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Jailed Alaska militia leader seeks aid of Amnesty International as 'political prisoner'

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- During his sentencing nearly a year ago, Schaeffer Cox said he meant no harm and sounded an apologetic tone before Judge Robert Bryan sentenced him to 26 years in prison for conspiracy to commit murder and the possession of illegal firearms.

“The more scared I got, the crazier the things I started saying,” said Cox, who headed the small group he called the Alaska Peacemakers Militia. “I wasn't thinking, I was panicking. I lost all of my composure and created a horrible mess and you know, if I was the FBI, I would've investigated me, too. I don't blame them for that.”

Today, as a court-appointed attorney representing Cox prepares to file an appeal brief by Dec. 15 with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the 29-year-old Cox is making no apologies. He argues that he is a political prisoner, jailed because the FBI and other federal entities cooked up a scheme to silence him.

Cox wrote a letter July 26, addressed to “Sensible People of a Candid World,” and asked for political asylum in some country outside the U.S.

“It is my hope that I will be granted political asylum and citizenship and somehow make my way to your country,” according to the letter posted on the “Stand By Schaeffer Cox” Facebook page. “If you are able, if you feel it is right, please, please find a way to help me and my family.”

He said the only reason he didn’t denounce the government at his sentencing last January and the only reason he allowed his lawyer to argue that he was suffering from mental illness was to avoid a life sentence and give himself a chance of seeing his kids someday.

He said attorney Peter Camiel told him he would get 10 or 20 more years if he told the judge at sentencing that he had done nothing wrong.

Read the series: Alaska militia members tried for weapons, conspiracy

In November, Cox wrote to Amnesty International from the United States Penitentiary at Marion, Ill., describing himself as a political prisoner.

“I am currently being held in a highly secretive prison unit for political or high profile prisoners called the 'Communication Management Unit' or CMU. The purpose of the CMU is to censor one’s communication with the outside world, especially with attorneys or members of the press. It is my great hope that if this letter safely reaches you, you would give diligent consideration to the possibility of rendering me what assistance you are able,” Cox wrote Nov. 2.

“I haven’t done anything illegal and I most definitely haven’t done anything morally wrong. I just made some extraordinarily power people extraordinarily angry with my extraordinarily idealistic charisma,” he said.

In the Amnesty International letter, posted on the Stand By Schaeffer Cox Facebook page by Cox supporter Maria Rensel of Fairbanks, Cox said that the FBI assigned  “undercover provocateurs” to go after him and urge him to become violent.

“When that failed they tried to provoke me by going after my children. Though this really shook me up bad, I still managed to refuse to respond to their escalating provocations until several undercover agents threatened to kill me if I didn’t join them in attacking the government. Fearing for our lives, my family and I tried to flee the country but were caught before we made it to Canada. I was arrested and sentenced to 26 years in prison for 'Conspiring against the government.'”

In the July 26 letter, Cox said his message about battling government tyranny was popular in Fairbanks, but not with the federal government. He said it was the “government provocateur” who came up with the so-called “2-4-1” plan meaning that two government employees would be kidnapped if one militia member was arrested or two would be killed if one militia member was killed.

On Monday, Rensel spoke at the monthly “Statewide Teleconference,” a regular conservative call-in program she founded that is aimed at “restoration of the rule of law.”

She said Cox is a political prisoner and encouraged listeners to write letters to Amnesty International on his behalf, saying he did nothing wrong.

“Schaeffer and his militia members created a contingency plan only, not a conspiracy,” she said.

Amnesty International says it takes up cases of “prisoners of conscience,” but only those who have not advocated or used violence.

The case against Cox was founded on the argument that he was planning violence against law enforcement officials and judges and that he had taken steps to back up his rhetoric by stockpiling weapons, creating hit lists and making threats.

Cox had started to become known in Fairbanks when he nearly won a Republican House primary in 2008 with aggressive door-to-door campaigning, branding former Rep. Mike Kelly as a liberal. He also helped start the Interior Alaska Conservative Coalition, the Second Amendment Task Force and his militia.

At his trial, federal officials said he first came to their attention when Cox made repeated claims in speeches and interviews that he had 3,500 followers in Fairbanks who were ready to take up arms -- including rockets, mines and other weapons -- on his order when the government collapsed.

While he gave himself the rank of colonel and had a core group of less than a dozen members, in early 2011 he told a National Collective Consciousness Call that Fairbanks law enforcement was “outmanned and outgunned” by his militia. He said he was treated with deference by the police and the courts because of the size and strength of his militia.

“They never make me take my hat off or say ‘your honor’ or stand up like that. I refer to them as the ‘alleged judge’ or ‘your administrativeness,” Cox said.

He said he told an “alleged judge” in 2010 he could order his 3,500 followers to “stand down,” but he couldn’t guarantee they would obey if they thought Cox was unfairly targeted

“From one father to another father, I don’t want to put my influence to the test while the lives of you and your children are on the line,” he said he told the judge.

On another occasion, he told a group in Montana, “We are right on the edge of having blood in our streets.”

Rensel read a portion of a letter Cox wrote to Rep. Don Young in October in which Cox said that the “same crooked bastards from the U.S. attorney's office who lied, cheated and hid evidence to wrongfully convict Ted Stevens have done it to me now. There needs to be someone with enough balls and political clout to hold these guys accountable and play by the rules.”

Cox told Amnesty that while the crimes in the case were “abstract fantasy” on the part of the government, he’s left with a “concrete reality, a concrete room with a concrete floor, a concrete ceiling and a concrete bed. Here I sit. This is the only thing that’s real.”

After a nearly six-week trial in 2012, an Anchorage jury rejected the argument that Cox was all anti-government talk and no action.

The timetable on his appeal has been pushed back by months over logistical and scheduling conflicts, with his court-appointed attorney, Suzanne Lee Elliott of Seattle, telling the court in late October that she plans to raise two or three major issues.

She told the appeals court she has read most of the 5,000 pages of trial transcripts and reviewed the wiretap conversations and more than 500 exhibits entered as evidence.

The jury convicted Cox of conspiracy to murder federal officers; solicitation of others to engage in the murder of a federal officer; conspiracy to possess unregistered silencers; possession of four unregistered grenades; possession of an unregistered silencer; possession of an unregistered machine gun; illegal possession of a machine gun; making a silencer; possession of an anti-personnel round and launcher.

Coleman Barney, one of the other defendants convicted in the militia case, had also appealed his 5-year sentence on weapons charges, but dropped it. Lonnie Vernon, another militia member, received the same sentence as Cox.

Contact Dermot Cole at dermot(at)alaskadispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcole