FAIRBANKS — Word of a verdict in the Alaska Peacemakers Militia trial spread quickly to Fairbanks Monday afternoon.
Reactions were mixed to the news that the Anchorage jury convicted Schaeffer Cox and Lonnie Vernon of conspiracy to commit murder while deadlocking on this charge for Coleman Barney.
Within a few minutes of the verdict’s announcement, the news had reached the office of Alaska State Trooper Lieutenant Ron Wall, one of the law enforcement officers prosecutors said Cox targeted.
“I think this proves that the system works,” Wall said in reaction to news of the conviction. “It’s probably not perfect, but it’s the best system out there.”
Fairbanks defense attorney Robert John, who represented Cox in an earlier, now-dismissed state of Alaska incarnation of the case, called the verdict “ludicrous.” He said he thought Cox was headed to acquittal on the murder conspiracy charge.
“It’s a sad day for liberty for the First Amendment rights of free speech and free association,” he said. “The government is running this bogus war on domestic terror and it can’t find domestic terrorists, so it goes and creates some.”
Aaron Bennett, a defense witness in trial and owner of Far North Tactical in Fairbanks, said Monday that while he personally dislikes Cox, he was concerned by the way the government investigated.
“The only reason I think it [the verdict] is remotely alarming at all... is what it spells out for everyone else: Yes, the FBI can come here. Yes, the FBI can do whatever they want to anybody. And yes, they can get a guilty verdict on the supposition that they may commit a crime rather than getting criminals that have committed crimes,” he said.
In the trial, Bennett was one of several witnesses who testified that FBI informant Bill Fulton aggressively demanded Cox talk about a supposed plan to kill judges at his store in summer 2010.
Bennett also said Monday it was Cox’s decision to take the witness stand in his own defense that may have cost him the conviction.
“[The prosecutors] were able to produce videos of him talking about killing about people, laughing about it,” he said. “Then the defense was dumb enough, in my opinion, to put him on the stand and tell the jury that he did not really say those things.”
Investigators including the FBI, Alaska State Troopers and Fairbanks police spent about a year investigating Cox and his Peacemakers Militia before arresting Cox and four others on March 10, 2011. At the Fairbanks Police Department Monday afternoon, police Chief Laren Zager had not yet heard the results of the verdict but sounded relieved the jury trial of the complex case was completed.
“It’s a serious, sensitive battle between freedom of speech and association versus hostile acts against the government,” he said. “Those kinds of cases are not only sensitive but are a substantial resource draw.”
Fairbanks North Star Borough Assemblyman and talk show host Michael Dukes said there were several calls about the verdict on his “Michael Dukes Show” on radio station KFAR Monday afternoon. Roughly half the callers thought the jury reached the wrong conclusion, while about half thought Cox had the convictions coming, he estimated.
Dukes said he had few doubts the jury would convict on the weapons charges, based on his research on the gun laws. He estimated Cox had about a 50-50 chance of being convicted of conspiracy to murder federal employees.
“[Cox] got the sticky end of the lollipop,” Dukes said.
Building a militia: Timeline of Schaeffer Cox
• Feb. 11, 1984: Cox was born Francis August Schaeffer Cox, and goes by Schaeffer Cox. Cox moved to Alaska from Colorado about the year 2000.
• May 2003: Cox received a high school diploma through the Nenana correspondence program CyberLynx. He briefly attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Instead of studying business, he decided to start one, he said in a later political campaign. He opened a construction and landscaping operation.
• August 2008: Cox challenged Representative Mike Kelly in the Republican primary for House District 7. Cox received 37 percent of the vote to Kelly’s 50 percent. Cox also led the Ron Paul presidential primary campaign in Alaska.
• February 2009: Cox started the Second Amendment Task Force, a gun rights group that held several meetings in 2009. About 150 people attended an initial meeting at Denny’s Restaurant. Larger meetings were held at Friends Community Church and the Carlson Center. Also beginning in February, Cox organized several open-carry days to protest gun control legislation in Washington. One open-carry day at Carl’s Jr. was attended by U.S. Representative Don Young.
• Later in 2009, Cox founded a group called the Alaska Peacemakers Militia. Cox said this group was created to check governmental power and create stability if the U.S. government collapsed. Cox said the Peacemakers Militia had 3,500 members, although it has never made a full list of members available because Cox said many members like to keep a low profile.
• March 5, 2010: Cox pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment and is sentenced to two years probation for allegedly punching and choking his wife during a car ride to visit his mother-in-law in Anchorage. Cox said he only pushed her during the argument.
• March 17, 2010: Cox is arrested and charged with fifth-degree weapons misconduct for allegedly not informing a Fairbanks police officer that he, Cox, was carrying a concealed handgun. Cox was monitoring a police search of a residence as a member of the Liberty Bell Network, a group Cox organized. Members of the group send out mass notifications to other network members if they feel their rights are being violated. Network members are then supposed to show up with cameras to document the reported abuse of power. Police said they were responding to a 911 hang-up call at the house where Cox was subsequently arrested. His supporters say there was no 911 call.
• Jan. 16, 2011: A proceeding that Cox’s supporters consider a legally binding trial was held for Cox in a back room at Denny’s Restaurant. The group “acquitted” Cox of the March 2010 weapons misconduct and the March 2010 domestic violence charges. Cox considers himself a sovereign citizen and not subject to the laws of the nation.
• Feb. 4-6, 2011: Cox’s militia associates attend a militia convention in Anchorage to investigate buying grenades and other illegal weapons, according to the FBI, which had been monitoring Cox for at least 10 months. Cox stayed home because his wife was giving birth to their second child.
• Feb. 12, 2011: According to the FBI, Cox announced a murder plot called “2-4-1” (two-for-one) to four members of his Peacemakers Militia. The plan involved a kind of retributive justice, by which militia members would kidnap two law enforcement officers if Cox or other militia members were arrested. Two targets were to be killed if Cox was killed, and two government buildings were to be burned if Cox’s house was seized, according to the investigation.
• Feb. 14, 2011: A warrant was issued for Cox’s arrest after he did not show up at his jury trial on the misdemeanor weapons charge.
• March 10, 2011: FBI, U.S. Marshals and Alaska State Troopers arrive at militia members’ homes in Fairbanks, the North Pole area, Salcha and the Elliott Highway. Cox and four militia members are arrested on state charges including conspiracy to commit murder. Cox also faces federal weapons charges. Two co-defendants, Lonnie Vernon and Karen Vernon of Salcha are accused of a separate plot in federal court to allegedly kill a federal judge, members of his family and an IRS agent.
• Oct. 17, 2011: A state judge banned the use of more than 100 hours of electronic surveillance in the murder conspiracy case, costing prosecutors a large quantity of evidence against Cox.
• Oct. 28, 2011: The state of Alaska dismissed all charges against the five defendants in the murder conspiracy case and released one from jail. Federal charges against the other four defendants, including Cox, remain in place. The dismissals follow a recent court ruling that keeps prosecutors from using secret FBI recordings as evidence.
• Jan. 23, 2012: Cox and two others again faced murder conspiracy charges, this time from federal prosecutors who say the three had a plan as far back as 2009 to kill federal officials, including TSA employees, border patrol agents and U.S. marshals.
• May 8, 2012: An Anchorage jury of seven men and nine women hear opening arguments in the case against Cox, Coleman Barney and Lonnie Vernon.
• June 13: Closing arguments are made.
• June 18: Jury reaches conviction.