Our view: Militia was more than talk

Arms and threats took militia beyond the realm of fantasy

June 18, 2012 

An Anchorage jury on Monday convicted Fairbanks militia leader Schaeffer Cox and one of his colleagues, Lonnie Vernon, of conspiracy to murder, the most serious charge in a list against the self-styled sovereign individuals.

If this was a game born of a strange brew of ideology and general anti-government vitriol, the players found out Monday that the game stopped when they began to stockpile weapons, draw up hit lists of government officials and attempt to intimidate government employees and law enforcement officers.

One of the questions at trial was one reasonable citizens ask about any radical or fringe group with an anti-government or revolutionary line. Are these folks just blowhards or do they pose a threat of violence?

Twelve jurors decided on the latter, and the evidence in the case -- despite some incidents that made great fodder for gags and one-liners -- made their conclusion logical.

Prosecutor Steven Skrocki summed it up concisely in his closing arguments to the jury, when he said the accumulation of munitions, Cox's ordering up of hit lists, and Cox's efforts at intimidating local authorities with threats of violence were the actions that got him crosswise with the law.

The defense argued that government agents who infiltrated the group pushed a radical agenda, setting up the militia members for criminal charges. But did the government agents force Cox and company to violate weapons laws, make up hit lists and intimidate people?

You can't dismiss that behavior as a game, because people with an exaggerated sense of grievance who try to face up to government officials and arm themselves with machine guns, grenades and silencers suggest conspiracy, no matter how inept or adolescent.

It doesn't take a button-down operation to kill people.

Cox and friends may appeal. That's their right, guaranteed by law and this government that they were apparently arming themselves against. They get due process, on our nickel. That's as it should be -- and it's one more thing for militia members to think about as they contemplate the upending of their lives for the sake of fringe fantasy.

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