Alaska Peacemaker Militia founder and gun-rights advocate Francis Schaeffer Cox — described by federal investigators as a “delusionally dangerous man” — will serve almost 26 years in federal prison, despite his show of last-minute contrition.
The 28-year-old defendant, who became a modern-day poster boy of sorts for the militia movement, was convicted by an Alaska jury last June of nine federal charges – seven of them illegal firearms counts — related to a conspiracy to kill a judge and law enforcement officers. He was acquitted of charges of carrying a handgun while conspiring to purchase destructive devices and possession of a handgun while discussing the murder conspiracy.
“Well, I, uh, I put myself here, with my words,” Cox told the court yesterday before he was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan, the Anchorage Daily News reported in today’s editions.
“This is devastating to my wife, and she is in a position of pain and uncertainty, and I feel that that is my fault,” Cox said. “And my children, who I love with all my heart, they lost their family.”
Cox and members of his Peacemaker Militia conspired to kill two government officials for every one militia member who was killed — their so-called “241” or two-for-one plan.
After he was convicted, Cox fired his attorney. The replacement, Peter Camiel of Seattle, had Cox undergo a psychological examination which indicated he suffers from paranoia disorders.
“I put a lot of people in fear by the things that I said,” the Anchorage newspaper quoted Cox as telling the court. “Some of the crazy stuff that was coming out of my mouth, I see that, and I sounded horrible. I couldn't have sounded any worse if I tried. The more scared I got, the crazier the stuff. I wasn't thinking, I was panicking.”
Cox could have been sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors urged the court to sentence Cox to 35 years, but the judge settled on a sentenced of 25 years and 10 months. He will get about 15% of that sentence off if he gets credit for good behavior.
Co-defendants Lonnie Vernon, 56, and Coleman Barney, 38, were convicted of related charges in the murder conspiracy. Vernon was charged with conspiring to kill public officials, amassing weapons and, along with his wife, Karen Vernon, of planning to kill a federal judge and an Internal Revenue Service official over a tax dispute.
On Monday, Vernon received the same sentence as Cox — 25 years and 10 months. Karen Vernon was sentenced to 12 years in prison the same day. Barney was sentenced last year to five years in prison on weapons charges.
“We know from the convictions and the events of the trial that he was a danger to the public in the past,” said Bryan, a visiting judge from the state of Washington who was assigned the case because an Alaska judge was one of the assassination targets.
“We also know, in spite of his statements, that we can have no confidence that he would not be a danger to the public in the future,” the judge said. “It’s obviously very difficult to anticipate, but Mr. Cox's personality and mental status ... indicate to me that the public needs to be protected from him.”
The judge told the packed courtroom that the case and six-week jury trial that followed it didn't involve Cox's freedom of speech, but his criminal behavior.
The FBI began investigating Cox after a 2009 speech he gave in Montana, not because of antigovernment rhetoric, but because he claimed that he had thousands of militiamen at his command and a cache of mines and other illegal weapons, the Anchorage newspaper reported. Cox’s boasts turned out to be false.
The FBI’s investigation and Justice Department prosecution were built largely around the undercover work of two informants and secretly made audio recordings, detailing deadly antigovernment plans.
“Cox [was] contemptuous of this state’s and this country’s legal system,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Steven Skrocki and Yvonne Lamourex said in their 66-page sentencing memorandum. “He possesses a clear disrespect for all law and cares not for the individual rights of others when their rights clash with his own. Cox is of the belief that his actions transcend law.”
Cox essentially conceded that point in court yesterday. He said, “I lost all of my composure and created a horrible mess,” according to the Anchorage newspaper. “You know,” Cox said, “if I was the FBI, I would've investigated me, too. I don't blame them for that. I don't blame anybody but myself for starting this.”
From 2009 until his arrest in March 2011, Cox created and ran various antigovernment political and activist groups in the Fairbanks, Alaska, area. These groups included the Alaska Peacemaker Militia, the Second Amendment Task Force and the Liberty Bell network.
He was also involved in the Alaska Assembly Post, an antigovernment “common law” fictional government entity, where Cox was bestowed the title of “Secretary of Defense”, as well as the office of “Commander in Chief” of the “several states of the United States of America.”
“These groups were organized by Cox and, to a large extent, used by him to further his own personal and political goals of challenging the existing governmental and judicial structure of the State of Alaska on several fronts, including a campaign to discredit the judiciary by claims of fraud and lack of any jurisdiction, and to challenge the court’s authority over him,” the prosecutors said in the memo to the court.
“In furthering this attack on the state’s legal and law enforcement institutions, Cox went on the lecture circuit in several states, grandiosely claiming strategic successes based upon the supposed strength of his groups in conflicts with the existing governmental structure,” the prosecutors said.
Cox and his group’s assassination plans were “to be justified by political reasons, or as retribution simply because the targets were public servants doing their jobs as judges, clerks of court, state child welfare workers, Alaska State Troopers, U.S. Marshals, or other federal officers,” the prosecutors said.
Cox “held no sympathy nor compassion” for his targets, and boasted to his militia buddies that the government agents “were to be hanged as wind chimes of liberty, heads were to be sent in boxes, or children killed as collateral damage,” the prosecutors told the court.
His militia planned to carry out its plans with “any armament available, from hand grenades to machine guns and devices to silence them,” they said. Cox “directed and led the members of this conspiracy in the direction of killing, who to kill, and when the circumstances would be right.”
“It is clear that a term of imprisonment will have no rehabilitative or reformative effect on Cox. The crimes for which he stands convicted are as serious as they come.”
The prosecutors concluded: “Cox’s own actions and how he has elected to respond to them over the last several years have demonstrated that a lengthy sentence is the only way of protecting the public and its officials from a delusionally dangerous man who instead of advocating peace advocated the use of the gun.”