Schaeffer Cox might have hyper-inflated the power of his Fairbanks militia on a speech-making tour in the northern Rockies in 2010, but it got him lots of attention -- including from the FBI.
"We were supplied information through law enforcement channels that Mr. Cox had traveled to Montana and made speeches, and in the speeches claimed to have 3,500 individuals and that they were armed," FBI Agent Richard Sutherland testified in federal court Tuesday.
Cox claimed to have weapons that would be illegal to possess without a permit, and sounded like he was encouraging armed resistance and the overthrow of the U.S. government, Sutherland said.
From a preliminary matter opened by the Anchorage field office of the FBI in February 2010, it's now a major trial in U.S. District Court in Anchorage involving Cox and two other defendants on weapons and conspiracy charges, the most serious of which -- conspiracy to murder -- carries a possible life sentence.
Sutherland was testifying as the case agent in Day 13 of the trial. Prosecutors said Sutherland is their final witness and expect to rest their case Wednesday morning, days ahead of their original estimate. The defense will then likely argue that the government failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a tactic often attempted at that stage of a trial but rarely successful. It will then be time for the three sets of defense attorneys to present their cases.
Cox's claims in Montana were probably 100 times overstated. Evidence in the trial has showed his Alaska Peacemaker Militia had maybe two or three dozen irregulars, with a core group of about six or so, including an infiltrator sent by the FBI.
While the numbers didn't add up, the preliminary investigation picked up troubling information about Cox, Sutherland said. After Cox's wife filed a domestic violence complaint -- Cox pleaded guilty to a reduced charge -- state child welfare officials sought to see his 2-year-old child, as they routinely do in such matters. But Cox refused them entry.
"Subsequent to that, there were armed individuals who were guarding or standing perimeter around his property," said Sutherland, who is based in Fairbanks.
In June 2010, Cox showed up at Fort Wainwright, looking for the provost marshal there and seeking asylum. Base police got in touch with Alaska State Troopers and the FBI, concerned about comments he made concerning bloodshed, Sutherland said.
"He had a fanny pack around his waist, body armor, he was positioning himself to keep his back against a wall. They considered he was potentially armed at their facility," Sutherland said.
Then, on Dec. 10, 2010, Cox went to District Court in Fairbanks with a posse of supporters, one of whom secretly filmed the hearing. It was only a status conference before his trial on a misdemeanor weapons charge -- he failed to alert Fairbanks police he was carrying a concealed weapon -- but Cox made it sound like it might be his last stand.
Jane Kauvar, the gray-haired District Court judge, allowed him to speak his 17-minute monologue from a microphone on the spectator side of the rail. Sgt. Tim Schoenberg, the trooper who supervises courtroom security in Fairbanks and was in attendance at the hearing, testified Tuesday that he thought Cox was being deliberately disrespectful by speaking from that location and wearing his trademark cap, but Kauver didn't stop him.
"The thing that caught my eye in regards to his conversation with the judge were the threats that were being made toward the DA, Scott Mattern, and the judge herself," Schoenberg said.
Some of the monologue was played to the federal jury, downloaded from YouTube, where the entire episode remains available.
"I am a sovereign, a man of peace, but capable of war, who having injured no one, has patiently suffered the merciless aggression of the district accuser of the brethren -- this guy, nothing personal, Scott (Mattern) -- who, by savage forces, has brought me before the black clad father of lies (Kauvar) with intent to do me harm. Soulless feral assassins have made threats on the lives of my wife and children," Cox said, referring to an FBI assassination squad from Colorado whom he believed was after him.
Noting that he sees Kauvar around town, running marathons or shopping at Fred Meyer, Cox said there was no reason they couldn't all live in peace. Then, contradicting himself, he told her, "There's a lot of people out there that would just as soon come and kill you in your home at night than come and argue with you in your court by day."
The threats escalated at another hearing the following week, Schoenberg said, when Cox told him he had him outmanned and outgunned and could have him dead in one night. Yet as Cox was leaving, he shook hands and patted him on the back -- a hug of sorts, Schoenberg said.
It was the kind of polar contradictions that the jury has been hearing since the start of the trial.
"On one hand, he's indicating that we should all be friends, on the other, he's telling us that he could kill us," Schoenberg said.
Schoenberg canceled a sleepover that his daughter had planned for friends that weekend and began driving Judge Kauvar to the courthouse, he said.
By then, the federal investigation was in full swing. Cox went into hiding instead of going to trial, but showed up to buy grenades and a silencer-equipped pistol on March 20, 2011. It was a sting and he and his codefendants, Lonnie Vernon and Coleman Barney, were busted.
Sutherland said the FBI staged the "take down" location in a little-used parking lot in an industrial part of Fairbanks as a way to reduce the risk of a siege or hostage taking.
Reach Richard Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4345.