Militia activist Schaeffer Cox and four associates who reportedly stockpiled weapons were arrested on Thursday for allegedly conspiring to kill multiple Alaska State Troopers and a federal judge.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that the group — Cox, Lonnie. G. Vernon and his wife Karen Vernon, as well as Coleman Barney of North Pole and Michael Anderson — were taken into custody by state police. All five face several state charges, including “conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, conspiracy to commit arson, misconduct involving weapons in the third degree, hindering prosecution in the first degree and tampering with evidence,” according to a press release by the Alaska State Troopers.
Only one of the individuals, Lonnie G. Vernon, has been charged on the federal level so far. He’s alleged to have threatened to murder U.S. District Court Judge Ralph R. Beistline from on or about Feb. 4, continuing through Feb. 16.
U.S. Attorney Karen L. Loeffler, the top federal prosecutor in Alaska, confirmed to TPM on Thursday that Vernon was the only individual facing federal charges. “I can’t really comment beyond anything else of what is publicly charged — Mr. Vernon is charged with threatening to kill the judge and his family, and he was arrested on that. Everything else, all the other arrests, are state.”
Loeffler said her office was working closely with state authorities. She declined to comment on whether Vernon was involved with any militia organizations and could not say how the threats were allegedly relayed. She said there is an arraignment scheduled for 10:30 a.m. local time Friday, where Vernon is expected to plead not guilty.
The News-Miner reports that Lonnie and Karen Vernon are already being tried in a federal civil case for allegedly owing “$166,000 in unpaid income taxes, interest and penalties for 1996 and the years 2000 through 2003.” Judge Beistline was presiding over their case, first filed in 2009. He wrote last month:
To date, the defendants have given the court no reason to believe that the government’s figures are wrong, nor have they apparently attempted to discuss these matters with the government in good faith. It has come to the point where defendants must set forth their position in plain English so that the court can understand whether or not they have any legitimate defenses to the government’s claims.
An arrest warrant had been previously issued for Alaska militia leader Schaeffer Cox after he failed to appear at a February 15 court date for a weapons charge. Cox was being tried for allegedly failing to tell a police officer that he was carrying a concealed weapon in March 2010. He had also been picked up around that time following an altercation with his wife, for which he pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment.
According to the Associated Press, Cox explained that he missed the February court appearance after the judge in his case barred him from discussing or arguing about his position on “the validity of, ‘sense’ of, or constitutionality of the law.”
“The judge,” Cox told the AP, “by signing an order forbidding all reference to the constitution, has divested himself of all authority vested in him by that constitution and the law requires me to now resist by all means necessary or else be an enabler of lawlessness.”
Cox, reports the Daily News Miner, considers himself a sovereign citizen (someone who believes that almost all forms of government in the United States are illegitimate), and said in a lengthy courtroom speech last year that he wouldn’t cooperate with the court system. He reportedly sees himself as a peacemaker between his supporters and the government. He is a leader of the Second Amendment Task Force, which eventually spawned the Alaska Peacemakers Militia. Cox also mounted an unsuccessful challenge to Republican Rep. Mike Kelly in 2008.
Cox says in a YouTube video that he’d “kill for liberty” and launches into conspiracy theories about the federal government and the existence of the IRS.
“Our government does not operate under the rule of law. They operate under the rule of force,” Cox says in the YouTube video. “It’s not the rule of law it’s the threat of force. You know how the Oxford English Dictionary defines terrorism? Government through intimidation. That is profound. My deepest fear is that our government is not going to hear us until we speak to them in their language, which is force. (APPLAUSE) That doesn’t necessarily mean violence. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against violence. I’m not against spilling blood for freedom. I’m not against— I will kill for liberty. Everyone asks will you die for liberty. That’s not really the right question to ask. The right question to ask is will you kill for liberty. Because if you would kill for liberty, it assumes you will die for liberty.”
Coleman Barney was also a member of the Second Amendment Task Force, and apparently appeared at the Second Amendment March in April, 2010, dressed in colonial costume and touting an AK-47. Picture here, via the News-Miner.
“There’s been an explosion of anti-government sentiment, and part of that is the sovereign citizen movement,” Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center told TPM on Friday. “Anti-government is sort of understating their view of the fed.” The SPLC lists the Alaska Peacemakers Militia as an anti-government “patriot” group.
Additional reporting by Melissa Jeltsen.