- the North Dakota tax resister who in 1983 shot and killed two federal marshals who were trying to arrest him -- the Idaho marshals sent for the Special Operations Group (SOG), an elite Marshals Service unit that handles dangerous fugitives.

SOG hired Texas psychologist Walter Stenning to draw a psychological profile of Weaver from a case-file of existing reports. In a one-page memo, Stenning referred to Weaver as "Mr. Randall" and said that in "his best professional judgment . . . Mr. Randall and family will resist and have the means to resist all but a military type assault. Further, even with a military type assault the family will fight, possibly to the death." Stenning, who declined a recent interview request, recommended waiting to arrest "Mr. Randall" after he had left his house and was alone.

SOG's mission, eventually dubbed "Operation Northern Exposure," involved elaborate surveillance and intricate proposals, from the use of rubber bullets to charting Sara Weaver's menstrual cycle as part of a possible plan to kidnap her from the shed. The overall mission was complicated by the fact that the Weavers had children in the house, according to former U.S. marshal Mike Johnson of Boise.

In June 1991, a SOG team traveled to Idaho, assessed the Weaver case and raised the possibility that Weaver had booby-trapped his property and "set up numerous fortifications." Another SOG team was sent in September, but winter set in before any action could be taken.

"Your lawless One World Beast courts are doomed," the Weavers said in a dispatch from the cabin that was relayed to the marshals on Oct. 12, 1991, by neighbor Alan Jeppeson. Less than two weeks later, with Randy Weaver acting as midwife, Vicki, then 42, gave birth to Elisheba in the wooden shed, henceforth known as "the birthing shed."

Pressure for Weaver's arrest mounted as spring approached. Meanwhile, news reports depicted him as a folk hero holding off the "feds" in an effort to protect his family, and friends routinely delivered supplies to the cabin. On March 27, 1992, Johnson made a last effort to get Weaver to surrender, contacting him through Jeppeson.

Weaver's response to the marshal: "Stay off my mountain."

The government set up a base at a condominium resort 25 miles away, installed solar-powered video cameras in the nearby woods to track family routines and conducted flyovers in surveillance aircraft. Eventually, an "undercover plan" to arrest Weaver was developed by Deputy U.S. Marshal Arthur Roderick of the enforcement division.

The scheme involved using two marshals, posing as husband and wife, to buy adjoining property and clear it, in the process befriending Weaver. Five two-man teams of marshals were to accompany the undercover couple on each visit to the Weavers. The teams would lurk in the woods, hoping to jump Weaver when he was alone.

By August, 1992, the marshals had conducted approximately 24 surveillance missions and compiled hundreds of hours of videotapes. But Roderick believed one more reconnaissance mission was needed before the undercover plan could be implemented. He recommended a six-man team, with three marshals acting as observers at a single post, and the others scouting the property in heavy camouflage. "Let's go get 'em," U.S. Marshal Henry Hudson said from Marshals Service headquarters in Washington.

Deputy U.S. Marshal William F. Degan, commander of SOG's Northeast Task Force based in Boston, was assigned to the scouting team. The job clearly suited Degan, a 14-year Marshals Service veteran and a specialist in tracking fugitives. He knew both Roderick and another team member, Deputy U.S. Marshal Larry Cooper. Cooper and Degan were best friends. They joined the Marshals Service the same day and went through training together. "Billy Degan and I were like brothers," Cooper said.

The three joined up at the Spokane airport on Aug. 17 and began planning the mission. SOG's commanding officer told Degan that they were to complete the surveillance "under cover of darkness" and they were ordered to not provoke a confrontation. But, at Roderick's request, Degan brought with him a sniper rifle, a .223-caliber M-16, a shotgun and a 9mm submachine gun equipped with a silencer.

At 42, Degan's work had earned him the Marshals Service's highest honors, including the director's special achievement award for helping to collar drug fugitives. A "countersniper" in SOG, Degan was also a reserve lieutenant colonel in the Marines; he'd served in the Gulf War.

At 2:30 a.m., Friday, Aug. 21, the marshals set out for Ruby Ridge. Degan hoped it wouldn't take long. He wanted to be home with his wife, Karen, and to cheer on his son, Brian, in summer youth hockey. His older son, Billy, soon would be starting at the University of New Hampshire -- Degan's alma mater.

Inside the cabin, at about 10:15 a.m., the Weavers could hear their three dogs barking at something in the woods. As three armed marshals, in jungle camouflage, approached the property, Roderick testified later, he tossed rocks toward the dogs to see how they would respond.

Weaver, his 14-year-old son and Harris grabbed guns and ran outside as their yellow Lab, Striker, the only dog not chained, took up chase. Harris and Sammy followed Striker, and Randy Weaver took a parallel route along an old logging trail leading down the ridge. They had hoped it was a deer, Weaver later recounted, because only a meager ration of venison remained in the cabin.

Striker was hot on the marshals' trail. The three had no identifying badges or headgear and none was wearing a bulletproof vest. Given that there had been so many previous marshal excursions to the Weaver property, and that this time they came so close to the cabin, an FBI critique later pointed out, detection was "almost certain."

The marshals darted down another leg of the logging trail that intersected with the trail Weaver had taken, at a spot called the "Y." He was headed straight for them when one of the marshals spotted him. They said they identified themselves as U.S. Marshals right away. Weaver said all he heard was a man yelling, "Freeze, Randy!"

"{Expletive} you!" Weaver replied. Hurrying back toward his cabin, he said he heard a gunshot and Striker's yelps.

What happened at the "Y" would later be contested on every point in the federal courtroom where Weaver and Harris were tried and eventually acquitted of murdering Degan. The government contended that the first shot came from Harris and hit Degan. But most jurors, according to interviews after the trial, concluded that Striker was hit by the first bullet, which came from Roderick's weapon.

When Sammy saw Striker hit, he cried, "You shot Striker, you son of a bitch!" according to a statement Harris dictated inside the cabin a few days after the shootout. Harris, who later gave substantially the same account to the FBI, said one of the marshals pointed a gun at Sammy, and the boy opened fire with a .223-caliber mini-14 rifle. Sammy narrowly missed Roderick, and the other marshals began firing.

Further up the hill, Randy fired his shotgun into the air and yelled for his son to run home. Weaver said that "I'm coming, Dad!" were the last words he ever heard from Sam.

"I took cover behind a stump and Sam headed up the road toward home," Harris said. "The men were still shooting at Sam, so I shot one of the sons of bitches."

Sammy Weaver, a slight target who weighed less than 80 pounds, had been hit twice. He died from a 9mm bullet to the back that pierced his heart.

At the cabin, Harris told Randy Weaver that his son was dead. At the "Y," about a half-mile away, the marshals huddling around Degan's body heard cursing, a woman shouting "Yahweh" and gunshots from the top of the hill. Friends and family members later said the shots came from a grief-stricken Randy Weaver, firing into the sky. Word quickly reached Washington that a federal marshal had been murdered and that others were "pinned down" by continuing fire from armed fanatics. By late afternoon, the FBI's hostage rescue team -- 51 anti-terrorist snipers and assault commandos -- was mobilized. The tragedy of Ruby Ridge had just begun. NEXT: The Siege WHO'S WHO VICKI WEAVER, former executive secretary who grew up on a farm in Iowa. Killed by an FBI sniper with a shot to the head on Aug. 22, 1992, while standing in the doorway of her mountain cabin, holding her baby daughter. She was 43. RANDY WEAVER, 47, former tractor mechanic and Green Beret who moved to Idaho with his family in 1983. Wounded by an FBI sniper in the Ruby Ridge standoff. Charged with murder and acquitted in 1993. SAMMY WEAVER, shot in the back and killed Aug. 21, 1992, by a federal marshal after firing at another marshal who had shot his dog. Sammy was 14. KEVIN HARRIS, 27, a family friend whom the Weavers regarded as a son. Wounded in the chest by the same bullet that killed Vicki Weaver. Charged with murder and acquitted. DEPUTY U.S. MARSHAL WILLIAM DEGAN, Boston-based commander of the Special Operations Group Northeast Task Force. Shot in the chest and killed during August 21 shootout at Ruby Ridge. The bullet came from Harris's hunting rifle. LARRY POTTS, assistant director in charge of the FBI's criminal division at the time of the siege. Censured in January 1995 by FBI Director Louis Freeh for "failure of management oversight" at Ruby Ridge; promoted to No. 2 job at FBI four months later; demoted in July; suspended with pay on Aug. 11, pending outcome of criminal investigation of alleged coverup. RICHARD ROGERS, former commander of the FBI's elite hostage rescue team, who formulated the "rules of engagement" at Ruby Ridge -- rules later deemed illegal. Disciplined because of them in January 1995; suspended Aug. 11 pending outcome of criminal investigation. LON HORIUCHI, FBI sniper whose first shot wounded Randy Weaver and whose second shot killed Vicki Weaver and wounded Kevin Harris. Criticized in a Justice Department report for firing the second shot, but defended by Freeh. CAPTION: A federal agent at Randy Weaver's cabin near Naples, Idaho, in 1992. CAPTION: FBI Staging Area: Shortly after Degan and Sammy Weaver were killed, a huge hostage rescue operation was mobilized to handle the siege at the Weavers' cabin. CAPTION: U.S. Marshal William Degan: He was killed in the initial shootout. CAPTION: Vicki Weaver: Shown here at a rented home in Naples, Idaho, in 1989 with children, Samuel, Rachel, center, and Sara. CAPTION: Samuel Hanson Weaver: Randy Weaver's son was about 10 in this 1988 photo. The siege took place on Caribou Ridge, not Ruby Ridge. CAPTION: SHOOTOUT AT THE 'Y' (This chart was not available)