The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Alaska Judge Dismisses Electronic Surveillance in Alaska Militia Case

By Ryan Lenz on October 18, 2011 - 2:30 pm, Posted in Militias

A state judge in Alaska has ruled that more than 100 hours of audio and video surveillance is inadmissible in the trial of Schaeffer Cox, the boyish militia leader who was arrested last year after stockpiling weapons in connection to a plot to kidnap or kill state troopers and a Fairbanks judge.

Superior Court Judge David Stewart said the audio and video recordings produced during a six-month FBI investigation violated the Alaska state constitution because they were made without a search warrant. While Monday’s ruling damages the state’s case, it has no bearing on federal weapons charges faced by Cox and his accomplices.

According to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, prosecutors argued that the recordings should be allowed during trial because the informants were working for the FBI, which did not need a warrant under federal law. Cox’s defense attorney thought otherwise.

“You really have to see the grand jury testimony to see how much of their case relies on this,” Cox’s attorney Robert John said. “This whole investigation was driven by the recording. Does everything just have to go now because everything is tainted? That’s something that will have to be hashed out in court.”

The court’s decision to bar the recordings has the potential to offer an irreparable blow to the state’s case, where Cox faces far more serious charges, including kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder.

Cox, who self-identifies as a “sovereign citizen,” believes that the government has no authority over him or his fellow sovereigns. The antigovernment movement has grown dramatically in recent years, with no signs of slowing as more and more people look for answers in a punishing economy and turn to the movement’s extraordinary promises.

At the time of his arrest in March, investigators charged that Cox and his compatriots had begun “extensive surveillance on troopers in the Fairbanks area … specifically on the location of the home for two troopers.” Cox’s Alaska Peacemakers Militia had also begun acquiring a large cache of weapons, many of which are prohibited by state or federal law.

The ruling hinges on a marked distinction between federal and state law. While federal law allows the Justice Department to have confidential sources record conversations without a warrant, Alaska does not. The problem, the judge found, was that state investigators used warrantless FBI recordings – a violation in Alaska.

“It’s kind of mind boggling that this went on for six months,” John said. “It’s not like they were recording a single conversation. They were recording his whole life. It’s almost like the movie ‘The Truman Show.’”

  • George

    Some of you folks commenting, need to learn how to read….you are so eager to spout your anti-FBI, anti-government rhetoric that you are missing the whole point of the article….nobody here “stood up to the FBI”….the FBI did not violate anyone’s rights here. Under FEDERAL law, what the FBI did is PERFECTLY LEGAL. The judge here is throwing out the STATE’S portion of the case because the STATE investigators involved did not obtain a warrant, which is required under STATE law. Instead, they relied upon the FBI’s recordings, which is a technical violation of Alaska state law because they were warrantless recordings. The Federal portion of the case still stands, and the recordings are absolutely admissible in Federal Court. The Alaska Troopers screwed up by not going to a state judge to obtain a warrant before relying on the FBI’s tapes….

  • ModerateMike

    I agree with some of your points about the erosion of civil liberties and the now-overwhelming political power of corporations; Hispanic residents of Arizona and Alabama can certainly vouch for the first point, and the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission attests to the second.
    But getting back to the original point, it seems to me that even a totally non-hierarchical, egalitarian culture would have limited options if one member of their group were determined to kill another. I don’t know enough about the complex interplay of social environment and biology that motivated Cox to act as he did, and it is reasonable to think that if he had grown up within a small egalitarian band, he might have become a different man. However, that is just speculation, and as I re-read the original SPLC report on Cox, I became convinced that he was not the sort of person with whom one could “work things out.” Yes, he has the same rights as the rest of us, but then, so do the police officers whom he was allegedly plotting to kill, and given that sovereigns have previously murdered police officers, I firmly believe that the FBI acted responsibly in this case.

  • Jonas Rand

    The absence of a government which has the power to rule by force does not necessitate the imposition of the dichotomy you described (namely, vigilante violence vs. allowing the risk of violence). Are you assuming that anarchy (the absence of hierarchical social structures, from the state on down) means that no institutions exist?

    If there was no government, this Schaeffer Cox thing couldn’t have happened exactly the way that it did, because social circumstances would be different. For starters, there would be no police officers to kill in an anarchist society, because police officers are representative of state authority. Even if someone did whack out and try to kill someone, there could still be a non-violent way (formal or informal) to try to work things out with her/him (rather than treating him/her as a problem, civil dialogue and communication could be a first step). Chances are, however, that whatever factors led him to believe this was the right course of action would be absent or severely diminished if there were no state (by this I mean a system that monopolizes official violence/authority, whether that is lynch mobs, a junta or a Federal Government).

    Moreover, the militia movement (to which Schaeffer Cox belongs) do NOT advocate no government and they are not anarchists. They are truly minarchists, meaning that they support a weak, impotent government (which can be ‘bad’ or ‘good’ depending on your perspective), but not a total abolition of state authority. Their complaints about the government practicing “socialism” seem to conflate “socialism” with totalitarianism in general, as it is obvious that the US is not a socialist country. However, it seems that since Bush II (or maybe since Reagan, but that was before I was born so I don’t know), America has been devolving into a corporate police state which sacrifices transparency and civil liberties for “national security” (protecting imperialist wars), moralistic crusades against sex and drugs, and the ability for politicians to feel good about themselves. That isn’t socialism, it is a form of authoritarianism that has been adopted by so-called “socialists”, capitalists, and fascists alike. Truthfully, I think the militias are a bunch of nuts (with racist elements), but some of them have a good point about the erosion of civil rights in this country if you overlook the “socialist” name-calling and historical revisionism.

  • Dick Lancaster

    Well, Jonas, I have to say that’s the first time I’ve ever agreed with an anarchist. But who’s coming to help when you call 911?

  • ModerateMike

    The irony of this is that in giving the financial industry the “small government” that it wanted over the last few decades, the federal governnment planted the seeds that led to the economic crisis, and yet so many of the people who were hurt as a result were driven to movements that claim that the government is too powerful.

  • ModerateMike

    The state investigators may have screwed up, but if Cox is let go and ultimately ends up killing someone, that person will not be “less dead” just because Cox’s rights were violated.

    What if there were no government to respond to the actions of someone like Cox? The people in the community would either have to take justice into their own hands (i.e. form a lynch mob), or just allow him to hurt whomever he wanted. Neither of those options seems very attractive.

  • Jonas Rand

    Well Dick, I don’t know about your definition of liberal, but if you took it upon yourself to assume that no one who commented above was left of center, you were mistaken. I’m only speaking for myself, but my views are to the left of liberalism, and I don’t support any government (big or small).

    The unwarranted FBI surveillance is an appalling violation of civil liberties, and, in my opinion, it is good that Alaska has at least some respect for those liberties.

  • Dick Lancaster

    Five comments thus far and no liberals? One clarification is warranted. I don’t know if the anti-government has grown substantially in recent years but I do know that the anti BIG government movement is.

  • Libertymike

    This time, the court got it right.

    Perhaps we should focus upon the hate directed at those who are anti-government. Being anti-government is not, in and of itself, a bad thing; however, those who reflexively demonize individuals who do not worship the state, are themselves vessels of hate.

  • Mike

    I’m all for shutting down terrorists and malitias that plot to overthrow , kidnap , and murder but please do it legally .

  • Jonas Rand

    “I guess no one is afraid of the terrorists anymore.”

    As much as I would like the panic over OMG! teh TERRISTS!!1! to have gone away, it hasn’t. Unfortunately, the FBI and other “security forces” are allowed to use such surveillance as evidence against most accused “terrorists”, because the law prohibiting it is only in Alaska, which isn’t exactly the most common spot where terror plots are uncovered. I’m glad, though, that at least one state takes privacy and civil liberties seriously.

  • Leslie

    I guess no one is afraid of the terrorists anymore.

  • Jonas Rand

    Hooray for civil rights! No to unwarranted search and seizure! Thankfully, this court stood up against the FBI and defended dignity and personal liberty against the Surveillance State.