Of all the things Schaeffer Cox is accused of, the one thing he may be guilty of is clairvoyance. He claims to be living out the very life he predicted as the target of twin conspiracies to kill him, the ultimate government retaliation against an outspoken patriot who criticized the same authorities he refused to submit to. Cox didn't get shot. But he did wind up behind bars, another tactic, he'd claim, of a tyrant out to silence a man who considers himself a freedom fighter, an activist pursuing liberty as envisioned by our nation's founding fathers.
The 28-year-old commander of the Alaska Peacemakers Militia stands accused of numerous weapons violations and of being the ring leader in a conspiracy to kill state and federal officials, including Alaska State Troopers, TSA agents, U.S. Marshals and judges.
Over the course of a day and a half on the stand, Cox has talked about how he got caught up in a world of murderous agendas, and of how he was forced into lawlessness to save people's lives. At times, he seems to be Opie from Mayberry, meets Kiefer Sutherland's “24”, meets Alice in Wonderland. He sees himself as a sharp-witted, naive boy of good heart who grows up, gets entangled as the target of elaborate assassination schemes and ultimately lands in jail trying navigate a system that makes no sense to him.
But Cox is no fantasy character. He is a father and son, a political rebel so passionate about his strict constitutional, natural-law views that he admits to pushing society’s buttons in intentional attention-getting ways: rambling on at court hearings, getting in the face of TSA agents at airport security lines, and using speeches, television and radio interviews to take his message of willful defiance to the people.
He is also the same man federal prosecutors say was far more than a nuisance. Cox had declared himself a sovereign citizen, an antigovernment activist who had become the commander of a home-grown militia, had mobilized men he believed would have the courage to shoot to kill and he made sure they had the firepower to do so.
On Tuesday Cox blamed everybody but himself for his predicament, in which he faces a possible life sentence if convicted of the most serious charges.
He told the court he believed he was the target of twin murder plots. He thought a man now known to be a government informant would kill him if Cox didn't instigate violent conflict. And he believed that federal agents had sent an out-of-state hit squad to Alaska to murder his family, a government plot to end Cox's outspoken ways. He believed government feared his rising influence and would go to any lengths to stop him.
He'd had a brush with the Office of Children's Services, brought about by a domestic violence incident he had with his wife. As a result of the case, the child welfare agency was required to make sure Cox's young son was safe in the home. Cox believed it was a ruse to get him to use force to prevent anyone from taking his child, thus sparking the conflict federal agents needed as an excuse to kill him. Cox took steps to protect himself. He wore body armor. He carried a gun. He traveled with an armed security detail at the ready. He didn't want a shootout, but he was ready for the fight if he found himself in the middle of one.
"There were U.S. Marshals that were trying to corner me and my wife into a shootout to fix the 'Schaeffer Cox problem,' and using my son to do it," he told jurors, explaining that the scenario was his "greatest fear."
But Cox was also facing, he said, life and death pressure to instigate the very violence he claimed an aversion to. Bill Fulton, a weapons dealer from Anchorage, who was later found out to be one of the government's paid informants, pushed Cox hard to lash out at the government in retaliation for any effort by state officials to go after his toddler-aged son, Cox said.
In one breath, Cox boasted and bragged about his gun-toting force of militia members. In another, he espoused the ethics of non-violence. He wanted, he claimed, to be more like Ghandi than Rambo. But with Fulton in his face, a Ghandi-like approach could prove his undoing.
"I was instilled with a very real fear that if I kept trying to pull a Ghandi, Bill Fulton would kill me, blame it on the feds and try to start a war," Cox said on the stand Tuesday.
Style of shocking people
Cox often speaks in extremes, something he's done when addressing judges and state troopers alike. He told a state court judge people would rather kill her in her bed at night than quibble with her in court, and he once told a state trooper he could have law enforcement "outmanned and outgunned."
These were threats, investigators and prosecutors suggest. Cox answers that they were merely a "communication technique," a tactic of saying something shocking to get people off balance and "pull them out of their comfort zone and into a new frame of thought." After making a statement about his available force, or some impending conflict, Cox generally follows up with a line about how he doesn't want that to happen, about how it's preventable if both sides work toward peace.
It's unclear whether Cox believes by taking the stand he can convince jurors that there are two legitimate "sides," or if he merely wants to make his viewpoints accessible. He believes he is justified resisting laws he deems corrupt or illegitimate.
"There is one set of rules that is universally applicable to all mankind, and I live by that," he said on cross examination, when pressured about whether his agenda really boiled down to him just wanting to be a guy who got his way.
'Sounds like soup'
Much of Cox's rhetoric parallels the larger nationwide sovereign movement. He talked about how he believed in a common-law court outside the formalities and oversight of a state courtroom that could render enforceable verdicts.
Any court run by government is viewed as a "defacto" court -- one some people, including Cox, view as fraudulent and corrupt. A common law court is called "dejure", one that flows from natural law and the judicial system Cox and other sovereigns believe is righteous.
During cross examination, there was so much talk about "dejure" grand juries and courts that the judge couldn't help but observe to a laughing courtroom that the term "sounds like soup," a fitting description considering that Cox's common-law court convened at the Fairbanks Denny's restaurant.
Cox spent a lot of time denying any ill will toward government while simultaneously justifying the righteous pursuit of violence in defense of life and family. Any thinking person of good conscience, he contends, can decide when someone is encroaching on their freedom.
Hit lists and denials
Cox used his time on the witness stand to emphatically refute the evidence used against him during the prosecution's case. No, he hadn't come up with the so-called "2-4-1" plan -- kidnapping or killing two members of law enforcement for every militia member arrested or harmed. That, he claimed, was the brainchild of a second government informant, Gerald Olson. What sounded like Cox bringing up 2-4-1 for the first time during a command staff meeting of the militia was actually the continuation of a conversation Olson previously instigated, Cox said.
No, he hadn't issued warrants to have judges arrested and hung. No, his homemade machine gun never worked. No, he never owned or detonated a live grenade. No, he never asked anyone to purchase the explosive compound C4. A file labeled "hit list" that investigators found on his seized iPhone was a place holder for a list of yet-to-be-compiled freedom songs. And no, he had never threatened judges or TSA agents.
He described how harassing TSA workers was a pet project, something he did while traveling to make a big "to do.
"It is just a shenanigan," Cox explained of his antagonistic approach when a security agent asks if his bags may be searched, something Cox views as a violation of his constitutional rights. "It's an educational fandango for whatever screener is unlucky enough to get Schaeffer Cox," he said, describing how he gets into debates with the agents about whether they have a right to do what they're doing.
He also said he hadn't sought out the home addresses of law enforcement officers for the purposes of making them targets, as has been suggested. Instead, he said, he wanted to know how to reach them in case he needed them in the future as people of reason who might be willing to come to his aid.
He said had no intention of starting a war. Instead, he said he planned to flee the country and remain in exile until his two children were grown.
"We were going to go find a place where Bill Fulton and the feds would not bother us while we raised our children," he told the court.
John Wayne cool
What Cox did do was collect and build weapons. Yes, he put a homemade silencer onto a pistol "because it was cool." Yes, he owned grenade bodies because they, too, are "cool -- fun to throw like John Wayne" in the movies.
He had police duty belts. Handcuffs. Thumb cuffs. Lock picks. Gas masks. Grenade launchers and pepper spray canisters. Rubber pellet rounds called hornets nests that when deployed can "fold people up like a pretzel."
He also admitted "absolutely not cooperating" with a child services investigation into the welfare of his young son. He and his wife Marti had once been licensed foster parents, and they believed the agency wasn't following its own rules in its attempts to interview the toddler.
He admitted warning law enforcement that there were "some very dangerous, very volatile people" out there -- namely Bill Fulton -- that he could not control.
Perhaps most troubling is Cox's acknowledgement that he had mobilized an armed security team to protect him from the would-be federal assassins during a public appearance at a local television station, and that he gave the team orders to shoot to defend him. Cox made it a point to emphasize that shooting at people was a last resort, but he had to concede it was among the contingencies.
Hurting or helping his case?
If Cox gained any ground with jurors, he must maintain his performance under cross examination to keep it. By mid afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Yvonne Lamoureux was asking the questions.
She quickly pointed out that Cox didn't always portray his group as the peaceful "family militia" he claimed it to be. Indeed, he had spent time cultivating the opposite image.
In a radio interview given to the American Underground Network in January 2011, jurors heard Cox made bold statements like, "The difference between groveling and negotiating is whether you can kick the other guy's ass," and "the fact that we have a militia that is several thousand strong and brazen and uncompromising when it comes to liberty will be the reason we don't have blood in the streets," and “tell them if you touch us we're going to kill you."
Cox was spouting off and, he admitted, bluffing about the size of his militia. Rather than 3,500 men, wasn't it more like 35? Lamoureax asked.
In the same radio interview, Cox continued, "If you won't fight and kill to protect your own family, what would you fight and kill to protect? …They know we would kill them if they mess with our family and that's something we should be proud of." And finally, "Power comes out of the barrel of the gun."
These seemingly night and day descriptions of the militia, offered at different times by Cox to suit the audience he is addressing, is only one of the inconsistencies Lemoureax exposed. Expect her to continue eroding Cox's version of events, cutting through his narrative with clips of audio and video evidence in an effort to reveal him as a showman and a liar. Whether he can withstand the scrutiny will be tested when the trial continues on Wednesday.
Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com