Indictments cite weapons buying

MILITIA: Members sought grenades and silencers, officials say.

March 18, 2011 

Fairbanks militia members accused of planning to kill judges, Alaska State Troopers and others traveled to Anchorage in early February to purchase illegal weapons and explosives, according to state and federal prosecutors.

Four members of the Alaska Peacemakers Militia -- including the group's self-described leader, 27-year-old Francis Schaeffer Cox -- face a combination of state and federal charges.

New details emerged Friday as two federal indictments, announced on Thursday, were made public by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

One of the indictments accuses Lonnie G. Vernon, 55, and his wife, Karen Vernon, 64, of conspiring to kill a U.S. District Court judge, one of the judge's family members, and an IRS employee. Judge Ralph Beistline presided over the Vernons' trial over unpaid federal taxes and the government was moving to foreclose on the Vernons' home in Salcha to satisfy the debt, according to court documents. The Vernons are also charged with threatening the lives of Beistline and the family member and for multiple weapons charges.

Another indictment alleges Cox, Lonnie Vernon and Coleman Barney, 36, owned and conspired to possess illegal weapons -- including grenades and machine guns -- and silencers used to muffle the sound of a gunshot.

Cox, Barney and the Vernons are also listed in a state criminal complaint following their March 10 arrests in Fairbanks for an alleged plot to kidnap or kill Alaska State Troopers, among other targets, and burn their houses.

A fifth man, 35-year-old Michael Anderson, aided the militia members by collecting surveillance and developing a list of targets, according to the state complaint.

The four "command staff" militia members, as they're described in the complaint, were recorded by the FBI in numerous meetings talking about the plan to retaliate if law enforcement attempted to arrest Cox, who at the time was wanted for a misdemeanor warrant for failing to appear in court.

According to a federal indictment filed Thursday, the militia members sought and obtained the illegal guns, grenades and silencers "in furtherance of their collective belief that at some undetermined point in the future they would have to take up arms against the government."

On Feb. 4, Cox allegedly told Vernon and another person to go from Fairbanks to Anchorage to get hand grenades and plastic explosives.

Vernon talked to the unnamed weapons source in Anchorage over the next two days about grenade bodies and fuses and about his own efforts to get a silencer, according to the indictments.

Vernon stayed in touch with the Anchorage contact in the ensuing weeks, at one point expressing his desire to use the silencer to kill an IRS agent. Vernon allegedly offered to trade a firearm for the silencer and once, with his wife present, offered to trade Karen Vernon's jewelry for the silencer, according to the indictment.

Meanwhile, Cox and Barney were allegedly placing orders for a pistol, silencers and grenades. Cox wanted at least 25 grenades, according to the indictment, but asked for a "volume discount," saying if he could get the price down to $70 per grenade, he could purchase more. The indictment didn't say what the original price was.

Later, Cox found out he would only be getting eight grenades, which he agreed to purchase March 5, the indictment states.

"Cox also stated that once he got his family transported out of Alaska he was going to return to Alaska to wage guerilla warfare," according to the indictment.

It wasn't until March 10 -- the day of the arrests -- that any weapons changed hands, according to the court documents.

Cox and Barney each bought a pistol with a silencer and together received four hand grenades. What they did not know was that the grenades were inert, meaning they could not detonate. Barney also carried with him $6,000 cash to buy more guns and destructive devices, according to the indictment.

It's unclear when or where the transactions took place, or whether Cox and Barney were with the Vernons at the time. The government alleges that on the same day, the Vernons also bought a gun with a silencer and three hand grenades, which were also, unknown to them, unable to explode.

Also on March 10, before they were arrested, Cox and Barney allegedly moved a white trailer -- which held "destructive devices," a Sten 9mm machine gun, a silencer and numerous firearms -- from Barney's property in North Pole to the parking lot of the Fairbanks Ice Park, where the World Ice Art Championships are held each spring.

The militia members had previously maintained several other weapons caches around Fairbanks, according to the court documents. Some of the charges are related to the possession of weapons in those caches.

Cox ran afoul of the law in March 2010 when he allegedly failed to notify a police officer that he was carrying a concealed handgun. Cox made statements in court that his militia had the Alaska State Troopers "outmanned and outgunned" and vowed not to appear for a Feb. 14 court date.

A misdemeanor warrant for Cox's arrest was issued when he did not appear in court. Much of Cox's alleged plotting, including his "241 (two for one) Plan," stemmed from his apparent belief that troopers would attempt to arrest him and possibly take his toddler child.

Cox told his fellow militia members that they would need to kill two law enforcement officials if any one of the militia members was killed, kidnap two of the officials if one from the militia was arrested, or burn two of the officials' houses if any one of the militia members' houses was taken, according to the state's complaint.

"I know you're ready to die, but you have to be ready to kill," Cox said, according to an FBI recording quoted in the criminal complaint.

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