Federal prosecutors say Coleman Barney, the alleged "major" of a Fairbanks militia accused in a kidnap and murder plot, is far too dangerous to be freed on bond despite nearly four dozen letters from family and fellow church members attesting to his good character.
Barney, from North Pole, has been in jail in Fairbanks since his arrest March 10 as he and Alaska Peacekeepers Militia leader Schaeffer Cox attempted to buy two illegally silenced pistols and six hand grenades from a government informant. On June 24, a Fairbanks judge reduced Barney's bail on state charges from $2 million to $100,000, and Barney's attorney wants a federal judge to do likewise.
In opposing bond, federal prosecutors released pictures and details of some of the evidence they seized after Barney's arrest, including more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition, illegal weapons and blueprints of a militia security operation that discussed shooting government agents and police if peaceful resistance failed. In those security plans, Barney, an electrical contractor who turns 37 next week, is described as an officer with the rank of major.
Cox and his followers are gun advocates and believe that state and federal courts have no jurisdiction over them. After Cox was charged last year with failing to inform a police officer that he was carrying a concealed weapon -- a minor charge compared with the serious felonies he's facing now -- he didn't show at court and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
In objecting to Barney's release on bail, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Skrocki said he "knowingly harbored" Cox for more than a month until both men were arrested together.
They've since been charged with federal firearms violations and with conspiracy to murder and kidnap a state judge and state trooper. Two other members of the alleged conspiracy are also charged with plotting to murder a federal judge and his family.
"The evidence here establishes significantly more than peaceful militia membership, or lawful enthusiast, hunting or hobbyist gun ownership," Skrocki wrote. "While Barney provides the court with a plethora of letters from various members of the community, his professional life, and private life, the government doubts that any of these individuals were privy to this aspect of Barney's life. Indeed, Barney harbored Cox as a fugitive, with the knowledge he was wanted by the state of Alaska, in his own home, along with his pregnant wife and their small children."
Among the new details of the case to emerge in Skrocki's filing are pictures of weapons seized in a trailer that Barney and Cox left in a Fairbanks parking lot where an ice carving festival was being held.
Cached in the trailer were a semi-automatic, tripod-mounted submachine gun, a fully automatic 9mm machine gun with a can of ammunition, a handgun with silencer and clips, gun-launched riot-control weapons consisting of 28 canisters of pepper spray and grenades with rubber bullets along with two launchers, a case of primers for assault-type rifles and 1,000 rounds of 30.06 ammo.
"The decision to deposit this trailer in such a public place defies explanation and speaks volumes concerning character," Skrocki wrote. "In leaving the trailer in plain view, Barney placed the needs of his cause and his allegiance to his co-conspirator above those of who lived in his community. The risk of harm to the attendees, which included children of all ages, were very real and very significant."
Details of Coleman's personal history also emerged in court filings, mainly from Coleman's attorney, Tim Dooley of Anchorage, in support of $100,000 bail. Like prosecutors, Dooley also revealed something of his case in his filings.
"The government is relying primarily on the word of a confidential informant whose veracity and penchant for exaggeration, if any, has not yet been tested," Dooley wrote. He asserted that at least some grenades were actually paperweights, that a machine gun Barney was accused of possessing belonged to someone else, and that a silencer affixed to a gun was actually "the hot water hose off of a washing machine."
If Barney isn't released, his contracting firm, Mammon Electric, won't be able to fulfill more than $500,000 in jobs, resulting in suffering for employees and families, Dooley said.
According to the letters filed by Dooley, Barney met his wife, Rachel, when both were serving church missions in the Nashville, Tenn., area. They were married in Salt Lake City and, with the birth of their latest child, have five children.
Many of the letters of support came from fellow members of the Mormon church's Eielson Ward in North Pole. Kathie Dorland, describing his respected position in the church, said, "Coleman's home and family is centered on moral values where, alongside of his wife, teach their children integrity, honesty, morality, faith accountability and how to love and serve others."
Others were from family, like sister-in-law Chelsea Barney who described him as a "God-fearing man" and "patriotic American concerned about America's future."
Reacting to the comments, prosecutor Skrocki wrote, "The Coleman Barney, father of five, business owner and member of the community referenced in the defense pleadings and in letters of support is not the same Coleman Barney who elected to arrive to an illegal arms sale wearing body armor and carrying two loaded pistols."
Skrocki filed a photograph of a whiteboard seized from Cox's residence which contained details of planning for a security team that was going to accompany Cox to an interview in October at the religious television and radio station in North Pole, KJNP.
The whiteboard refers to "Major Barney" and talks about surveillance teams and guards for Cox and his coterie, which included a self-appointed "judge." Any person who wandered by was to be interrogated. If a trooper were to attempt to make a "peaceful arrest," it would be allowed. But if "plainclothes" agents or officers pulled guns, the security squad would attack first with pepper gas and rubber bullets. Their second option: "lead poisoning."
Reach Richard Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4345.
By RICHARD MAUER