Alaska Militia Trial Opens With Former Defendant as Key Witness
The Justice Department has cut a deal with a former member of the Alaska Peacemaker Militia to bolster its case against the group’s leader Schaeffer Cox and two others on trial in U.S. District Court in Anchorage.
Michael O. Anderson, who was arrested with Cox and co-defendants Lonnie Vernon and Coleman Barney in March 2011, will testify for the prosecution, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Tuesday as opening arguments were heard.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Yvonne Lamoureux said Anderson will testify about how he conducted surveillance on law enforcement officers targeted in an alleged militia plot to murder government employees.
Anderson is among 70 people on the list of government witnesses expected to testify during the trial as prosecutors attempt to introduce some 700 pieces of evidence. The jury trial is expected to last four to six weeks.
Cox, a boyish-looking, 28-year-old father of two, is from Fairbanks, but traveled throughout the West espousing his antigovernment message, suggesting patriots like himself should be ready to kill if necessary. Cox, of Fairbanks, along with Barney, 37, of North Pole, Alaska, and Vernon, 56, of Salcha, are accused of conspiracy to kill government employees and amassing an arsenal of weapons and ammunition for their militia, which Cox claimed had 3,500 members.
Anderson initially was charged with conspiracy to commit murder in state court, but was released when the state case against him and other defendants was dismissed last October. State Judge David Stewart ruled that more than 100 hours of audio and video surveillance tapes made by the FBI during a six-month investigation violated Alaska’s constitution because they were made without a search warrant.
After dismissal of most of the state charges against Anderson and the others, federal authorities took Anderson back into custody, granted him immunity from self-incrimination and compelled him to testify before a federal grand jury. The secret recordings made by two government informants who infiltrated the Peacemaker Militia are expected to be a key backbone in the federal case.
In January, the federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment with additional charges against Cox, Vernon and Barney.
During opening statements yesterday, defense attorney Nelson Traverso described Cox as a champion of civil liberties whose sometimes heated and “distasteful” rhetoric is nevertheless protected by the First Amendment.
Traverso told the jury that they would hear the refrain many times during the trial that “[i]t is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong,” the Fairbanks newspaper reported.
In the tapes secretly made by the FBI, Cox discusses “overthrowing the federal government by violent means” after establishing a system of “common-law courts,” a bogus judicial system championed by the antigovernment “Patriot” movement.
The prosecutor said Cox and his militia were doing more than just talking, instead taking specific steps that included photographing state and federal government employees who they considered “Nazis.”
“It is not a rag-tag deal,” Cox reportedly boasts on one of the tapes, claiming his militia had a medical unit and engineers “that make GPS jammers, cell phone jammers, bombs and all sorts of nifty stuff.”
“We’ve got airplanes with laser-acquisition stuff and we’ve got rocket … and grenade launchers and claymores and machine guns and cavalry and we’ve got boats,” Cox says in another one of the recordings. At one point, he claims his militia crew could outgun the state police in Alaska.
There is no evidence that the militia possessed anything like Cox claimed.
But Cox, Barney and Vernon possessed and sought to acquire illegal firearms, machine guns, destructive devices and silencers as part of their membership in the Alaska Peacemaker Militia and the Alaska Assembly Post, the charging indictment alleges.