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No' Money, Mo' Problems: Militiaman’s Fundraising Plea Devolves into Lawsuit and Mistrust

The jailed militiaman had an interesting fundraising appeal.

He called it his “cry for help.”

Now, there’s crying all around as the money-raising attempt has descended into chaos, conflict and mistrust. In this case, Schaeffer Cox wanted the fundraising to stop, going as far as writing he was “wary” of the people who claimed to support him. As a result of his note, he received a scathing email from someone he once called a friend.

Money is at the heart of the battle. Members of the “Free Schaeffer Cox” movement hired Eberle Associates, a prominent conservative firm based in McLean, Virginia, to raise money for Cox’s appeal.

But Cox, who claims he is a political prisoner, alleged in a lawsuit that he never received money raised on his behalf.

The conflict reached its nadir when Cox wrote to an Eberle copywriter and said he didn’t want the company raising money for him anymore. That exchange prompted the sharp response.

On Feb. 11, 2016, Cox sent an email to Ryan Mobley, a copywriter with Eberle known for handling conservative fundraising pitches. He told Mobley to stop the pledge campaign because he was wary of the Free Schaeffer Cox board members.

“I’m just saying I’m not going to ask people to donate to ME when in reality I have no idea at all where the money is actually going,” Cox wrote. “That’s reasonable.”

But it apparently didn’t seem reasonable to Maria Rensel. Rensel was a friend of Cox’s from their days in Republican politics in Alaska. She replied in an email signed by the other board members:

“Perfect timing Schaeffer … right when the work is ready to pay off, you self-destruct.”

How did we get here?

Cox ran the Alaska Peacemakers Militia until he was sentenced in 2012 to 26 years in prison for engaging in a conspiracy to kill a state judge and police officer. That plot led to the latest dust-up.

Cox, a 35-year-old former Republican candidate for the Alaska Legislature, needed the money to appeal his conviction.

Eberle counts prominent conservative clients such as the Koch Brothers-funded FreedomWorks among its customers. The company has also worked with the American Border Patrol, which the Southern Poverty Law Center designates as an antigovernment group.

The relationship between Cox, his supporters and Eberle quickly went south. Cox filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in November 2018. The suit alleges Eberle embezzled more than $100,000 raised to help Cox with his appeal. In court filings, Eberle and the other defendants have denied the accusations.

The lawsuit alleges Eberle promised to take a series of actions, including a direct mail campaign, follow-up calls and letters and a projected $1.05 million first-year fundraising goal.

Cox seemed onboard at first. He allowed the use of his photo in fundraising requests. A draft fundraising letter, addressed to “Dear Patriotic American,” showed the urgency of his plea.

“This is my cry for help,” Cox wrote in a Sept. 1, 2014, draft fundraising letter. “Not just for me and my family, but for Americans like you who may be the government’s next target.”

The first fundraising mailer went out in early 2015 and raised $38,000 from 1,500 people, according to court documents.

Eberle wrote a check to “Free Schaeffer Cox” on Feb. 23, 2015, although court filings do not indicate how much it gave Cox’s backers, and things seemed to be running smoothly. Mailings went out, and Cox penned more fundraising letters from his prison cell in Marion, Illinois.

Cox wrote in another fundraising draft that the Marion prison had the nickname “Little Guantanamo” and that the Obama administration had an “enemies list.”

“And since I was the main organizer of the 2nd Amendment lobby in Alaska and represented thousands of conservative voters, I had to go and they didn’t care how,” Cox wrote.

The draft, dated Oct. 5, 2015, was included as an exhibit in the lawsuit.

The fundraising letter echoed a defense Cox used at trial – that he was a loudmouth who stood up for gun rights but was no danger to society.

But all was not well from Cox’s point of view.

Various letters that were part of the lawsuit show Cox’s growing unease and mistrust of Eberle. Cox expressed concerns about where the money was going and whether the projections could be reached.

Emails in the court file show that Rensel and Cox stopped speaking, prompting the US Observer, an Oregon-based outfit that publishes stories about people it believes to be wrongly convicted, to stop researching the case. For its part, Eberle froze the “Free Schaeffer Cox” account.

“What a mess!” Eberle President Tammy Cali wrote Cox on Dec. 21, 2016.

Cox said in court records that he didn’t get any of the funds raised by Eberle. Eberle did not return a call or email to the Intelligence Report seeking comment. Court records indicate the money the group raised was returned to donors.

Since parting with Alaskans for Liberty, a right-wing political group made up of some of Cox’s former supporters, Cox has a new set of fundraisers known as “Schaeffer’s Angels.”