Anderson Testifies in '2-4-1' Militia Trial About Researching Cops' Addresses for Cox (UPDATED)
Defendant Schaeffer Cox is shown at left
ANCHORAGE - During the trial of Schaeffer Cox and two others who are accused of making plans to kill government employees, a former co-defendant of the Fairbanks militia leader testified Tuesday morning about doing research for Cox on the home addresses of law enforcement officers.
Michael O. Anderson, who was jailed for eight months awaiting trial last year on his own now-dismissed murder conspiracy charges, spent more than two hours on the witness stand.
He testified he did collect information on about 20 government employees for Cox, but not with the intent of hurting anyone. He said he refused to give up the database and destroyed it when he began to have doubts about what Cox and members of his Peacemakers Militia were going to use it for.
Anderson is no longer charged in the case and federal prosecutors offered immunity from future prosecution as long as he testifies honestly.
Although the trial is now in its second week, Anderson is the first witness with a personal connection to the defendants to testify. The defendants and many people in the audience of about 20 spectators turned to watch as he walked into the courtroom accompanied by an assistant U.S. attorney.
Anderson is 36 years old and described himself as a father of two, a mining engineer and former pilot. He said he grew up partially in Anchorage but has lived in the Fairbanks area for about seven years. He has glasses, a short haircut and wore a purple dress shirt with a white collar Tuesday.
Anderson’s attorney Robert Herz also attended the hearing. When testimony began, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Bryan told Anderson that he was free to stop and consult with his attorney before answering any question.
On direct examination Anderson did not elect to consult his attorney and answered all questions freely. But on cross examination from Cox’s attorney Nelson Traverso he did claim attorney-client privilege once when asked if a previous public defender in the case received pressure from federal investigators to persuade him to cooperate.
Anderson said he first met Cox in 2008 at the state Republican convention. They enjoyed discussing politics and philosophy and once spent a summer doing construction and yard work jobs together, he said. They have in common an interest in preparing themselves for what would happen if society collapsed, but Anderson said he was not interested in joining Cox’s militia, which he described as “narcissistic.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Skrocki questioned Anderson about several pieces of paper found at his home with names or other information related to government employees.
Anderson said he used public information sources like the state’s Department of Natural Resources website to look up information including home addresses of government employees on several occasions in 2010, both for Cox and for his own purposes.
In the spring of 2010 he said he began working on a database of people he and Cox thought might be “potential enforcers” if society collapsed and martial law was declared. He estimated the database had information of about 20 people, including Alaska State Troopers, Fairbanks police and an officer with the Alaska Office of Children’s Services.
Anderson said Cox asked him to get the address of the Office of Children’s Services employee because she was involved in a child custody case involving Cox’s son. After looking up possible addresses for her, Anderson said he drove to one of the addresses and took a picture of a license plate number he hoped to use to confirm the employee’s identity. He said Cox told him he wanted the address of the employee so he could talk to her, but also said he would put a bullet through her windshield if she hurt his family.
Anderson said he agreed, with some hesitation, to be part of a “security detail” for Cox when Cox had a meeting with the employee. Anderson said he drove to the meeting with an assault rifle and body armor in his vehicle and then sat outside in the vehicle.
In addition the computer database, Skrocki asked Anderson about a piece of notepad paper found at Anderson’s house with a crude drawing of the Federal Courthouse and names of Alaska State Troopers, two U.S. Department of Homeland Security employees and a TSA employee.
Anderson said he made made the notes in the spring of 2010, during a conversation with Cox about a federal “hit team” Cox said was trying to kill him.
Anderson said he suggested setting up a camera at the federal building to film the license plates of vehicles leaving the building and used the sketch to illustrate the idea.
Not all the testimony had to do with Cox. Investigators found a yellow “Rite in the Rain” notepad Anderson said he uses for survey work which had a page with the words “Federal Hit List,” followed by the name of a U.S. Marshal stationed in Anchorage.
Anderson said he wrote the message at a time when he was angry with the government and saw the name of the marshal in a news article. After writing the words he said he realized he never wanted “to become that hateful,” and did not do anything else with the notebook.
In early 2011, Anderson destroyed his electronic database of government employees after getting an unexpected request for it.
The request came from Gerald “JR” Olson, a member of Cox’s militia who Anderson had never met who was also happened to be a secret FBI informant who joined the militia to investigate Cox’s activities.
“It shocked me,” Anderson said on the witness stand Tuesday. “I didn’t know what was going on, and all of a sudden this guy called me up and asked for it.”
Anderson destroyed the database by first wiping the file and then physically smashing his hard drive with a hammer. He said he did it because he had not been in close contact with Cox much and did not know what Olson wanted to do with the database.
Anderson was arrested March 10, 2011, and charged along with Cox and three other co-defendants with conspiracy to commit murder.
In jail, Anderson said he was placed in a small segregated cell where he worried about proving his innocence.
He became suicidal and hacked at his wrists with a sharpened — but still dull — piece of metal from his eyeglasses.
He was put on suicide watch when a guard saw the blood, he said.
In jail, Anderson said he was on good terms with his co-defendants when he saw them at the gym or at church services. Both Cox and co-defendant Coleman Barney helped him get through the difficult time, he said.
Last fall, Anderson was released from jail after the state of Alaska dropped its charges against all five defendants over an evidentiary issue. Cox and the others remained in jail without bail on federal charges, which were never filed against Anderson.
But Anderson was not out of the woods yet. Federal prosecutors said Anderson was not cooperative with a grand jury subpoena in the Cox case in December and arrested him again for a week to compel his testimony at the grand jury.
During cross examination Tuesday, Barney’s attorney Tim Dooley asked Anderson to describe the conditions of his second arrest, which took place at his friend Joshua Bennett’s house.
Anderson said he was angry at that point, and “just getting fed up with the whole thing.”
But when Dewley asked if the federal officials who arrested him were men with “Darth Vader”-looking gear carrying drawn weapons, Anderson corrected him to say the weapons were not drawn.
“They were reasonable with me,” he said. “They were nice.”
Cox, Barney and their third co-defendant Lonnie Vernon are charged with conspiracy to commit murder and various weapons charges. Their trial began last week in U.S. District Court in Anchorage and is expected to last about six weeks.
Contact Fairbanks Daily News-Miner staff writer Sam Friedman at 907-459-7545. Follow him on Twitter, @FDNMcrime