Militiaman gets 5 years in prison for weapons conviction

Richard Mauer

Fairbanks militia member Coleman Barney was sentenced Monday to five years in prison on two weapons violations, substantially less than federal sentencing guidelines suggested but much more than sought in the pleas of Barney and his family.

U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan said Barney might have been a good family man, churchgoer and businessman before he linked up with militia leader Schaeffer Cox in 2010, but his choices afterward pointed him in the direction of prison.

"It's been a long road, Mr. Barney -- a long road for you and a long road for your family," Bryan said. "You got into really bad stuff here."

Barney pleaded with Bryan for leniency, admitting he made mistakes but promising he never would again.

"I just beg you to help me get back to my home and my family," he told Bryan. In the spectator's section, his wife and mother were crying.

"I apologize to the court and my family who I let down by making some pretty poor decisions," Barney said. "My family and my church is everything to me. I do feel remorse."

Barney has been in jail since his arrest in Fairbanks with Cox and two others on March 10, 2011. They were caught in an FBI sting, trying to buy grenades and silenced pistols from a government informant.

Barney asked that he be sentenced only to the time he had already served and be allowed to leave the courtroom a free man.

Instead of rejoining his family, he was led away in handcuffs.

A large contingent of family and friends were left to comfort themselves in the hallway outside the Anchorage courtroom. His wife, Rachel, who gave birth to the couple's fifth child while Barney was in jail, said she thought he was unfairly prosecuted.

"I will stand by my husband," she said. "Some day, all the facts will come out. I believe in my husband's innocence."

Barney, 38, was a major in Cox's Alaska Peacemaker Militia. In a federal trial that ended in June, the jury deadlocked on the most serious charge Barney faced, conspiracy to murder federal law enforcement officials. Cox and co-defendant Lonnie Vernon were both found guilty of that charge and are scheduled for sentencing next month.

Instead, Barney was convicted of possessing an unlawful "destructive device" -- a grenade launcher with a nonlethal, anti-personnel explosive round that scatters hard-rubber pellets. He was also found guilty of conspiracy to possess unregistered silencers and destructive devices.

Federal prosecutors asked for a 10-year sentence. They said that even though he wasn't convicted of more serious charges, he was recorded participating in conversations in which Cox and others discussed killing judges, police and other officials.

After Barney made his pitch for leniency, the judge asked him how he got into his predicament.

"I love my country and I love my community," Barney replied. He said his path to the Alaska Peacekeeper Militia began with the tea party in Fairbanks and then to the Second Amendment Task Force, an advocacy organization led by Cox.

The militia originally was a defensive organization to protect their families "in the event of economic collapse," Barney said.

"I got caught up in all the hype," he said. "I don't want to do something I'm going to lose my soul over. I am embarrassed about some of the things I said at the time."

Bryan said the things he heard on the tapes were chilling. And it wasn't just what was said.

"What he didn't say is as important," Bryan said. At no time was Barney heard telling Cox he was wrong, the judge said.

Bryan launched into a civics lesson on the First and Second amendments, both of which made appearances at the trial.

"I would say there was no militia in this case," Bryan said. The Second Amendment authorizes a "well-regulated militia," he said.

"This was not a well-regulated militia," Bryan said, but rather a "disorganized group of individuals."

Nor was the First Amendment a part of the case, he said.

"In this country, we not only allow anti-government speech, we welcome it. This case is about violation of our criminal laws."

Prosecutors asked for a 10-year sentence. Bryan said federal sentencing guidelines would suggest Barney should get between eight and 10 years.

Defense attorney Tim Dooley said such a sentence for Barney "would promote disrespect of the law and fear of the law, not respect for the law."

Dooley said Barney was a naive man when he began following Cox.

"He isn't naive anymore. He's had 18 months and two weeks in the local prison and he's met people he didn't imagine existed," Dooley said.

Bryan cited mitigating factors in dealing Barney five years: even though he carried an officer's title in the militia, he wasn't a leader. And though the charges amounted to "crimes of violence," no violence had occurred.

"This could have been far more serious than it ended up being. Mr. Barney was participating with a group trying to get weapons. There was real danger in this whole thing. The offenses are too serious to simply overlook," the judge said.

Reach Richard Mauer at or 257-4345.

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