The threats by Fairbanks militia members to the lives of law enforcement officials and their families came under sharp focus in a federal courtroom Tuesday when secretly recorded conversations revealed the origins of the infamous "241" plan for murder.
The idea of taking an "eye for an eye" a step further than the Bible -- two killings or two private arrests for every killing or arrest of a militia member -- arose at a "staff meeting" of the leadership of the Alaska Peacemaker Militia in February 2011. The meeting took place in a converted school bus that militia major Ken Thesing called home and was attended by militia commander Schaeffer Cox, another major, Coleman Barney, and a sergeant, Gerald Olson.
Unknown to the other three, Olson was wearing a recorder and working undercover for the FBI. He's now the star government witness in the conspiracy and weapons trial of Cox, Barney and a third man, Lonnie Vernon. With Alaska's state and federal judges threatened by militia members, the case is being heard in U.S. District Court in Anchorage before a veteran federal judge from Tacoma, Wash., Robert Bryan.
The jury of 15 -- a fourth alternate was dismissed earlier in the trial for medical reasons -- heard a series of recordings Tuesday filled with threatening language, including the general staff council that arrayed itself on the furniture in the school bus.
That meeting took place on the eve of Cox's trial on a state misdemeanor weapons charge -- failing to inform a Fairbanks policeman he was carrying a concealed pistol. Cox disputed the authority of the state to make that kind of law or the court to enforce it, and was wondering what might be the outcome if he attended or skipped. He could be arrested or killed, he mused. His wife could be arrested for harboring him. Then his child could be taken by the state, he said.
Prosecutors played snippets of the recording from the meeting. In the first segment, Cox expressed disgust for two court clerks in state Superior Court in Fairbanks.
"They need to dangle together like a wind chime," he said.
Speaking about the possible outcomes of his life as a fugitive, Cox said, "We can hide out or we can run -- or the last thing on this list is 'Operation 141.'"
In that case, Cox said, he would not resist arrest or even hide.
"So you can come in and you can kill me and you can haul me off ... I'm there for grabs, but you just know what it costs."
"I think that's a very, very, very effective defense," Cox added. "That's what the 141 is about -- and that's just our code word."
Thesing, who is not charged with a crime, thought the group wasn't thinking big enough.
"It means one for one," he said. "It's only a one-to-one ratio."
"Hell, let's make it two-for-one," Cox said. "So 241 would be that mode and then hopefully the price is so high that they leave people on the shelf."
Cox cautioned the militia members to never say "two-four-one" on the phone because it would be to obvious. Instead, he told them to use the code, "Operation two-forty-one" to fool anyone tapping their line.
Over the course of the meeting and the next days, Cox wavered on whether to attempt bloody reprisals in the event of his capture or killing. At one point, he described that outcome as "horrifying," and suggested his militia wasn't quite strong enough -- yet -- to exact such a toll on authorities.
But he also claimed allies. One, whose phone number was on a short list of people to call in an emergency, was former Michigan militia leader Norm Olson, now living on the Kenai Peninsula. Another was Bill Fulton, then the owner of a surplus store in Spenard, the Drop Zone, and a potential supplier of hand grenades, automatic weapons and silencers.
Fulton, it turned out, was also working for the FBI. A week or so before the general staff meeting in the school bus, Vernon and Olson traveled to Anchorage for a militia convention hosted by Fulton. They also attempted to buy weapons from him.
In a secret video recording made in Fulton's hotel room, Vernon, a tax protestor at risk of losing his home in Salcha, railed against federal officials and even criticized Cox for talking big but not carrying through.
Liberally sprinkling his rantings with expletives, Vernon said he knew all of the judges. "We know where they live," he said.
The Fairbanks militia had a pact, he said. "If they (mess) with one of us, when we go to their houses, all of them with the titles, we'll drag them out and they will never find them."
Fulton said he didn't mind going after officials, but expressed shock about going after "the innocents" -- children. He said he would kill Vernon if he killed children.
"We're talking about everyone involved in this," Vernon said. He would only agree to not go after children "in the first round."
As for the adults, "they're going to get one," Vernon said. "They can put up all the people around their houses, all the snipers they want. One way or the other, they won't know when it'll happen."
Fulton warned that Vernon was talking about premeditation. He turned it around the other way.
"They make it premeditated the day they do wrong to us," Vernon said.
The trial recessed Tuesday as Olson was testifying about the days just before Cox, Vernon and Barney were arrested -- March 10, 2011. There was a state warrant for Cox's arrest. Cox and his family were hiding out in Barney's house. And Fulton was expected to bring a supply of hand grenades and silencers to Fairbanks.