The True Story That Inspired the ‘Outsiders’

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 Courtesy WGN

Outsiders, a new series which tells the story of a secret clan in the Appalachians and the battle to keep their land, premieres this week on WGN. Creator Peter Mattei says his inspiration for the new series came from an odd place: Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood.

"It was from my experiences of gentrification in a New York neighborhood that, when I moved there, was like an abandoned factory zone. At this point, it's turned into a super-high-end, fancy tourist destination," he said. "A lot of people were trying to fight for their homes while all this big money came in and was pushing them out."

Outsiders' off-the-grid tribe, the Farrells — led by Big Foster (David Morse) — aren't being pushed off their land by the government for hipster real estate, but for coal. The clan has been squatting for decades, living off the land.

"I've always been interested in people living alternative lifestyles that put into focus, and question, how we live today," Mattei says. "And so it came together in the idea of this clan living on top of a mountain. They have to fight for their way of life and their survival."

Though the initial spark of the idea for Outsiders came from gentrification, the mountain clan's fight for survival has roots in a darker part of history, particularly two incidents that took place six months apart in the early '90s. On August 21, 1992, six U.S. marshals took up positions around a cabin in a remote north Idaho wilderness known as Ruby Ridge. The property belonged to Randy Weaver, a white supremacist who had moved to the area nine years before with his wife, Vicki, and their children with the plan to home-school the kids and escape what they saw as a corrupted world.

Weaver had a warrant out for his arrest after he failed to appear in 1991 for charges stemming from selling two illegal sawed-off shotguns to an ATF agent (he'd been sent the incorrect court date, a fact that didn't stop the judge from issuing a bench warrant). It was later revealed that the ATF levied charges against Weaver only after he'd refused to become an informant.

The marshals had been attempting to negotiate with Weaver, but he refused to leave his cabin. That April, media reports alleged that Weaver had fired upon a helicopter filming a news show for Geraldo Rivera. Though the helicopter pilot denied being fired upon, this only added to the flame. Things came to a head on August 21, when one of the marshals began throwing rocks at the cabin to gauge the reaction of the Weavers' dogs. Kevin Harris, a family friend, and 14-year-old Samuel Weaver emerged from the cabin, along with their dog, Striker, whom they thought had noticed some game. According to Harris, Striker ran up to one of the marshals wanting to play, who in turn shot the dog dead. "You shot my dog, you son of a bitch!" Samuel yelled before shooting at the marshal. The boy was then shot in the back and killed while retreating. Harris shot U.S. marshal Michael Degan dead before running back to the cabin.

After the shootout, the remaining marshals went to a neighbor's house to call for backup while Randy and Vicki collected their son's body, placing it in the guest cabin. The following day, Randy, Harris, and his daughter Sarah left the cabin to check on Samuel's body, and Randy Weaver was shot and wounded by FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi. As they ran back to the main cabin, the sniper shot again, wounding Harris and killing Vicki Weaver, who'd been standing in the doorway holding their 10-month-old baby, Elisheba. Harris surrendered August 30, with the remaining Weavers following suit the next day. The family later filed a wrongful death suit against the government for $200 million, but settled for far, far less (had it gone to court, an unnamed official claimed, it's likely they would've won the full amount). The government admitted no wrongdoing in the deaths of Vicki and Samuel Weaver. Horiuchi was charged in 1997 for the involuntary manslaughter of Vicki Weaver, but these charges were dropped by a federal judge in 1998.

A mere six months later, a similar standoff in Waco occurred (incidentally also involving sharpshooter Horiuchi). Some would later characterize both events as a one-two punch that reinforced the distrust of government among radicals, with Ruby Ridge and Waco becoming the right-wing extremist's version of "Remember The Alamo!" Indisputably, both events serve as clear examples of government ineptitude, the ramifications of which are still felt to this day. (In order to avoid similar instances, the FBI is not aggressively responding to the Oregon standoff militants.)

As for what becomes of the armed, ATV-driving mountain clan in Outsiders, viewers will have to start tuning in January 26 to find out.