Alaska Peacemaker Militia leader called 'little Napoleon' during trial

The Anchorage Daily NewsMay 17, 2012 

Jurors at the trial of Schaeffer Cox heard from two men who had followed the young, charismatic militia leader in Fairbanks, one who came to reject him as a power-hungry "Napoleon" and another who still considers him to be his commander.

In testimony Wednesday, Philip Clark explained that it wasn't Cox's attempt to build a "private army" that led him to distance himself from the increasingly regimented movement.

"My concern was that my friend was going from a community unifier to a little Napoleon," Clark said.

Later Wednesday, Gary Brockman, a "sergeant" in the militia and retired civil service employee from Fort Wainwright, said he was happy to wear the uniform of the Alaska Peacemaker Militia -- a dark green shirt and beige Carhartt pants. If Cox were to walk from the courtroom, Brockman said, "I would follow his orders."

Cox, 28, is on trial with two other members of his militia, Coleman Barney, 37, and Lonnie Vernon, 56, on federal weapons charges and accusations they plotted to kill state and federal officials. The most serious of the 16 counts in their indictment, conspiracy to murder federal law enforcement officers, carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The jury also heard recorded testimony from Barney at his federal bail hearing last July, where he admitted that he tried to buy a silencer from an undercover informant and that he would kill federal law enforcement officers if he thought they would kill Cox or Cox's wife.

The three defendants have been in jail since their arrests March 10, 2011.

The connections between conservative politics, Second Amendment rights and fundamental Christianity originally drew Clark to Schaeffer.

Clark, who runs a family business selling hearing aids, was 21 in 2008 when he first heard Schaeffer on "Over the Cup," a talk show hosted by KJNP, the Christian radio and television station in North Pole. Cox was running for the state House in the Republican primary. Clark volunteered for the campaign and donated money. Cox lost.

A few months later, Clark said, he got a call from Cox. Cox wanted to form an organization of like-minded men "who understood the times," meaning an economic collapse followed by social breakdown. The first meeting was the next morning at 6, held at Cox's home. About 10 men showed up.

"Mr. Cox definitely had a gift for speaking to people," Clark said. "Though he was very young, people would understand and agree with the way he put forward ideas."

Cox explained that he wanted the men as a kind of council, so they called themselves the Sons of Issachar from the Israelite tribe known in the Old Testament for its scholars.

Around the same time, Cox founded the Second Amendment Task Force, Clark said. Cox wrote the organization's declaration of principles and the ideas were popular in Fairbanks, Clark said. The owner of more than 20 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition himself, Clark said he supported Cox's call for "jury nullification" of any gun charge -- that a jury should never convict someone for violating a weapons law even if it were proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Cox had another idea -- a militia. Clark and several other members of the Sons of Issachar thought it should be called the Sons of Gad, another Israelite tribe known for its soldiers. It would be the kind of militia Clark said he supported -- a strictly self-defense group that could protect families and community from marauders who would appear with the coming social breakdown. Clark allowed the group to conduct training exercises on family property near Salcha.

Clark said he didn't want "militia" to appear in the name of the organization. "The idea of a militia had become corrupted and had changed. That name was given to groups of fanatics who were an offensive group, who were not about protecting their communities."

But that's exactly what happened. Cox set himself up as commander and a rigid command structure. Instead of the Sons of Gad, the organization became the Alaska Peacemaker Militia. Cox told Clark he couldn't call him directly anymore because he was too high in the chain of command. Clark could only work through his superior officer.

Around that time, in 2009, Cox went on a speaking tour of the Lower 48, where he bragged in Montana that he commanded a 3,500-member militia.

"Was that true?" asked assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Skrocki.

"Absolutely not," Clark said. "There was no militia at that point."

The last time he talked face to face with Cox, in June 2010, Cox claimed that a team of six federal agents had been dispatched to Alaska to assassinate him.

"I was very sad. I didn't believe it," Clark said.

Brockman joined the militia as Clark was getting out. He was part of the security team who set out to protect "Col. Cox" when he gave an interview in November 2010 at KJNP. It was dark that evening and the heavily armed guards brought powerful lights to the KJNP parking lot.

When a woman employee drove into the parking lot, she was startled when Brockman, waving an assault rifle and wearing a pistol, demanded she provide ID. She did, but wasn't happy about it, Brockman said.

Had federal agents arrived, Brockman said, he and another militia member would have tried to keep them in their car.

And if they came out with firearms? he was asked.

"I think I would've laid mine down."

Near the KJNP parking lot, hiding in the darkness beside a tree, Barney said in his own bail hearing testimony that he was wearing two handguns and a rifle equipped with a launcher capable of firing rubber-bullet grenades and pepper spray canisters, with which he was amply armed.

Barney said he would try "non-lethal" force to protect Cox if he saw Cox was in danger. But he would also "protect with lethal means" if he thought it was necessary.

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