[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]
The details about Schaeffer Cox, the Alaska militiaman arrested in a plot to kill and kidnap state troopers and local judges, are starting to emerge -- and they have a distinctly familiar ring to them. From the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:
Details emerge in alleged plot to kill Alaska State Troopers judgeIt's abundantly clear that Cox is following the career of so many "sovereign citizens" before him -- from Gordon Kahl to Randy and Vicki Weaver to Jerry and Joe Kane: You start out as a laughable loony nutcase who believes in an alternative universe constructed of provably untrue conspiracy theories, and you end up a violent, extremist nutcase willing to gun down federal officers.
State court documents made available Friday detail the murders and kidnappings allegedly planned by Schaeffer Cox and militia followers as well as the secret FBI recordings that helped expose the plan.
The plan, which members of Cox’s Peacemakers Militia reportedly code-named “241” (two for one), was created as a potential retaliatory response to any attempt by law enforcement to arrest Cox, who had an outstanding bench warrant for not attending a trial over a misdemeanor weapons charge.
Under the plan, Cox and other militia members would kidnap two law enforcement officers or court officials for every militia member arrested. They would kill two officials in retaliation for every militia member killed in any conflict with authorities.
The document accuses the group of assembling an arsenal that included pineapple grenades allegedly stolen from Fort Wainwright, multiple tripod-mounted machine guns and “dozens of other high-powered assault rifles and pistols.” The court documents don’t say whether search warrants for the weapons were obtained, or if the weapons have been seized.
Most of the information in the charging documents come from private militia “command staff” meetings “lawfully recorded by the FBI through technological means available to them.”
Four of the five defendants accused of conspiring to murder and kidnap are described discussing the plan in a 17-page criminal complaint. Besides Cox, the co-defendants are Coleman Barney, 36, of the North Pole area and Salcha residents Lonnie Vernon, 55 his wife and Karen Vernon, 66.
You can observe this gradual but inexorable career arc just in the videos Cox made before his arrest, including the above interview with a fundamentalist pastor made in January. In it, you can hear Cox's violent fantasies starting to bubble up, even as he claims to have 3,500 members in his Alaska militia organization:
COX: If there came a time where they were endangering my family, you bet I would kill those federal agents. And what kind of a father and husband would I be if I wouldn't? Would I sacrifice my family on the altar of submission to the wicked state? No, that would be despicable, we would highly criticize anybody who did that, stood by and watched in history. And we've got to reckon with the fact that that's our time right now.Of course, you will notice that since Cox's arrest, those supposed 3500 militiamen have been pretty nonexistent on the scene, and none of the law-enforcement officers involved in his arrest have been subject to any kind of retaliation at all.
Now, we have those agents -- with 3500 guys we have tremendous resources at our disposal. And we had those guys under 24-hour surveillance -- the six trouble-causers that came up from the federal government. And we could have had them killed within 20 minutes of giving the order. But we didn't because they had not yet done it.
You can also hearing him make the usual disclaimers that they kick out any "violent" types from militias -- which, as always, are about as reliable as the Minutemen's similar disclaimers.
Dermot Cole at the News-Miner has more details on Cox's background:
Schaeffer Cox told a “National Collective Consciousness Call” in January that law enforcement officers and the court system in Fairbanks always treated him with “total respect” because they feared the firepower of his militia.Likewise, David Holthouse has the full rundown on Alaska's increasingly unhinged and violent "Patriot" movement scene:
There is no independent verification of how big or small his group is, but he has repeatedly claimed he had 3,500 members under his command.
The 26-year-old Cox said he was treated like a foreign diplomat by the Alaska courts and didn’t have to follow the rules “because I am not of them.”
“They never make me take my hat off or say ‘your honor’ or stand up like that. I refer to them as the ‘alleged judge’ or ‘your administrativeness.’ And I don’t do anything. The police are always ‘oh yes sir, yes sir,’ very nice there.
“And they’re doing that because they know we’ve got ‘em outmanned and outgunned,” he said on the Jan. 6 conference call, a recording of which is posted on the American Underground Network website http://aunetwork.tv/.
He said he told an “alleged judge” last year he could give an order for his militia members to “stand down,” but he couldn’t guarantee they would listen if they thought the case against Cox was politically motivated.
“From one father to another father, I don’t want to put my influence to the test while the lives of you and your children are on the line,” he said he told the judge.
“I said if you want a bloody fight, if you want a war, then we’ve got one hell of a war with your name on it. But if you want peace, well then that’s what we want too,” Cox said.
As it stands, other Alaska militia leaders are rallying to Cox’s defense in regards to the firearms case, while making no mention of his other legal troubles. “Allow me to state that I am behind Schaeffer Cox 100 percent,” says Norm Olson, leader of the Kenai Peninsula-based Alaska Citizens Militia. “His [sovereign citizen] argument is valid. The court that is claiming jurisdiction is an ‘Admiralty Court’ constructed under statute laws of the corporation known as The State of Alaska. Schaeffer wants to be tried in a court of common law where he can face his accuser directly and try the law as well as the evidence before him. Mr. Cox is fully aware that a jury that is called to listen to the charges has the right and duty to try not only the evidence, but to judge the correctness of the law itself. Schaeffer is not unwilling to be tried, but he wants to plead his case before a common law court with a jury of his peers. Can he expect that in Alaska? Only time will tell.”Here are some earlier clips of Cox in action. In these, you can see Cox cocoon himself in the sovereign-citizen alternative universe, and his rhetoric becomes increasingly violent and paranoid:
Before we get into Olson’s reference to Admiralty Courts and Common Law and other Sovereign Citizen gobbledygook, it’s worth airing his take on the militia movement in Alaska. After all, Olson’s a militia O.G.
Olson started the Michigan Militia in 1994 and helped turn that state into a hotbed of right-wing extremist activity in the mid-to-late 1990s. Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols attended a Michigan Militia meeting not long before the terrorist attack he carried out with Timothy McVeigh.
Asked to assess the current strength of the militia movement in Alaska, Olson offered this response: “Of course I cannot answer that question. To do so would risk compromising our operational objectives and resources. Suffice it to say that we are ‘nowhere and everywhere.’ I will say that any move against one of our units or members is actually a way of bringing central government abuses into the forefront of the community’s awareness. The ongoing persecution of Schaeffer Cox is a boon to our enlistment efforts.”
This is a story that has played itself out a number of times over the past twenty years -- I've witnessed a number of court hearings involving "sovereign citizens" trying to impose their fabricated "legal" system on the real world -- and it never has a happy outcome. Inevitably, as they become hardened in their belief that their legal fantasy is reality, there comes a confrontation with law enforcement. Often, both sides suffer harm -- but only one side loses.
In my first book, In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest, I devoted most of the second chapter to describing the dynamics of this alternative universe:
The Patriot movement appears to operate in the mainstream world, but truthfully, it does not. Rather, its believers reside in a different universe -- one dominated by an evil government and a conspiracy to destroy America. Agents of the dark side lurk in every gathering, pawns embodied in every disbeliever. Proof of this hidden reality can be found in everyday news stories and ordinary documents, if only seen with the right eyes.
The alternative reality that becomes life in the Patriot movement is like a big quilt, a patchwork of factual items -- United Nations reports, government documents, news stories -- that are patched together with other less credible information -- black helicopter sightings, suggestions of troop movements, and the like. The thread that weaves them all together is a paranoid belief in the vast conspiracy; even if items don’t appear to fit together, the irrational fear driving the movement will overlook potential conflicts.
Everyone is free to make a contribution: a military-vehicle sighting here, an obscure document there. Believers are free to ignore some patches if they happen to disagree with any singular contribution, so long as the quilt itself hangs together as an all-encompassing blanket.
The dwellers in this otherworld can be found not just in the wilds of Montana among the most radical believers like the Freemen. They can be found seemingly everywhere in the Northwest: in suburban conference centers, in rural town halls, in small Bible study groups.
Step into one of the militias’ organizing meetings -- typically held in small community halls in rural areas and towns outlying urban centers -- and you will have walked into this world.
By challenging the mainstream view -- that the world is essentially a safe place, that the nation is, in general, functional, even if it has problems -- the Patriots persuade their followers to place themselves outside the rest of society. Simultaneously, they offer a social structure of their own, drawn together by a Patriot sensibility that informs every aspect of the followers’ lives: legal, religious, even business behavior becomes an expression of their beliefs.
This is how people are drawn into the alternative universe of the Patriots, a world in which the same events occur as those that befall the rest of us, but all are seen through a different lens. Anything that makes it into a newspaper or the evening broadcast -- say, flooding in the Cascades, or the arrival of U.S. troops in Bosnia -- may be just another story for most of us, but to a Patriot, these widely disparate events all are connected to the conspiracy. Believers tend to organize in small local groups. They all have similar-sounding names -- Concerned Citizens for Constitutional Law, Alliance for America, and the like. They play host to the touring Patriots, the local leaders nervously introducing their admired guests. These groups operate out of the public limelight, on a low-level communications system: a combination of mailings, faxes and even Internet postings all advertise the meetings locally and regionally. Rarely does an announcement make the local mainstream press.
Most of the Patriots’ real recruiting takes place before the meetings, by word of mouth. It usually works like this:
John, a Patriot, tells Joe, a co-worker at his plant who’s going through a divorce, that he can find out ``what’s really going on’’ by attending a militia meeting. The Patriots, Joe is told, have answers to the moral decay that’s behind the way men get screwed in divorce cases.
Joe attends. He thinks the New World Order theories might be possible. He buys a video tape, maybe a book. It all starts to fit together. So this is why he hasn’t been able to get ahead in the world economically, he tells himself. He attends another meeting. Pretty soon he’s getting ``Taking Aim’’ in the mail.
Joe tells his neighbor Sam about the Patriots. Sam is dubious, but he’s been having a hell of a time paying his taxes, and Joe passes on what he knows about the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Reserve from the Patriot literature he’s read. Sam is intrigued. He reads some of Joe’s material. He goes to the next meeting with Joe. A month or two later, Sam starts drawing up papers to declare himself a ``sovereign citizen.’’
Sam goes to a picnic outing at his parents’ house. His older brother Jeff, an engineer at Boeing, asks Sam about the ``sovereign citizen’’ stuff. Sam explains. Jeff, too, is dubious, but he also happens to be a gun collector and sometime hunter, and he’s received mailings from the National Rifle Association that lead him to wonder if there isn’t something to this whole militia thing. When Sam starts talking about how the government is out of control, passing unconstitutional laws like the Brady Bill, Jeff tunes in. A month later, he, too, sits in on a Patriot town-hall meeting.
One by one it builds. Any of a number of vital issues -- land use, property rights, banking, economics, politics, gun control, abortion, education, welfare -- can serve as a drawing card. In many cases, they are deeply divisive, polarizing matters that the mainstream fails to adequately address.
Once recruits pass through any of these gateways into the Patriot universe, they are drawn further, inexorably. What once seemed like a screwed-up government has become monstrously, palpably evil. Then they learn about Patriot legal theories from people like the Freemen or from Schroder and DeMott:
* The Federal Reserve is bankrupt, a front for a phony system, run by private
corporations, of printing money that really only helps keep rich bankers awash in cash.
* The Internal Revenue Service is illegal. Federal taxes actually are strictly voluntary.
* You can exempt yourself from paying federal taxes by filing a statement declaring yourself a ``sovereign citizen.’’ This ostensibly frees you from obligation to the United States -- which Patriots say is just an illegal corporation based in Washington, D.C. -- by nullifying your participation in the federal citizenship status established by the 14th Amendment.
* This distinction, arguing that only the 14th Amendment extends federal citizenship to minorities, forms the basis for the Patriots’ contention that only white male Christian property owners enjoy full citizenship under the ``organic Constitution.’’
* In fact, the only valid U.S. Constitution is this ``organic Constitution’’ -- that is, the main body of the Constitution and the first ten amendments, or the Bill of Rights. Patriots believe the remaining amendments either should be repealed or were approved illegally anyway. In any case, they would end the prohibition of slavery (13th Amendment); equal protection under the law (14th Amendment); prohibitions against racial or ethnic discrimination (15th Amendment); the income tax (16th Amendment); direct election of Senators (17th Amendment); the vote for women (19th Amendment); and a host of other constitutional protections passed since the time of the Founders.
* Establishing ``sovereign citizenship,’’ or ``Quiet Title’’ (which similarly declares a person a ``freeman’’), exempts a person from the rules of ``equity courts,’’ which means you don’t have to pay for licenses, building permits, or traffic citations, not to mention taxes.
* The only real courts with power are the ``common law’’ courts comprised of sovereign citizens, which have the power to issue rulings and liens against public officials they deem to have overstepped their bounds. If these officials fail to uphold the common-law courts, they can be found guilty of treason, and threatened with the appropriate penalty: hanging.
It is at this end of the Patriot universe that much of its deeper agenda is revealed. When Patriots talk about ``restoring the Constitution,’’ what they often have in mind is a campaign to roll back protections embodied in a wide range of amendments, as well as establishing a reading of the Second Amendment radically different from the one traditionally accepted by the U.S. court system.
It also is at this end of the universe that the charges of divisiveness and racism often leveled at the Patriots take on some weight. Plainly, the constitutional rollbacks would return the American system to a time when racial justice was not a considered concept.
Not surprisingly, this is where the Patriots most closely resemble, and arguably are directly descended from, openly racist and anti-Semitic belief systems like those found in the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nations, and the Posse Comitatus.
Most of these views are often dismissed by the mainstream legal profession as simple nonsense promoted by crackpots. And for the most part, the Patriots’ legal theories completely disintegrate when factually examined in the cold light of day. Nonetheless, the movement’s ranks continue to grow, and the mainstream courts, particularly in rural jurisdictions, now are faced with a sudden deluge of ``common law’’ documents that throw an already overburdened system into a tangle.
All the same, there is no law against being a crackpot. Otherwise, hundreds of Elvis sighters and UFO abductees would be rotting in prison cells alongside the Patriots, most of whom also are quite free to spread their conspiracy theories. The concern, rather, is what happens when the agenda of the Patriots, constructed out of an insular, paranoiac view of reality, tries to assert itself in the mainstream world. If their form of ``republic’’ comes to be, most of society’s current protections against racial injustice would vanish.
Believers’ attempts to effect this agenda is certain to come into real conflict with mainstream Americans. Moreover, when Patriots begin to threaten public officials with hanging and other kinds of bodily harm, the potential for violence enters into the picture.
``What is going on in our society when somebody can come up with an idea like this, and a package of materials like this, and attract 200 people to a community meeting?’’ wonders Ken Toole, director of the Montana Human Rights Network. Toole has attended many of the sessions.
``To me, it's almost like a canary in a coal mine, and it's very indicative of how negative and hostile we've become about ourselves -- that somehow these people have managed to objectify the government at all levels, blame it for all kinds of things, and look for a way to kind of focus that anger.’’