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Militia members charged in '241' plot to kill judge, troopers

Casey Grove

Federal agents made extensive recordings of Fairbanks militia members plotting to kill or kidnap judges and Alaska State Troopers and burn their houses, according to documents filed in court Friday.

Four leaders of the Fairbanks-based Alaska Peacemaker's Militia -- Francis "Schaeffer" Cox, 26, Lonnie Vernon, 55, his wife Karen Vernon, 64, and Coleman Barney, 36 -- are charged with conspiring to commit murder, kidnapping and arson. They are also charged with hindering prosecution and possession of illegal weapons.

The four are in jail in Fairbanks. Bail for Cox was set at $3 million. Barney and Karen and Lonnie Vernon were each held on $2 million bail.

Lonnie Vernon called the 17-page criminal complaint "hearsay on paper," according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Vernon is charged in a separate federal case for threatening the lives of a federal judge and one of his family members, according to the federal indictment.

The militia members amassed high-powered weaponry, including grenades and .30- and .50-caliber machine guns, with which to carry out retaliatory strikes against law enforcement officials, according to court documents.

Another man, Michael Anderson, 36, is listed in a separate indictment on similar charges for compiling a list of targets and their addresses and engaging in surveillance to enable the plot. Anderson is also being held pending $2 million in bail.

RETALIATORY STRIKES

Cox had originally been arrested in March 2010 for approaching a police officer and failing to disclose that he was carrying a concealed gun. When Cox did not show up for a Feb. 14 court appearance, a judge issued the arrest warrant and Cox went into hiding with his wife and child.

Cox and his associates had been plotting in the days before the scheduled court hearing, according to prosecutors. The militia leader detailed his plot at a meeting on Feb. 12 that was secretly recorded by the FBI.

Cox wanted militia members to respond with violence if authorities tried to arrest him on the misdemeanor warrant, the charging documents say. He allegedly told the militia members, "I know you're ready to die, but you have to be ready to kill," according to an FBI recording referred to in the criminal complaint.

"At that February 12th meeting COX specifically unveiled his "241" (two for one) plan which called for his militia to respond to attempts to arrest or kill him by responding against state court or law enforcement targets with twice the force and consequences as happened to him or his family," according to the criminal complaint. "If he was arrested, two state targets would be "arrested" (kidnapped). If he was killed, two state targets would be killed. If his house was taken, two state target houses would be burned."

At that meeting, according to the charges, Cox admitted that the militia had too few members to carry out Plan 241 and they should avoid launching it until they were better prepared. He directed the members at the meeting to sign up for Twitter accounts so they could see the posts from his account, 00SchaefferCox. Cox planned to initiate Plan 241 on Twitter, the documents say.

A LIST OF TARGETS

Later, on the same day as the meeting, Cox continued to plot with another militia member, according to the FBI. The militia member drove to Cox's house on Scenic Loop in Fairbanks. Cox showed him on a map where two high-ranking troopers lived and where a state judge and another trooper lived in his neighborhood.

Cox told the militiaman that Anderson could provide him with a list of targets; one of them was Trooper Lt. Ron Wall.

Wall told investigators that one night last summer -- between June 10 and July 10 -- he saw a man in a car snapping pictures of him as he bought gasoline. When Wall approached the car to ask what the man was doing, he drove off.

Wall identified a photo of Michael Anderson as the man taking his photo, according to the documents.

The FBI later recorded Cox talking about Anderson's loyalty to the group.

According to the criminal complaint, Cox said Anderson "wanted to kill cops in their homes at night by slipping in and out without anyone knowing, that Anderson wants to kill cops as a lone wolf and have people realize that there is a serial killer of cops on the loose at night."

But Anderson apparently would not hand over the list or any of the surveillance he was believed to have gathered. He told the militia leader trying to get the list he was "not sure what sort of mess Cox is trying to get me into," according to the complaint.

'A MISERABLE DEATH'

Further audio recordings showed Cox, his wife and his newborn baby were hiding at the Vernon's house in Salcha, according to the complaint.

At a meeting on Feb. 14, the day Cox was supposed to appear in court, Lonnie Vernon said if police tried to arrest Cox at his home, they would "die a miserable death."

"If they come for the new baby, that's killing time," said Cox, according to the documents.

The Vernons have been fighting in federal court since 2009 over taxes they allegedly owe and attempts by the government to foreclose on their home to satisfy the debt. Documents in the government's case against the Vernons allege that they owe more than $165,000 for failing to pay taxes in 1996 and between 2000 and 2003.

U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler says Vernon threatened to kill U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline, who is presiding over the tax case, and a member of his family.

On Feb. 17, Lonnie and Karen Vernon met with a militia member at a restaurant, according to court documents. Lonnie said he didn't agree with Cox when Cox said the militia was not strong enough to carry out Plan 241. They talked about having two-man teams create diversions, while other two-man teams carried out the attacks.

According to the complaint, "The plan would then have the tactical teams going to the target's houses, cutting the power, shooting the inhabitants as they come out to check on their power; then the team would kick the target's residence's doors in, kill everybody inside and set the house on fire. Then the team would lay in hiding and take out the initial responding officer before moving on to the next target."

Karen Vernon is alleged to have said, "It's war now," and that survivors of the shootings would "cook like in an oven."

TOSSED OUT

According to the documents, Lonnie Vernon grew so exasperated with Cox's inaction, while at the same time getting the Vernons involved in his legal problems, that he kicked the fugitive out of his house.

On Feb. 19 Vernon told Cox he should have made a better plan to hide out. Vernon indicated there would be a shootout if police came to his home looking for Cox, according to documents.

Cox, his wife and baby then moved to the home of Barney, another alleged co-conspirator. As they drove to the house, Cox and his wife both wore bullet-proof vests and carried two assault rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition, according to the criminal complaint.

At Barney's house, Cox reiterated to a militia member that the group was still not strong enough to initiate the 241 murder plot, but "if they take our kids, 241 instantly."

Cox, Barney and a militia member went to one of their weapons caches on Feb. 21 to retrieve a belt-fed, tripod-mounted .50-caliber machine gun, 12 assault rifles and at least eight "pineapple" grenades, which they took back to Barney's house, according to the documents.

Five days later, Cox told Barney and an unnamed militia member that the militia was creating "Wanted: Dead or Alive" posters featuring photos of Trooper Capt. Burke Barrick, Lt. Wall, state attorney Arne Soldwedel, court administrator Ron Wood and Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy, according to documents.

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.dn.com or 257-4589.

PDF: Cox
Vernon
By CASEY GROVE
casey.grove@adn.com