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Diplomat? Threatening terrorist? What was Schaeffer Cox's intent?

Jill Burke

As week two of the trial against militia leader Schaeffer Cox and two of his followers closed, jurors heard about Cox's brazen approach to getting his message across to anyone who would listen. Of course, fellow militia men and other like-minded supporters needed no convincing. But there were also folks he couldn't help but confront -- regular people just going about their lives, who Cox, at times, decided needed a dose of his reality. Whether it was at the pharmacy where a U.S. Customs and Border agent was picking up medicine for a sick child, or showing up uninvited at the home of a high-ranking state trooper, Cox felt compelled to chat these people up.

These peoples' names would later reappear in hand-written notes found among the group’s belongings during post-arrest raids in March 2011 – catalogued along with other individuals in a way prosecutors have suggested was the makings of a hit list, a directory of people the embattled militia leader had in his sights for retaliation should anything happen to him, his wife and young child.

It's further evidence that Cox was paranoid, had rejected his U.S. citizenship and the authority of local laws, and had loyal followers armed and ready for a fight. Cox said as much during a television appearance on a Fairbanks gospel station in November of 2010.

In clips of the interview on KNJP's “Closing Comments” show, shown in court by prosecutors, jurors watched as Cox spoke of a plot by out-of-state federal agents to kick in his door and take his baby. The plot, Cox went on, was a ruse to provoke him to violence, giving authorities from the “wicked state” a rationale for shooting him, his wife and his child.

As he talked, a team of armed militia members patrolled the parking lot, tasked with protecting Cox from the supposed federal threat.

On the show, Cox went on to explain how he and his men “could have had them (federal agents) killed within 20 minutes of giving the order,” but refrained because “they're people too.

“I don't want to spill anybody's blood,” he told host Dick Olson, describing his actions as an overture of “diplomatic relations” -- a show of good faith essential to maintaining the peace.

Two weeks into the trial, a picture is emerging of Cox as a passionate sovereign citizen who envisioned himself a rising leader of people in troubled times.  With a tough and loyal team of militia men behind him,  Cox believed he had enough power to influence how law enforcement dealt with him. To some extent, he was right.

'Kind of Scary'

One day while waiting at a Wal-Mart pharmacy to pick up medicine for a sick child, her daughter by her side, U.S. Customs and Border agent Annette Curtis had someone come up from behind. She didn't normally go out with her family while in uniform, but on this day she needed meds for her sick kid, Curtis said.

The approaching stranger was Schaeffer Cox, who said she'd caught his attention because she was in uniform and armed. Cox told her he “didn't like to see a lot of feds in Fairbanks” but he'd “make an exception” because she worked for customs. To Curtis, Cox, wearing his trademark wool beanie cap, seemed aggressive and confrontational.

Learning that her name appeared among the notes seized from Cox and his men was “kind of scary,” Curtis said from the stand.

Later Thursday, another person whose name appeared on the list described his own unnerving encounter with Cox. In Alaska State Trooper Lt. Ronald Wall's world, Cox was a familiar character. Once long-time neighbors, Wall's sons and wife attended church where Gary Cox, Schaeffer Cox's father, served as pastor. Cox's younger brother went to martial arts classes with the Wall boys and sometimes babysat for the family.

By 2009 Cox had established himself as a local political figure with a staunch pro-gun rights platform, and Wall had moved away. The budding activist requested a meeting with Wall, and brought two associates along for his spiel about the merits of his newly formed Second Amendment Task Force and its vigilance against encroachment on gun rights. In a written declaration he handed to Wall, signed by dozens of people, Cox rejected U.S. citizenship, asserted his and the signers' status as “sovereign Americans” and outlined their duty to disobey and abolish a system of laws they viewed as unjust.

Why is he here?

Then, in June 2010, Cox dropped in unannounced at Wall's new home. When Wall spotted Cox coming, he sent his wife and children upstairs, drew his weapon, and went into the garage to take a defensive position behind a car. He didn't know what to expect and was worried. There would be no reason for Cox to know where Wall lived or to make a personal visit. Still, Wall chose to deal politely with Cox and invite him inside to talk. Better to have an open line of communication than to arrest Cox for trespassing or be rude to him, Wall reasoned.

It was the culmination of a series of strange events in Wall's life. One day he'd noticed Cox's blue Jeep and a van driving by -- an odd occurrence since there was no known reason for Cox to be on that particular road near his home. He'd also had a feeling people were at times following him, and once caught people taking pictures of him at a gas station.

Seated at a table in Wall's home, wearing body armor, Cox explained that he was worried about a situation with his son and the Office of Children's Services. The agency was attempting to do a routine welfare check on the boy following Cox's involvement in a domestic violence case. Cox wanted them nowhere near his son. In airing his concerns, Cox revealed what Wall considered to be threats of violence. The militia leader spoke of how he was worried that fellow militia members would hurt troopers, judges or members of their families if something happened to Cox or his family. He said he couldn't control his men and that he'd hate to see anyone get hurt.

“To me it was 'Leave us alone or else.' It was an implied, veiled threat,” Wall told the jury. Cox's double speak offended the trooper, who felt that Cox's purpose wasn't about guns or the constitution, but to develop a militia to promote and use it to protect his family. Calling Cox a “catalyst for their behavior,” he told the militia leader he'd hold him personally accountable if anything happened to any members of law enforcement.

On cross examination Cox's attorney, Nelson Traverso, asked Wall if he thought Cox was there to threaten or seek advice? And he asked whether Wall thought Cox was a catalyst for violence or a catalyst for a movement? Wall had the same answer to the questions: “Both.”

The trial continues Monday.

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com