Schaeffer Cox, a young Alaska militia leader who drew crowds across the West for his speeches about reining in government power, was convicted Monday along with another militia member of conspiring to murder federal law enforcement officers.
A federal jury in Anchorage also convicted Cox, 28, of several weapons charges stemming from what prosecutors said was a scheme to confront the federal government and kill federal law enforcement agents who got in their way.
“The prosecutors withheld evidence from you guys!” Cox shouted as the verdicts were read, according to the Anchorage Daily News, which was in the courtroom.
The jury also convicted militia member Lonnie Vernon, 56, of murder conspiracy, but deadlocked on that charge for a third defendant, Coleman Barney, 37.
The case is one of the biggest the Justice Department has brought against the sovereign citizen movement, whose adherents believe the federal government has usurped lawful power and must be defied by way of complex and often incomprehensible legal challenges if citizens are to regain their rightful freedoms.
Cox, a popular figure at patriot meetings on college campuses and community halls, came to the attention of the FBI as his speeches took on an increasingly militant tone.
“You feel like there’s something horrible going on and you can’t quite put your finger on what it is, but you know it’s there. You feel helpless to stop it and you feel frustrated because the only thing that you can do is beg a tyrant to be a better kind of tyrant,” Cox told a 2010 gathering of militia members and supporters in Kenai, Alaska, covered by the Redoubt Reporter newspaper.
“My greatest fear is that they’re not going to hear us until we speak to them in their language, which is force,” he said.
Cox argued at his trial that he was more of a Gandhi figure than a Rambo, and said he was worried that the FBI was out to get him. Taking the stand in his own defense, Cox said he and his fellow militia members felt they needed to prepare for the collapse of government amid its out-of-control spending.
Cox’s lawyer argued that he should not have been prosecuted for exercising his right to criticize the government.
“Schaeffer is an ‘I’m in your face’ activist,” defense attorney Nelson Traverso told the jury, the Associated Press reported. “This speech, as offensive as it is, is protected by the Constitution.”
But prosecutors played recordings of Cox discussing weapons such as grenades with an undercover informant and detailed a plan known as “2-4-1,” which was allegedly hatched by Cox’s Alaska Peacemaker Militia to kill two government agents for every dead militia member.
“Why would you need your own court system, your own county rangers; why do you need handcuffs and a Taser?” Assistant U.S. Atty. Steven E. Skrocki told jurors during closing arguments, according to the Daily News. “At some point they’re going to be strong enough. That’s the motive behind it.”
Cox was convicted of nine of the 11 counts against him, including possessing an unregistered machine gun and parts to assemble hand grenades, but was acquitted of two counts of carrying a firearm during a crime of violence.
U.S. District Judge Robert Bryant set sentencing for Sept. 14.