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FBI informant testifies for defense at militia trial

Posted: June 1, 2012 - 12:07am

ANCHORAGE — An FBI informant who wasn’t called by prosecutors in the trial of three Fairbanks militia members got his chance to testify Thursday on behalf of the defense.

Bill Fulton, who once operated Anchorage military surplus store Drop Zone and provided security for former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller, testified that he was approached by militia leader Schaeffer Cox and was asked to arrest and detain Alaska judges.

Fulton said he agreed to seek additional details of the plan on behalf of the FBI, including when it might happen, at meetings with Cox in June 2010.

But other defense witnesses testified that it was Fulton who became angry when Cox and other militia leaders did not agree to the plan, and that Cox didn’t seem to know what he was talking about. Bill Rensel, an adviser to Cox and the Alaska Peacekeeper Militia, said Fulton claimed he had “assets” and material coming from all over the world to help carry out Cox’s plan, and that he would lose a substantial sum if it didn’t happen.

“He said that numerous times during the day,” Rensel said.

Cox, Coleman Barney and Lonnie Vernon are on trial in Anchorage on charges of conspiracy to possess restricted weapons and conspiracy to murder law enforcement officers. Cox came to the government’s attention with speeches in November 2009 in Montana in which he claimed that he commanded a militia of 3,500 armed men and that Fairbanks was on the edge of having blood in its streets.

Les Zerbe, who was once the militia’s second in command, testified that it formed in the wake of the country’s financial crisis in 2008. Participants feared the U.S. economy might collapse, and that Fairbanks, at the end of the supply chain, could experience the collapse of civil institutions like in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

“In that instance — Katrina — law and order was a serious problem,” Zerbe said.

Zerbe was at the meeting with Fulton and was suspicious that the former soldier was setting up militia members, he said.

“These people don’t just come out of the blue,” he said.

Fulton testified he tried to find out when Cox wanted him to serve the arrest warrants he had created and whether there was an imminent threat to people.

“I was told they would be tried, and either fined or hung,” he said. He acknowledged he verbally threatened Zerbe when he thought his cover was blown. He said he thought he might be shot by someone, he said.

“When he questioned my integrity, I felt I had moments to deal with it or something bad was going to happen to me,” he said.

Rensel and his wife, Maria, testified that Fulton had spent the day badmouthing Cox, telling people Cox was out of control and needed to be reined in. Fulton berated and badgered militia leaders and it escalated when Cox arrived, Rensel said.

“It seemed like Mr. Fulton was trying to push him into something,” Rensel said.

The morning started with U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan rejecting defense requests to dismiss charges after the prosecution rested Wednesday.

Defense attorney Nelson Traverso argued unsuccessfully that words uttered by Cox did not rise to the level of an imminent threat or a conspiracy. Admiration of force, Traverso said, was not a crime.

“While it might be distasteful and provocative, it’s not against the law,” he said.

Defense attorney Tim Dooley said the presence of an armed security squad, including his client, Barney, accompanying Cox to an appearance at a television station in North Pole was not a crime because there were no federal agents in the vicinity, especially a Colorado-based hit squad that Cox feared. The hit squad didn’t exist, he said.

“I suggest they fall in the same place as Santa’s reindeer,” he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Skrocki said the men had compiled a hit list and that the security squad that accompanied Cox was ready to use deadly force against federal authorities. He compared it to a planned bank robbery in which a gang heads to a bank and finds it closed for a holiday.

“Because you can’t perfect a crime, it doesn’t mean there wasn’t a conspiracy to do so,” he said.

Judge Bryan ruled that prosecutors had presented sufficient evidence to allow the case to move forward.

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