The North Carolina writer Reynolds Price said "The only thing more destructive than a tornado is a family."
Price's words returned me Thursday as Schaeffer Cox's mother-in-law testified during the militia trial at the federal courthouse in Anchorage. Janice Stewart, an Anchorage school teacher, is a tall, trim woman of perhaps 50 who was called by the government. She could have been dressed for a funeral.
Stewart began -- and she was very composed -- by characterizing her relationship with Cox as "uncomfortable." She eventually described him as arrogant, disrespectful, possessive and obsessed with his own rhetoric. She disapproved of Cox' marriage to her daughter, Marti.
Cox, in Stewart's mind, flunked the son-in-law test, but she wasn't in court to describe how unhappy Cox made her. The government wanted to know about Thanksgiving Day a couple years ago when Cox ranted about the evils of the Transportation Security Administration or TSA. Cox was hateful and fiery, if not apocalyptic, in describing his feelings about the TSA, but Stewart conceded she was familiar with this "rhetoric" and let it wash over her.
Her testimony, in conjunction with that of others, proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Cox, although young, has developed far beyond his years the ability to tire and bore a captive audience. Whether this fresh-faced gas bag had an actual plan to kill members of the TSA is another question. The family orator who dominates the dinner table while everyone else stares sullenly at the ice cream melting on their pie is a Thanksgiving institution.
Listening to Stewart talk about her daughter, her son-in-law and her involvement in their marriage, you find yourself shocked to realize that this trial, while about armed men threatening to subject government officials to mayhem, is also a story of broken hearts -- hearts that will never mend.
By MICHAEL CAREY