Five 'Sovereign Citizens' plot to kidnap, kill Alaska cops
Members of the domestic terrorism group also plotted to kill a judge, claiming courts should have no authority over them
By Sam Friedman
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Five people, including militia activist Schaeffer Cox, were arrested Thursday in the Fairbanks area for allegedly conspiring to kill multiple Alaska State Troopers and a federal judge.
The group had stockpiled weapons and conducted surveillance on the homes of two troopers, according to Alaska State Troopers. Some of the weapons known to be in the cache are prohibited by state or federal law, according to troopers.
In addition to Cox, those taken into custody are Lonnie and Karen Vernon of Salcha, Coleman Barney of North Pole and Michael Anderson, whose hometown was unclear. All were taken into custody without incident.
The arrests were made by the Alaska State Troopers’ Special Emergency Reaction Team, along with Fairbanks troopers, the FBI, U.S. Marshal’s Service and the Fairbanks Police Department.
U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline was the judge targeted, U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler said. Lonnie Vernon was recently indicted on the charge of threatening to kill Beistline, the chief judge for the U.S. District Court in Alaska, “in the fulfillment of his duties” and is the only member of the group facing federal charges, Loeffler said.
Beistline is presiding over a tax-evasion case involving the Vernons.
The five arrested Thursday face several state charges, including conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit kidnapping,
conspiracy to commit arson, and tampering with evidence, according to troopers.
Trooper and federal law enforcement activity associated with the arrests was seen in both Fairbanks and North Pole on Thursday.
In Fairbanks, multiple law enforcement agencies were seen at Cox’s house on Scenic Loop, off of Farmers Loop, and at Barney’s house on Silver Street in North Pole.
Fairbanks Police Chief Laren Zager said earlier Thursday that the actions involved the Sovereign Citizen Movement and multiple police actions. He said he was not authorized to give details because other law enforcement agencies were in charge of the operation.
“To properly enforce the law, multiple events had to happen at once,” Zager said.
A trooper carrying a rifle blocked the intersection of Farmers Loop and Scenic Loop, near Cox’s listed Fairbanks address, about 3:30 p.m. The trooper told a Daily News-Miner photographer and reporter to leave the area.
U.S. Marshals and the FBI agents also were seen in North Pole along with troopers near Lyle Avenue on Silver Street about 5 p.m. A group of SUVs was seen beyond a trooper patrol vehicle that blocked traffic, and a U.S. Marshal K-9 unit was seen entering the area.
Loeffler said Thursday night the operation had concluded and more information will be available today in the federal indictment against Lonnie Vernon.
Vernon and his wife, Karen, are the subject of a federal civil case brought because they reportedly owe $166,000 in unpaid income taxes, interest and penalties for 1996 and the years 2000 through 2003. The case was filed in July 2009, and the government was seeking to foreclose a tax lien filed on the couple’s house, located on Old Valdez Trail, and sell the house. Beistline, in an order filed last month, appeared to grow exasperated with the Vernons and was close to granting a motion for summary judgment in favor of the federal government.
“To date, the defendants have given the court no reason to believe that the government’s figures are wrong, nor have they apparently attempted to discuss these matters with the government in good faith,” Beistline wrote. “It has come to the point where defendants must set forth their position in plain English so that the court can understand whether or not they have any legitimate defenses to the government’s claims.”
Cox, 26, has had run-ins with the state legal system.
A Fairbanks judge issued a warrant for the arrest of Cox, who has claimed to be the leader of a militia, after he failed to attend his own Feb. 14 trial for a misdemeanor weapons misconduct charge last month.
Cox had been charged with failing to disclose his possession of a concealed handgun in the presence of a police officer. He faces an additional charge for failing to appear at his trial. Both offenses are class B misdemeanors.
Cox has used his case to challenge the authority of the Alaska Court System, calling himself a sovereign citizen and claiming the court is a for-profit corporation with no authority over him.
In a lengthy courtroom speech last year, Cox said he does not intend to cooperate with the court system, but he sees himself as a peacemaker between his supporters and the government.
The FBI describes the Sovereign Citizen Movement as a domestic terrorism group.
Members of the movement do not believe U.S. laws apply to them and sometimes make their own license plates or create their own legal trials, according to the FBI. A group of Fairbanks residents recently conducted their own trial of Cox at Denny’s Restaurant.
Cox has previously appeared as a public figure as gun rights activist and a legislative candidate. He unsuccessfully challenged Republican Rep. Mike Kelly in 2008.
He is a leader of the Alaska Peacemakers Militia and the Second Amendment Task Force. He has helped organize multiple gun-rights and personal freedoms rallies, including the 2009 “Freedom Fest” at the Carlson Center. Cox is a member of a “Liberty Bell network,” which sends out mass notifications to assemble a crowd of witnesses when a member believes his or her rights are being violated.