ANCHORAGE (Reuters) - An Alaska militia leader accused of plotting to kill government officials and employees testified on Monday that he was nonviolent and that his protest activities were patriotic.
Schaeffer Cox, the 28-year-old founder of the Alaska Peacekeepers Militia and other Fairbanks pro-gun groups who is on trial for weapons and murder conspiracy charges, said his efforts to buck government authority puts him in the tradition of America’s founding fathers Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.
“There’s very little that they stood for that I disagree with,” he said.
Cox also likened himself to India’s former leader Mahatma Gandhi, who he described as a non-violent “guerrilla warrior.” Cox said he too eschewed violence, except when used in defense.
Violence is acceptable, he said, only “when there is no other option available to you and you have to choose between either killing someone or allowing someone who’s innocent to be killed.”
Cox, the son of a Fairbanks minister and a fixture in local politics there, spent much of his time on the witness stand expounding on his philosophy and reciting such works as the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the loyalty oath of his own militia.
At times, he was admonished by the judge to simply answer questions and refrain from making speeches.
He is on trial with two co-defendants, Coleman Barney and Lonnie Vernon, Fairbanks-area men who were self-styled officers in the Alaska Peacemakers Militia and, prosecutors allege, co-conspirators in the murder and weapons plot.
Cox said he got involved in politics as an organizer for Republican Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign and ran for the state legislature that year, losing in the Republican primary. Afterwards he wanted to continue with his political activism, he said.
He defended his involvement in the “sovereign citizen” movement, in which individuals consider themselves governments not subject to state or federal courts.
“All that means is that the people are the masters and the government is the servant,” he said.
But prosecutors at the trial, which started a month ago, have portrayed Cox’s activism as more sinister.
They presented evidence of a plot called “2-4-1,” in which two government officials would be killed or kidnapped for every militia member or supporter killed or arrested.
They played recorded conversations in which Cox - who was under state scrutiny in a domestic-violence case - spoke about hanging bodies of state court employees so they would “dangle like the wind chimes of liberty.”
Among the prosecution witnesses were an informant from within Cox’s militia, federal and state law enforcement agents and Cox’s mother-in-law.
Prosecutors wrapped up their case last week. The defense has called a handful of witnesses, but Cox was the first defendant to take the stand in the trial.
Cox is expected to return to the stand Tuesday, attorneys said.
Vernon and his wife, Karen, face separate charges of plotting to kill a federal judge who presided over their tax-evasion case, along with the judge’s family members. That trial is scheduled to start in September.
(This version of the story has been corrected to fix a typo in the headline)
Editing by Andrew Stern