Prosecution tells jury actions, not words, make militiamen guilty

Richard Mauer

The Fairbanks militia trial went to the jury Thursday morning after the prosecution took one more shot at its leader, Schaeffer Cox, and his two codefendants, saying it was their actions, not their speech, that got them in trouble.

"This is not a case of, 'My gosh, this guy says such volatile things he needs to be silenced forever,'" assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Skrocki told the jury. "He's recruiting people to kill a federal agent."

Trying to counter the closing arguments made by the defense attorneys Wednesday, Skrocki began his concluding remarks to jurors by saying the government wasn't attempting to stifle Cox's freedom of speech or assembly, he said.

In terms of Cox's criticisms of the government and his assertions that its laws are in violation of the Constitution and "natural" or "God's" laws, he's not much different than other radicals who are never prosecuted, Skrocki said.

"Frankly, folks, Schaeffer Cox is no big deal -- there's thousands out there -- on the Internet, talking," Skrocki said. "It's not a First Amendment case. It's a conspiracy case, it's a weapons case, it's about creating the Sovereign Republic of Schaeffer Cox in Fairbanks."

The militia's 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, Skrocki told the jury.

Cox and codefendants Coleman Barney and Lonnie Vernon are charged with possessing weapons they could have owned had they been registered, but prosecutors have suggested the militia members didn't want to leave a paper trail of ownership. They're also accused of conspiring to murder federal judges and law enforcement officers.

In their defense, the three men said they were set up by government informants who pushed a violent, radical agenda. The men never did anything more than exercise their First and Second amendment rights, they said.

Skrocki said the evidence in the case showed that Cox didn't want to "man up" to a misdemeanor state weapons charge he was facing. Instead, Cox went into hiding and put his followers in a position where they might go to prison for shooting cops who attempted to arrest him, Skrocki said.

"That's not what a leader does. That's what someone who's too narcissistic to take a hit does. He's maneuvering himself into being so important, he has to be free," Skrocki said.

As for the more soft-spoken Barney, a religious man with a large family and a wife and parents who haven't missed a day of the trial, Skrocki appeared to acknowledge that some jurors might find him sympathetic. That was certainly one side of the man, he said.

"Nobody here is saying the family side, the business side of Coleman Barney is a bad person," Skrocki said. "I'm not going to pull the wool over your eyes and say he's a domestic terrorist. We're talking about the other guy that you saw through the investigation."

It was Barney who put his family at risk by harboring Cox as a fugitive, and it was Barney who set up the security details to protect Cox that could've have led to a violent confrontation with police or citizens, Skrocki said.

The jury got the case about 9:40 a.m. on Day 23 of the trial.

Reach Richard Mauer at or 257-4345.

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