Courts & Crime

Alaska militia leader says group's rights were trampled

A judge Monday rejected an attempt to derail a federal weapons case against three leaders of a right-wing Fairbanks militia over claims that the government trampled on their rights. The men are accused of trying to secure weapons to overthrow the government in a case that remains set for what's expected to be a month-long trial in February.

Francis Schaeffer Cox, 27, Coleman Barney, 37, and Lonnie Vernon, 56, face a charge of conspiring to possess illegal gun silencers and hand grenades, as well as other weapons charges.

"I am a critic, not a criminal," Cox told U.S. District Judge Robert J. Bryan in Anchorage.

But prosecutors say he's a dangerous man who was biding his time as he tried to marshal weapons and manpower.

In a separate case, Vernon and his wife, Karen, are charged with federal murder conspiracy and weapons charges in an alleged plot targeted at a federal judge and his family. That case is rooted in a dispute over back taxes.

Cox is the central figure in the Alaska Peacemaker Militia, prosecutors say.

His Fairbanks attorney, Nelson Traverso, told the judge that the whole case seems to have sprung out of "very provocative" speeches and statements made by Cox.

Cox was "trafficking in ideas," not firearms, not drugs, not sex, Traverso said. His speeches are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the lawyer said.

In one speech, in Montana in November 2009, Cox claimed his militia had 3,500 members and its own common-law court.

"We've got a medical unit that's got surgeons and doctors and medical trucks and mobile surgery units and stuff like that. We've got engineers that make GPS jammers, cellphone jammers, bombs, and all sorts of nifty stuff. We've got guys with, we've got airplanes with laser acquisition stuff and we've got rocket launchers and grenade launchers and claymores and machine guns and calvary and we've got boats. It's all set," Cox told the Montana group.

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