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More details emerge in Fairbanks militia arrests

Jill Burke,Patti Epler

Two confidential sources on the payroll of the FBI helped the government make its case against Fairbanks-area militia members who are accused of stockpiling illegal weapons and plotting to kill judges, Alaska State Troopers and others, according to information in federal court records unsealed Friday.

Neither source knew the other one was working with investigators, but both began assisting in the investigation last June, according to affidavits filed with the court in order to obtain search warrants earlier this month.

One is described as a convicted felon facing new fraud charges who agreed to cooperate in hopes of getting the charges reduced. That informant was an insider, promoted in February to the command staff of the Alaska Peacemakers Militia headed by Fairbanks resident Schaeffer Cox, one of those arrested on numerous federal and state charges.

The other is a person with no criminal record but in the affidavit is said to be someone who the defendants approached to buy grenades, silencers and other weapons because he was thought to "be in a position to produce possible weaponry." Some in the militia community have speculated that the weapons supplier might be William Fulton, former owner of the Drop Zone military surplus store on Spenard Road. He abruptly signed over his store to an employee and disappeared a few days after the Fairbanks arrests. Nothing in the affidavit gives any information about Fulton, whether he may be connected to the case, or why he might have vanished.

The affidavit says both sources were compensated for their assistance and will continue to be paid. Conversations between the sources and the defendants were audio or video taped with the consent of the informants.

Cox, Lonnie Vernon and his wife Karen Vernon, Coleman Barney and his wife Rachel Barney, and Michael Anderson face various state and federal charges in connection with an alleged conspiracy that included plotting to kill judges, an IRS agent and Alaska State Troopers. The group allegedly amassed a large weapons cache that contained automatic weapons, silencers and hand grenades, all of which are illegal, and numerous other high-powered weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

Indictments filed in federal court and criminal complaints filed in state court shortly after the arrests detailed what authorities believe was a significant threat to law enforcement and court officials who had overseen or otherwise been involved in cases involving Schaeffer Cox and the Vernons.

Cox had decided to ignore an order to appear in court on a misdemeanor weapons charge. The Vernons were facing possible foreclosure on their home relating to apparently failing to pay taxes.

Cox allegedly hatched a plot to kill state judges, troopers and others if authorities tried to arrest him. The Vernons are accused of separately considering killing the federal judge in their tax case, his family and an IRS agent.

The search warrant affidavits tell much of the same story -- how Cox, the Vernons and Coleman Barney went about acquiring myriad weapons they stored at their houses and in a trailer that eventually was left at the Fairbanks Ice Park. The documents make reference to several "militia weapons caches" thought to be located in the Fairbanks area.

The confidential source told authorities about "numerous handguns, shotguns and assault rifles that were strategically placed at doors and windows" in Vernon's home. "There were also several flak jackets and extra magazines strategically located," according to the affidavit.

Vernon and "CS-1" traveled to Anchorage for a militia convention in February -- Cox couldn’t go because his wife had just had a baby -- where they met up with "CS-2" in an effort to obtain grenades and explosives, according to the affidavit.

CS-1 drove to Anchorage and back to Fairbanks with Vernon and recorded their conversations on the trip, the affidavit said.

Other meetings in Fairbanks and Anchorage also were recorded with the help of the informants.

The affidavit also gives new insight into the inner workings of the militia group headed by Cox whose members collaborated in several organizations including the Liberty Bell Network, the goal of which was to track possible civil rights violations by law enforcement.

Cox has long contended he is a "sovereign citizen" and that state and federal courts have no jurisdiction over him. But according to the affidavit, with his state court trial on the misdemeanor weapons charge approaching, the Alaska Assembly Post held a "common law" court in Fairbanks to try Cox on the charges, a setting that he embraced.

"The common law court was presided over by a 'common law judge' and a 'common law jury' was empaneled," the affidavit said.

The "court" acquitted Cox of the weapons charge and also exonerated him on reckless endangerment charges that he'd already pleaded guilty to in connection with an earlier case.

Cox and other members of the militia group, including CS-1, continued to meet and make plans for resisting any law enforcement efforts to take Cox into custody. FBI agents fabricated a story with CS-1 to convince Cox that he and his family would be smuggled out of Alaska to Montana in a semi tractor trailer rig, according to the affidavit.

At one point, Cox and Barney discussed with CS-1plans for paintball training this summer which the FBI took to mean "training for conflict with the government." The men talked about a mock attack on targets "around town," the affidavit said.

On March 10, CS-1 provided pistols with silencers and hand grenades to Cox and Barney and, in a separate transaction, gave a silencer to Vernon. All were items that CS-1 had helped them procure as part of the investigation, the affidavit said.

The men and Karen Vernon were arrested, along with Michael Anderson, who is accused of helping identify possible targets in the murder plot and providing surveillance. They are all being held without bail.

Rachel Barney, who is the mother of four small children and was eight months pregnant at the time of the arrests, according to the affidavit, was charged with harboring a fugitive and issued a summons to appear in court.

Marti Cox, Schaeffer's wife and the mother of a young son and two-month-old child, has not been charged and is rarely mentioned in the court documents. One narrative in the criminal complaint has her living with Cox as a fugitive in February and March, traveling from the Vernon home to the Barneys' house wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with high-powered weapons.

The FBI and state police also served the search warrants on March 10, seizing numerous weapons, ammunition and other items from the Cox, Barney and Vernon residences as well as from a utility trailer the men had left parked at the public Fairbanks Ice Park.

Contact Patti Epler at patti(at)alaskadispatch.com or Jil Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com