Minister Proves Hard to Shake

Times Staff Writers

If you ask Handshake Man, the will of God is a powerful thing.

The Rev. Richard “Rich” Weaver credits the Lord’s wind at his back with helping him breeze into the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., Thursday, where he handed President Bush an eight-page typed “message from God” about Iraq.

The Lord’s work, he says, has earned him his moniker, one that he would just as soon lose.


“I could care less about shaking hands,” Weaver said in an interview at his home in the suburban Sacramento community of Rocklin.

Propelled by the mandate of his tiny ministry -- Pro-Athletes for Spiritual Revolution -- the nondenominational Weaver travels the country to pro football games and the World Series, gaining access to celebrities for a quick shot at spiritual inspiration.

He has also bagged plenty of presidents with a quick pump of the hand and a word from God. In addition to the two Bushes (twice each, Weaver says), he has made his way within handshake range of Clinton (four times), Carter (twice), Reagan and Ford.

“I’ve got the most exciting life in America, and it’s not planned except by God,” a gregarious Weaver said Friday, his speech punctuated by earnest bursts of words like “cool” and “golly.”

The brazen caper at the National Prayer Breakfast marked the third time Weaver made headlines in recent years. He got a message to President Clinton on his second inauguration in 1997.

In 2001, he gained access to a restricted area to accost Bush with a religious pep talk on his Inauguration Day. And that was after U.S. Capitol Police had watched videos of the Clinton stunt and had been told to be on the lookout.

“Absolutely, we know about him,” a public information assistant for the Capitol Police laughed Friday. “He always manages it. We don’t know how.”

Capitol police were off the hook Thursday, because the breach occurred at the Washington Hilton -- not on their watch. Weaver passed by security and through a metal detector along with other guests, who included 56 senators, 240 House members, First Lady Laura Bush, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers and CIA Director George Tenet.

Weaver said he had so much spare change in his pockets that he had to pass through the detector three times. By the time he was wanded, such a long line had formed that event organizers just waved him through. Once again, Weaver was in.

Without a ticket.

He had his picture taken with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and others, then took a seat at Frist’s table, five feet from the president’s table. At one point, Weaver unhooked a rope in front of the head table and handed the president the letter, which warned: “If America does not repent, there will be 50,000 casualties and a six-month war” with Iraq.

“He looked peaceful,” Weaver said, “and I had a tough message.”

A few minutes after he took his seat, a Secret Service agent quietly approached Weaver and asked to speak to him.

Weaver suggested they go to his room, where four or five agents talked to him for about 90 minutes.

It marked the fourth time he’d had a heart-to-heart with agents. Weaver claims to have converted a handful of them to the path of Jesus Christ.

He was not charged with a crime, but agents later followed him as he tripped off to Rite Aid to pick up his photos from the event.

Secret Service spokesman John Gill declined to comment Friday on the agency’s knowledge of Weaver or to confirm specifics of the incident.

“Handshake Who?” said Gill. “I’m just not going to comment at all about the man you describe as ‘Handshake Man.’ ”

Gill did say that “the individual in question passed through the same security measures as the rest of the attendees and posed no threat to our protectees.... The president was not in any danger at any time.”

Gill would not describe the array of security measures, other than to confirm that all guests passed through a metal detector.

As for the Rite Aid jaunt, Gill said the description was consistent with Secret Service policy.

“Any time somebody exhibits an unusual direction of interest toward our protectees, the Secret Service will follow up with that,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of doing otherwise.”

Weaver grew up in Redding, the son of a preacher. But the relentless pace of ministry did not appeal to him.

When he found the Lord, he opted for a freelance approach, focusing on the men who are the most likely role models for youth.

He also learned as a youth that money was not important to him, so he tries to minister to those he believes have been corrupted by material wealth. In the last 12 years he has focused on athletes. He proudly shows off a picture of himself with basketball great Michael Jordan. He also claims to have shared Christ with Donald Trump and former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield.