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Irrational Fear of Government Seen in Suspect

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

When Rusty came around, his neighbors tended to edge away. Along the remote Montana rural route they shared, the sour, red-haired man and his simmering, unexplained hostility against the government were sure-fire conversation-stoppers.

Rusty Weston was trouble walking.

The trail that led Russell Eugene Weston Jr., the 41-year-old suspect in Friday’s chaotic gun battle in the corridors of the nation’s Capitol, to Washington took him from a Mississippi River flood plain town in southern Illinois to isolated Montana gold country. But wherever he lived in recent years, shuttling back and forth between his two rural lives, Weston’s teeming thoughts were trained on Washington and his imagined enemies there.

He told neighbors in the historic mining camp area where he lived 15 miles west of Helena, Mont., that the government was using satellite dishes and electronic devices to siphon away his daily thoughts. He dashed a letter off to federal authorities to complain they had seeded land mines near the old wood-plank shack where he stored his gold-panning equipment. His government contacts were inflammatory enough to lead Secret Service agents to classify Weston as a low-level security threat.

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“People would wave hello to him, and all you got for it was an earful about how the government was spying on him,” said Ken Moore, 76, a retired carpenter who lived down the road from Weston’s ramshackle barn-like residence.

Weston had taken up in a shelter near Ten Mile Creek, a stretch of tall pines and spruces about 20 miles south from where another Big Sky hermit, Unabomber Theodore J. Kaczynski, holed up. Weston panned for gold near the creek, not far from where prospectors first discovered deposits nearly a century ago. He tooled around town in an old pickup truck with Illinois license plates, his distinctive red hair now flecked with gray.

Moore ran into Weston several times over the last three years, and, like most everyone else who encountered him, the hermit ran him off with rants about government watchers.

Once Moore watched, puzzled, as Weston tore down a television cable running into his property. Weston explained brusquely that the power line contained wiretaps. During another encounter, Moore waved hello as Weston went for his mail, only to be accused of working in concert with unseen federal agents.

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“He came up and told me my satellite dish should be facing south,” Moore said. Weston bellowed angrily that “ ‘they’re using it to look at me.’ He was just that kind of guy. He really believed they were watching him.” As Moore walked away, he heard Weston talking animatedly to the dish. “Here I am!” Weston yelled into the air.

Another neighbor, who declined to be identified, found Weston pacing back and forth along the road near his shack one evening at dusk. When the neighbor asked if he could help, Weston said that he was looking for “men with guns.” Alarmed, the neighbor asked if he should contact a sheriff’s deputy. “Not if you want them to come after you too,” Weston said.

Weston lived alone most of the time during his stays at the Montana shack but did spend a brief period there about three years ago with a sister who has since moved to Arkansas, neighbors said. The sister, Moore said, had told neighbors that Weston had been taking antidepressant medication.

“He was paranoid about everything,” said Roger Siewert, a construction worker who lived near Weston’s shack. “One day it was satellite dishes beaming in on his brain. The next day it was that the people that assassinated [President] Kennedy were out to get him. Then it was the CIA, and the FBI.”

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Weston would ramble on about an imagined “friendship with the Kennedys, and how they were after him, and the satellites and they were picking up messages on him. And they were trying to poison him.”

When Weston returned to Valmeyer, he would move into his parents’ home on B Road near the Mississippi River. The Westons were among the residents of this oft-flooded lowland town who briefly fled to high ground after the devastating flood of 1993. The Westons, who “live just about where the levee broke,” according to neighbor Sue Rybar, are among 400 residents who are being relocated to new dwellings out of the river’s wake.

Weston had shown up at his parents’ house in recent weeks, Valmeyer neighbors said. About three weeks ago, Rybar said, Secret Service agents fanned through town, questioning those living nearby about Weston’s habits and anti-government bent.

The Miami Herald reported on its Web site Friday night that Weston had fled his family’s home Thursday after he had an argument with his father, Russell Weston Sr., 66, over the shotgunning of nearly a dozen cats.

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“He doesn’t have too many friends,” the father said.

Times staff writer Richard A. Serrano in Washington contributed to this story. Braun reported from Washington and Beckham from Chicago.


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