In a planning session for his security at a television interview in North Pole, Fairbanks militia leader Schaeffer Cox told a squad of paramilitary volunteers to be ready to shoot to kill, according to a secretly recorded conversation played in court Monday.
Asserting that he, his wife and child had been targeted by a clandestine, six-man federal hit squad that had arrived in Alaska from a base in Aurora, Colo., Cox told his men they could get away with shooting them, even if it was better to avoid violence
"They're soulless assassins -- if we kill them, they're not going be missed," Cox said. "These guys aren't supposed to be here. If one of them messes up and gets killed on the job, they just abandon them. They don't exist."
The remarkable conversation, at a meeting at Cox's home in November 2010, was recorded by an FBI informant who infiltrated the Alaska Peacemaker Militia in August 2010, Gerald "J.R." Olson.
Olson began testifying in U.S. District Court on Monday in Day 9 of the trial of Cox, 28, and two other members of his militia, Coleman Barney, 37, and Lonnie Vernon, 56. They're charged with conspiracy to murder federal agents and with violating federal weapons laws for owning or attempting to purchase machine guns, silencers, hand grenades and other arms.
Olson recorded some 100 hours of conversation while he was working undercover, he testified. Prosecutors expect to introduce about five hours worth, and began with more than a dozen segments Monday, including one in which Vernon attempted to buy hand grenades and a silencer in Anchorage last year and another containing a rambling initiation ceremony in which Olson was sworn in as a new militia member.
The Anchorage conversation took place in conjunction with a militia convention held in February 2011 at the Millennium Hotel. Cox sent Olson and Vernon there to represent the Peacemaker Militia.
The convention also offered an additional opportunity: It was hosted by "Drop Zone Bill" -- Bill Fulton, the then-owner of a Spenard surplus store. According to several of the conversations, Vernon thought he could get hand grenades, silencers and a 50-caliber sniper rifle from Fulton, a licensed firearms dealer. Neither Vernon nor Olson knew that Fulton too was working for the FBI.
In a rather ironic moment on tape, Fulton scolded Vernon for being too loud about his interests in acquiring illegal weapons.
"We're in public, at least this weekend," Fulton said. "Keep your mouth shut."
At the initiation ceremony in August 2010 at a barbeque at Coleman Barney's home in North Pole, Olson was one of about eight to 10 recruits to be "commissioned" in the militia while six to eight current members witnessed the event. In a rambling diatribe recorded on Olson's FBI recorder amid barking dogs and shouting children, Cox asserted that America had become an arbitrary place where the "King is law" rather than "law is King." Cox said it was their duty to disobey those kinds of laws.
Cox also asserted that he had secret allies throughout the government. An Army officer offered him and his family "asylum" at Fort Wainwright in the event the "assassination" team from Colorado came after him, he said. He claimed to have gotten tip-offs from law enforcement and the judiciary.
Was that a bluff? That couldn't be determined, but no one apparently alerted him to the double roles played by Olson and Fulton. Rather, in one of the recordings he mocked the FBI as being no more "together" than the Postal Service.
Olson, 37, is a former logger, trucker and contractor who attended militia meetings as a teenager in his native Montana. He said he met Cox in 2009 when Cox set up a table and had a speaking role at a fundraiser for Tammie Wilson, a conservative from North Pole then running for mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough. (She was later appointed to a vacant House seat by Gov. Sean Parnell.) Olson said he supported Wilson's election bid.
But Olson's journey to protected federal witness was winding and troubled. It took more than an hour for him to explain his background to the jury under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Skrocki, who pointed out Olson's flaws long before defense attorneys will have a their chance in cross examination.
Olson grew up in a religious household, he said. He quit school in the 10th grade to work as a logger, then moved to Ninilchik in the early 1990s, then to the Mat-Su Valley in 1997. By then he was working as a long-haul trucker, bringing Fred Meyer groceries to Alaska from a warehouse in Puyallup, Wash.
He owned his own truck, and he also had a side business.
"I was transporting up drugs for a criminal organization," Olson said. For 17 months, his load of groceries would be sealed at the Puyallup warehouse. He'd drive five miles to another warehouse, where the seal would be cut, the space between grocery shipments filled with drugs, and the load resealed with the same number and seal from the Puyallup warehouse. Sometimes the traffickers would give him a bit of cocaine as a tip, he said.
As he passed through the Yukon, he'd stop at Kluane Lake and make a call to a Customs Agent in Tok who was on the take. The agent would get to the Beaver Creek border crossing in time to meet him and take his cut in cash, he said.
"He was a supervisor of some kind. He would stamp my paperwork and wave me through," Olson said. "Other guys could use him too."
In Alaska, Olson would meet up with the drug gang about 40 minutes before getting to Fred Meyer. The contact would break open the seal, grab the drugs, and reseal the load again with the Puyullup warehouse seal.
Olson said he made $70,000 to $90,000 in cash hauling drugs before he quit. He was never busted.
But Olson was arrested in his next line of work, building septic systems in the Valley. He got caught using derelict cars instead of septic tanks and pleaded no contest to a felony and four misdemeanors. He moved to Fairbanks and started hauling drugs again, this time methamphetamine from Talkeetna to Fairbanks. Again he eluded law enforcement, but was caught later by troopers when he stole a small front-end loader.
That's when he offered to work undercover in return for leniency, helping troopers and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency bust drug dealers and trying -- apparently unsuccessfully -- to catch the crooked customs agent.
In 2010, he offered to shift his attention to Cox, who was in the news in Fairbanks for his militia activities. An FBI agent there, Richard Sutherland, took over Olson's supervision.
Reach Richard Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4345.