ANCHORAGE — Defense attorneys began to cross-examine an FBI informant Wednesday in the federal trial of Fairbanks militia leader Schaeffer Cox and two others accused of amassing illegal weapons in a plot to kill judges and other government representatives.
Cox’s lawyer, Nelson Treverso, homed in on informant Gerald “J.R.” Olson’s criminal past, including running drugs for the Hells Angels. Nelson also repeatedly asked Olson if he had been instructed by the FBI to attempt to instigate some kind confrontation against the government by Cox and his alleged cohorts as well as the purchase of illegal weapons.
Olson said his mission was to become a member the Alaska Peacemakers Militia, led by Cox, and to observe the group. He said he was told not to call for any action, he said.
“But you did, didn’t you,” Traverso said.
“No, I didn’t,” Olson said on the 11th day of the trial.
Beside the alleged murder conspiracy, Cox, 28, Coleman Barney, 37, and Lonnie Vernon, 56, also face weapons charges. The men were arrested in March 2011 and have been in custody since.
Olson secretly recorded meetings of militia members after infiltrating the militia. Jurors this week have listened to recorded conversations in which Cox is heard detailing a “241” retaliation plan to kill two government agents for every person in his circle who is killed. The name “241” stood for “two-for-one.”
Olson testified for the third day, answering questions from U.S. Attorney Steve Skrocki about Cox, Barney, Vernon and Vernon’s wife, shown in videotape examining pistols fitted with silencers as well as grenades, unaware that the canisters were inert. The Vernons are seen in one videotape inside Olson’s vehicle just before they were arrested.
Later the same day, Cox and Barney are seen examining the weapons when a man walks up to the window. Barney can be seen quickly closing the lid of the gun case. The man says he is the property owner and asks what they are doing there. He says he is asking because there are a whole “line of guys with bulletproof vests out there.”
Someone says “Holy (bleep)!” as the video ends. Prosecutors have said the recording was shut off, and Cox and Barney were arrested immediately because of the unexpected presence of the man.
Karen Vernon is not charged in the federal trial. She and Lonnie Vernon are charged in a separate case with plotting to murder the chief federal judge in Alaska, Robert Beistline, over his rulings in a tax case.
In his cross-examination Wednesday, Traverso asked Olson about a February 2011 meeting where Cox said he wanted a Gandhi situation rather than a Rambo situation, implying he was not planning any violence. Olson said that was a snippet of the meeting, in which other times there was talk of executing the “241” plan.
The meeting was held two days before Cox was a no-show at his trial on a separate state misdemeanor weapons misconduct case and went into hiding. At the same meeting, Cox said he would be well within his rights to drill in the forehead of the judge involved in that case, a comment noted in charging documents that also alleged murder conspiracy by Cox, Barney, Vernon and others. That conspiracy case was ultimately dismissed when a judge ruled the FBI recordings captured during a six-month investigation were made without a warrant, a violation of the Alaska Constitution. The FBI has wider authority to obtain warrants, and there is greater leeway in federal court.
On Wednesday, Taverso also played a recorded meeting in which Olson asks, “Should we come up with a game plan of what happens” if Cox is arrested and not released. Traverso asked if that comment was made at the direction and control of the government, and Olson said he was told to find out when and where the plan would be executed.
The alleged plot arose after Cox was charged in the state weapons misconduct case. He represented himself at a pretrial hearing where he denied that the Alaska court system was a legitimate judiciary. Cox said he would not attend another hearing until the court system explained its authority over him.
A warrant was issued for his arrest when he failed to appear for trial in the state case in February 2011.
Olson, 37, is a former logger, trucker and contractor who attended militia meetings as a teenager in his native Montana. Olson was working as a long-haul trucker when he began transporting drugs hidden between grocery shipments. He said he made $70,000 to $90,000 in cash hauling drugs.
With his involvement, Olson avoided jail time in an unrelated theft case.