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Prosecutors zero in on inconsistencies in accused Alaska militiaman's storyline

Jill Burke

One day after Schaeffer Cox blamed a government informant for the murder conspiracy he's accused of perpetrating, federal prosecutors spent much of the day Wednesday trying to show Cox invented the excuse purely to help himself at trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Yvonne Lamoureux wove through stacks of transcripts, audio and video recordings and evidence gathered from Cox's iPhone to show that in all of his communications, in all of his dealings with members of his Alaska Peacemakers Militia, Cox never showed any fear of informant Bill Fulton, who Cox claims was pushing him to act. He spoke openly and often about a so-called federal hit squad that he thought was working surreptitiously to bring him down. But in the nearly year-long span Cox was under scrutiny, he never mentioned Fulton's name as someone he worried would harm him. 

"In all of the public speeches that you've ever made, you've never mentioned your fear that Bill Fulton was going to kill you? In more than 100 hours of recordings you never said Bill Fulton was going to kill you? In your seven-hour interview with (FBI) Agent Sutherland you never said that Bill Fulton was going to kill you," Lamoureux said during her cross examination of Cox. 

Cox stuck with his story, claiming that Fulton, an Anchorage weapons dealer who had begun to show more interest in Cox and his much-hyped militia, was the very person he was speaking about when he made statements to judges, troopers and others that there were people in the community he couldn't control, people who were out for blood and who wouldn't hesitate to launch a violent conflict in defense of Cox and other militia members. 

Competing portraits

For jurors, it was yet another day spent absorbing competing portraits of Cox. There is the man prosecutors see, an anti-government extremist who rejected the laws of Alaska and the United States and served as the commander in chief of a separate government group modeled after the U.S. government. A man the government believes was plotting violence and had convinced others to join him.  

Then there is the man the defense sees -- an enthusiastic, grassroots liberty activist with a penchant for provocation styled after Glenn Beck and Howard Stern. A Christian man who believes in natural law and delights in celebrity and intellectual inquiry. Taking up arms and killing people is something that would only happen in the defense of family. In exploring other violent scenarios, Cox was merely on a philosophical journey, extrapolating cause and effect to their extremes. His bizarre paperwork that flooded the court system and the trials his followers and acquaintances held at a Fairbanks Denny's restaurant were simply ways to get people's attention, heighten curiosity and encourage others to delve into the rabbit-hole of legal theories Cox wanted them to explore.

Jurors will be asked to weigh Cox's words on the stand against the circumstantial evidence prosecutors say paints a different picture. One example is a machine gun and silencer Cox is accused of possessing. On the stand Cox admitted he had made and still owned a machine gun and a homemade pistol silencer. Cox's attorney made sure to get Cox to reiterate that he never intended to use either item to kill people, that the silencer was to quiet shots he'd taken from his house to deal with a fox invading the chicken coop. The machine gun was only for show. Yet prosecutors, in their last line of questioning, reminded Cox that loaded magazines for the machine gun had been found during the arrest-day raids, something Cox owned up to. And they had lingering questions about how "homemade" the machine gun really was. A serial number on the weapon's body suggested otherwise.

Cox has gotten a lot of mileage out of his story about how federal agents had been dispatched to arrest or kill him. On Wednesday, he finally got the chance to explain how he came up with the theory and the curious string of events he said have given him pause.

Secret manila envelope

First, he'd had a run in with the Office of Children's Services. He couldn't figure out why the agency was intent on interviewing his 18-month-old son, who wasn't speaking yet. Suspicious vehicles were driving by his house. Out of the blue, an airport police officer pulled him over, not to make a traffic stop but to hand Cox a manila envelope containing Cox's domestic-terrorist profile. The officer never acknowledged what he'd handed to Cox, saying only, "Hang in there, buddy. There's a lot of us pulling for you." 

For months, Cox believed a six-man team from Aurora, Colo., had been sent to Alaska to kill him. According to Cox, he now knows he was wrong about it. He'd misinterpreted short hand notes on the supposed domestic terrorist file. A "Squad 6" in the paperwork wasn't a six-person hit team, but a reference to "squad #6" -- a unit within the FBI. The report had been generated in Aurora, but Cox was convinced that was the hometown of the imaginary agents he thought had been dispatched to deal with him.

He also claims that around the same time, the summer of 2010, someone from the electric company that services his home called to warn him that the FBI had asked the company to flag Cox's residence as a danger zone and to prevent workers from going on the defendant’s property. A pastor at Bible Baptist Church also spoke to Cox about visits from FBI agents who asked "all kinds of questions" about the defendant.

And the stories kept coming. Cox claimed he'd heard from a military police officer on Fort Wainwright that U.S. Marshals had stopped in and were talking about a plan to use Cox's son as a way to provoke Cox to act violently, giving them an excuse to shoot him and get rid of the "Schaeffer Cox problem." And finally, Cox heard rumors that a Fairbanks FBI agent had been overheard at church discussing his dislike of Cox. 

"These things just keep adding up. I just kept not believing, but there becomes a time when you have to," Cox told the jury. "It was enough to make us scared."

The trial against Cox and two other militia members -- Coleman Barney and Lonnie Vernon -- is expected to wrap up by the end of next week. Barney, the second defendant to take the stand in his own defense, has begun to distance himself from the extreme statements Cox made in the months leading up the arrests.

Editor's Note: This article was updated June 6, 2012. An earlier version incorrectly identified Bill Fulton as a member of Schaeffer Cox's Alaska Peacemakers Militia. We regret the error.

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com