Citizens on trial

By MICHAEL CAREYMay 12, 2012 

The federal courtroom in which Schaeffer Cox and his fellow Fairbanks Sovereign Citizens are on trial for allegedly plotting to attack government officials is crowded. Not with members of the public or the three defendants' families but with jurors (and alternate jurors), lawyers for each defendant, prosecutors and their aides, court staff and the defendants themselves.

The defendants before Judge Robert Bryan of Tacoma are ordinary-looking Alaskans ordinarily dressed. If you mixed photographs of the three men with photographs of the male jurors, you would be unlikely to guess who is playing what role in the trial. In that sense, the Fairbanksans are definitely getting a jury of their peers.

Whether guilty or innocent, what separates them from their peers is what's in their heads. This was evident Thursday when prosecutors introduced into evidence packets of paperwork taken from defendant Coleman Barney's home office.

There was a significant amount of information, apparently on disks, about how to organize and operate a paramilitary organization. For example, how to form squads and larger groups and how to communicate with hand signals in the field. This kind of material is often plagiarized and easy to buy. It's in the tradition of "The Poor Man's James Bond" by Kurt Saxon, which has enjoyed widespread popularity for decades among those who would like to develop a secret agent's skills and weaponry.

There also were a number of lists -- of people, of things to do, of places to go. As evidence, these lists are expected to have a sinister overtone, but taken at face value, they rarely rise beyond banality. Context is everything at a trial. During the Rosenberg spy trial of the 1950s, prosecutors introduced Julius and Ethel Rosenberg's kitchen table into evidence. Why? Because the table was expensive and prosecutors wanted to show the financially strapped Rosenbergs purchased the table with money they received from the Russians.

Apparently, the Sovereign Citizens liked slogans, including one read into evidence: "This is a volunteer organization, if you can't follow orders, leave." This seems more like a gag than a serious admonition but the citizens don't seem to have much of a sense of humor.

This trial has just begun but two things are clear. First, Schaeffer Cox and company did not accept the world as they found it, and in their heads they could imagine a new world coming. Second, they had no respect for that slothful, sluggish beast the federal government and no appreciation for what the beast could do to them if roused.

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