By Kyle Hopkins, McClatchy Newspapers –
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Schaeffer Cox relished hassling TSA agents at the airport. He began building a machine gun at age 16 and figured it would be fun to own a few live pineapple-shaped grenades like the ones in the movies.
What he didn’t do, Cox insisted Tuesday in Anchorage federal court, was plot to kill anyone.
That was the message the 28-year-old Alaska Peacemakers Militia chief and his defense lawyer hammered to jurors as the federal murder conspiracy and weapons case against him nears a finale.
Again and again, Cox told jurors he’s more Gandhi than Rambo. It was secret FBI informants who kept talking about shooting federal officials and warring with the government, he said.
“I didn’t want to kill anybody,” Cox said.
In testimony peppered with pop culture references, Cox’s version of his story was that of a rebel on the run. A man wanted dead by his enemies, forced to sneak into his own home to grab his wife’s wedding dress, he testified, in hopes of slipping across the Canadian border in the back of a truck.
It was the second day of testimony from Cox, who was arrested March 10. Prosecutors counter-punched in the afternoon, attempting to blow holes in Cox’s credibility and catch the militia man in lies.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Yvonne Lamoureux asked Cox about his public statements that a federal hit squad tried to assassinate him and continued to target him through his arrest. He didn’t really think was true, did he, she asked.
“I believe it more now than then,” Cox said.
Cox testified that he planned to skip a mandatory court appearance because he was afraid an Anchorage military surplus store owner, William “Drop Zone Bill” Fulton, might kill him and blame the feds in an attempt to start a bloody clash with authorities.
“I was convinced Bill Fulton was going to slit my throat like he almost slit Les’ throat if I got in the way of this plan that he was pushing,” Cox said, referring to a 2010 encounter between Fulton and Les Zerbe, the militia’s second-in-command.
Cox said he did not come up with “warrants” to be served on judges, he said, contradicting earlier testimony from Fulton. An FBI informant, Fulton told jurors on Thursday he believed the warrants were intended to be followed by the trials and possible executions of judges.
Cox believed federal officers were out to get him too, he told jurors. He’d been told the FBI and U.S. Marshals were asking questions and seeking a solution to their “Schaeffer Cox problem.”
“My feeling and my state of mind … was that there were U.S. Marshals who were trying to corner me and my wife into a shootout,” Cox said.
Much of the morning testimony was meant to undermine the hours of recordings and other evidence prosecutors amassed against Cox and two fellow militiamen, Coleman Barney and Lonnie Vernon.
The words “hit list” found among the notes on Cox’s iPhone, for example? Cox said that was a reference to a list of “freedom songs” for an unfinished record project. The group’s grenade launchers might be used as a means of non-lethal protection against an attack, he said, but he’d also talked about using them for a kind of “grenade” golf event at a Fairbanks country club.
“Instead of hitting balls, we were going to be shooting chalk rounds or something,” Cox said. It had been arranged with the club, he said, but the militia never got around to it.
Cox’s defense lawyer ticked off a list of firearms the militia leader owned, tallying a least 16 shotguns, handguns and other weapons. Cox said he never fired his grenade launchers, didn’t own live grenades and had built a silencer simply because it was “cool.” He admitted to haranguing TSA agents when he had extra time before a flight.
“It’s just a shenanigan,” Cox said. “If they’re going to violate the Constitution and hassle everybody, I’m going to hassle them right back that they should follow the Constitution. It’s an educational fandango for whatever screener is unlucky enough to get Schaeffer Cox.”
The militia was inspired by modern, nonviolent activists, Cox said. “The principled persistence of Martin Luther King, continue with the peaceful forbearance of Gandhi and finish with the constructive forgiveness of Nelson Mandela,” Cox said.
It was Fulton who appeared to want bloodshed, and another FBI informant, Gerald “J.R.” Olson, who pushed the infamous “241” idea of killing two federal officials for every militiaman killed, Cox said.
One reason Cox used armed militiamen to stand guard during a 2010 interview or radio appearance was to serve as protection from Fulton, he testified. “I was instilled with a very real fear that if I kept trying to pull a Gandhi, Bill Fulton would kill me and blame it on the feds to start a war,” he said.
Cox’s mother joined his father Tuesday in court, a fleece jacket warming her lap in the gallery. Behind the couple sat Cox’s wife, Marti.
A 2010 domestic violence complaint brought by Marti Cox — Schaeffer pleaded guilty to a lesser charge — led child welfare services workers to visit his home seeking an interview with the couple’s 2-year-old son. The encounter loomed large in Cox’s subsequent clashes with government.
Cox described the encounter in court, joking that he tried a trick he learned from the movie “Star Wars.”
“I sort of waved my hand in front of their face and said, ‘I’m not the man you’re looking for,’ ” he said.
Cox believed the Office of Children’s Services was merely a pawn for other agencies that were targeting him, possibly the Drug Enforcement Administration, he said.
The couple had planned to flee the country shortly before Cox was arrested. An FBI informant who infiltrated the militia kept promising Cox that a trucker would smuggle the couple across the Canadian border. The two men nicknamed the driver “Han Solo,” Cox said.
“We were going to go find a place where Bill Fulton and the feds would not bother us while we dedicated ourselves to raising our children,” Cox said.
Only later did he learn the trucker never existed.
Prosecutors began their cross-examination after lunch, leading to a series of chilly exchanges between Cox and Lamoureux, the assistant U.S. Attorney, as the militia leader sometimes answered questions with a question of his own.
Lamoureux played a series of clips from radio interviews Cox held in the months and years before his arrest. In the tapes, the jury heard a Schaeffer Cox who preaches non-violent solutions to his disagreements with the federal government but is quick to make threats and unafraid to use force if provoked.
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In one early 2011 interview with the American Underground Network, Cox tells listeners that he’s treated gingerly in Fairbanks court, allowed to wear his trademark hat and address the judge as “your administrativeness,” for example, because his militia was “several thousand strong.”
“The difference between groveling and negotiating is whether you can kick the other guy’s ass,” he says in one of the clips.
Even as she sought to establish Cox as the leader of a private army that was prepared to kill federal agents, Lamoureux confronted Cox about his tendency to inflate the size of group in speeches. Isn’t it true, the prosecutor asked, that Cox never commanded anywhere close to the 3,500 militiamen he claimed?
No, Cox said.
Others have testified the group numbered in the dozens.
“You’d probably have to drop a couple of zeros from that number, isn’t that true?” Lamoureux said.
Cox said he was referring to the number of a whole movement of like-minded people in the state, not to specific members of the Alaska Peacemakers Militia.
“It was a bluff,” he said.