|Francis “Schaeffer” Cox, according to transcripts
of FBI recordings, told militia members, “I know
you're ready to die, but you have to be ready to kill,”
The annual Bear Paw Festival held every summer in Eagle River, Alaska, is better known for its pie-eating contests, carnival rides and dog-owner lookalike fashion shows than for controversial displays of right-wing militancy.
But last summer, as Tea Party Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Joe Miller shook hands on the sidelines of the Bear Paw parade rout, he was trailed by his campaign Humvee and roughly a dozen supporters wearing Miller campaign t-shirts and openly armed with semi-automatic pistols and AR-15 assault rifles.
The gun-toting Miller supporters included participants in the Southcentral Alaska division of the Second Amendment Task Force, a combative anti-gun control group founded in Fairbanks in April 2009 by Francis “Schaeffer” Cox, the militia leader arrested earlier this month along with four militia compatriots for conspiring to murder State Troopers, a federal judge and an IRS agent, among other serious crimes including the illegal possession of heavy machine guns, silencers and explosives.
At the time of last summer's Bear Paw festival, Cox was in the midst of a two-year radicalization process during which he transformed himself from a Ron Paul campaign worker, Tea Party activist and libertarian philosopher operating on the fringes of mainstream politics into a hard-core militia extremist, steeped in paranoia, who disavowed entirely the political process in favor of armed conflict and revolution, including allegedly the targeted killings of law enforcement officers and public officials.
Cox, a fundamentalist Christian who grew up in Fairbanks and was home-schooled from an early age, first appeared in the public sphere in 2008 when he ran for Alaska State House. He lost. Also that year, according to an online bio, he “Led the Ron Paul campaign for Alaska” and became a founding board member of the Interior Alaska Conservative Coalition, “a grass roots movement of citizens regardless of party affiliation who promote conservative values and a return to Constitutional Rule of Law.”
Early in 2009, Cox founded the Second Amendment Task Force (2ATF) in Fairbanks. On March 28 of that year, according to internal 2ATF emails obtained by Media Matters, the group hosted a “Constitution Crash Course,” at University Baptist Church in Fairbanks." The emails indicate that 2ATF was aligning itself with the national Tea Party movement. Cox exhorted 2ATF members to mail “tea bags or pictures of tea bags,” to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington, D.C. (the White House).
According to Eddie Burke an Anchorage conservative talk radio host and prominent Tea Party organizer, Cox had trouble making inroads or friends with Tea Party leaders in Anchorage that spring. He demonstrated a habit of refusing to relinquish the microphone at meetings and frequently strayed from the topic at hand into rambling diatribes about gun control, state sovereignty, abolishing the Federal Reserve and other topics that had little to do with the stated purpose of the meetings, such as reining in earmark spending. He dominated the discourse and veered wildly off-topic even if it was a panel discussion and Cox wasn't on the panel.
“The more I got to know him [Cox] the more I began to realize he was too far out there for me,” said Burke.
Cox was apparently more comfortable, and successful, organizing events in the role of unquestioned leader.
In April, the 2ATF held an “open carry” protest in Fairbanks, during which members carried non-concealed, holstered firearms in a fast-food restaurant. Alaska Congressman Don Young accepted an invitation to attend, strapping on a .44 magnum provided by a 2ATF member after Congressman Young explained that he'd been unable to bring his own firearm on the plane, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Cox scored a major political coup when Congressman Young signed a “letter of declaration” drafted by Cox, signed by 2ATF members and presented to the Congressmen for his consideration.
I first reported for Political Correction about Young's signing of the Cox document March 11.
In part the declaration stated:
[L]et it be known that should our government seek to further tax, restrict or register firearms or otherwise impose on the right that shall not be infringed, thus impairing our ability to exercise the God-given right to self-defense which precedes all human legislation and is superior to it, that the duty of us good and faithful people will not be to obey them but to alter or abolish them and institute new government laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to us shall seem most likely to effect our safety and happiness.
As the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported:
A staff aide at the Alaska congressman's office in Washington, D.C., said Tuesday that several calls had been received, but that the office had not issued a formal response. The aide referred inquiries to Young's press secretary, Meredith Kenny, who had left Washington, D.C., for a weeklong visit to Alaska, possibly because of the developing controversy in the state.
“The Congressman has absolutely no affiliation with Mr. Cox,'' Kenny said in a brief E-mail response when asked Tuesday for reaction. ”Congressman Young attended solely as a staunch defender of the Second Amendment," Kenny said. “The letter the Congressman signed expresses the view that we should elect those who will defend the Constitution, and in turn the Second Amendment, as written, or vote them out of power.
Congressman Young isn't the only Last Frontier politician whose past connections with Cox are coming back to haunt him. Cox often attended Joe Miller campaign events in the early stages of Miller's outsider candidacy. Last September, Cox told Salon reporter Justin Elliott, “I know Joe Miller pretty well. It's a small state. I've known him, I know his kids.” Cox added, “He's a good guy and we're buddies.”
In all fairness, by the time Elliott interviewed Cox about Miller in the late summer of 2010, weeks after the Bear Paw Festival, Cox was growing disenchanted with Miller, who by then was toning down his rhetoric for the general election campaign after winning a stunning upset over incumbent Lisa Murkowksi.
“He's [Miller's] going to try to run things in a more conservative way, but he's still trying to run things -- so he has the same fundamental problem of all the other politicians,” Cox said.
After a Reuters media account of the March 10 Fairbanks militia bust reported that Cox had described himself as a “close friend and associate” of Miller, the Miller camp issued this statement on March 12:
Former US Senate Candidate Joe Miller is disputing the media's characterization of him as a “close friend and associate” of arrested Alaska Militia leader Schaeffer Cox. Mr. Miller became acquainted with Mr. Cox through Republican Party politics, not unlike many other State leaders. Mr. Cox offered no tangible support to Miller's run for the US Senate; he was neither a campaign contributor nor volunteer; and, save for public forums during the campaign, has had no contact with Mr. Miller subsequent to his run-ins with the law early last year. To the contrary, Cox himself was critical of Miller during last fall's campaign. (“Schaeffer Cox of Fairbanks, commander of the Alaska Peacemakers Militia, tells Salon he isn't a Miller supporter.”) Mr. Miller has never had any connection to any of Mr. Cox's militia organizations, and in no way condones any lawless behavior.
In April 2009, Cox held a Second Amendment Task Force public forum on the Kenai Peninsula that drew about 200 people to the Soldotna Sports Center.
Cox shared a stage with Alaska conservative luminaries including: Wayne Anthony Ross, a current board member and past vice-president of the National Rifle Association, as well as then-Governor Sarah Palin's nominee for state attorney general; Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey; and Bob Bird, the secessionist Alaska Independence Party's most recent candidate for U.S. Senate.
“We feel like our only recourse is to write our congressman, to beg for mercy and kiss the ring and say, please don't; and we're groveling at their feet and that's all we've got,” Cox told the gathering, according to a report in the Peninsula Clarion.
The month after the Soldotna event, in May 2009, Cox established himself as a player in the national right-wing extremist militia movement by serving as a delegate to the 2009 We the People Continental Congress, an event that brought together a host of radical tax protests and notorious militia leaders. The delegates issued a document branding the federal government a threat to “our Life, Liberty and Property through usurpations of the Constitution.”
The SPLC has more:
It demanded President Obama produce his birth documents and called for the repeal of all social service spending. Taking a page from the sovereign citizens movement, it demanded an end to driver's licenses, auto registration and insurance and rejected the existing legal system, calling instead for the creation of “randomly empanelled citizens' common law grand juries” to determine when a trial will take place.
Cox's delegate statement illuminates the increasingly unhinged nature of his rhetoric:
None is more sovereign than the individual. All power rests with the individual and is delegated from there. Each person has the right from God to life, liberty, and property and a corresponding duty to protect those rights as an individual and through the establishing of governments to do the same. Since we as individuals cannot delegate to a government what we ourselves do not possess, a government that tries to exert such force does not have any grounds to do so. Consequently, it is our moral duty to stop them. ... I will be a powerful defender of liberty and law on behalf of Alaska in the Continental Congress. I will carry myself in the tradition of the original statesman. Thank you for your vote. And remember, Liberty always wins because Tyranny self-destructs.
Interviewed between sessions at the Continental Congress, Cox was asked his opinion of Fox News contributor Sarah Palin.
“I know her pretty well,” he said. “I knew her before she was into politics. She's honest and she's innocent and all that,” though Cox observed that, “Sarah Palin's biggest weakness is that she's very susceptible to bad advice.”
When I forwarded a video of Cox's comments to Palin's office last week with a request for comment, the only comment I received back was:
Thank you very much for your interest. At the current time your request is under consideration. Should the appropriate person be available for an interview, someone from the Office of Sarah Palin will contact you directly.
Meanwhile, we kindly direct you to Governor Palin's Facebook page where she most frequently comments. Thank you for your inquiry.
Cox rounded out 2009 with a trip to Hamilton, Montana to appear at a “2nd Amendment Celebration” and chili cook-off where Cox lectured alongside Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association. Marbut was just coming off a bizarre interview with Glenn Beck on Fox News dealing with state sovereignty rights when it comes to gun control. The Montana Conservative, which organized the event, did not reply to four requests for comment for this story.
By early 2010, Cox was clearly descending further and further into the violent militia underground, resulting in a string of legal troubles, starting with his March 2, arrest for punching and choking his wife in an argument during a car ride to Anchorage.
That same month, he was arrested on a firearms charge that set in motion the chain of events including his bizarre and confrontational state courthouse appearances that led directly to his allegedly conspiring to amass illegal weapons and plot the murders of law enforcement officers and state and federal officials in retaliation for what he perceived to be his persecution by the criminal court system.
Cox's last major public appearance was May 17, 2010 at a 2ATF town hall meeting in the Kenai Peninsula community of Nikiski, Alaska, where he was joined by Norm Olson, commander of the Alaska Citizens Militia, as well as a veteran activist in the antigovernment militia movement dating back to the pre-Oklahoma City bombing days.
“I know how all of you feel. I know why you're here. You feel like there's something horrible going on and you can't quite put your finger on what it is, but you know it's there,” said Cox, addressing a crowd of about 150 people. “You feel helpless to stop it and you feel frustrated because the only thing that you can do is beg a tyrant to be a better kind of tyrant.
”Authority comes from being congruent from natural law, God's law. Power comes from the barrel of a gun," he said. “The federal government is all power and no authority. The Constitutional Congress is all authority and no power. So we're faced with this question, 'Do we condone a rebellious government and become an accessory to that with our compliance, or do we come together and try to find a way to put force, put power with that authority?”
There are several types of force, Cox said -- monetary force and social force, as well as “violent, deadly force.”
“My greatest fear is that they're not going to hear us until we speak to them in their language, which is force,” Cox said. “We would be doing a wrong, bad thing if we skipped over all those other forms of force and we jumped right to bloody force, but right now, America is headed to bloody force. If we sit on our hands until it hits the fan and it's go time, we won't be able to exercise that warlike force with a clear conscience. So we need to be very faithful with what's at hand right now.”
“I am not opposed to violent, bloody force. I know that is hard to say to a big group of people. It sounds kind of bad but that is something that we've got to reckon with. That is a duty that we have as an individual, as people who have families and friends.”
The town hall was also attended by Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker and Kenai Borough Assemblyman Gary Superman.
By last December, Cox had been reduced to making threatening comments to state judges and State Troopers in a series of bizarre court appearances that, in hindsight, make his recent arrest for the murder plot sadly predictable.
During a December 10, 2010 pre-trial hearing before District Judge Jane Kauva, Cox made this statement: “There are a lot of people out there who would just as soon come and kill you in your home at night as argue with you in your court by day.”His comments were captured in a video espousing Sovereign Citizen ideology that was circulated among right-wing groups online. Earlier in the same pre-trial hearing, Cox said in open court:“Soulless federal assassins have made threats on the lives of my wife and children. This, coupled with your long established and well documented practice of refusing to ascertain the truth leaves me but one inescapable conclusion: You are rebellious impostors to reduce [sic] us under absolute despotism.”
The following week, Cox returned to the Fairbanks court house and tried to serve a different judge with a sovereign citizen arrest warrant.
The Anchorage Daily News reported that:
Cox also told a state trooper after the hearing that the militia had troopers 'outmanned, outgunned and we could probably have you all dead in one night.' But, Cox added, he could not see himself shooting someone who lives in the same town as he does.
In early 2011, Cox, his wife, and two officers from his militia sat for a lengthy interview with a fundamentalist Christian pastor in Fairbanks. It was broadcast on local access cable television and AM Radio.
You can observe this gradual but inexorable career arc (of Cox's radicalization) just in the videos Cox made before his arrest, including the above interview with a fundamentalist pastor made in January. In it, you can hear Cox's violent fantasies starting to bubble up, even as he claims to have 3,500 members in his Alaska militia organization:
COX: If there came a time where they were endangering my family, you bet I would kill those federal agents. And what kind of a father and husband would I be if I wouldn't? Would I sacrifice my family on the altar of submission to the wicked state? No, that would be despicable, we would highly criticize anybody who did that, stood by and watched in history. And we've got to reckon with the fact that that's our time right now.
Now, we have those agents -- with 3500 guys we have tremendous resources at our disposal. And we had those guys under 24-hour surveillance -- the six trouble-causers that came up from the federal government. And we could have had them killed within 20 minutes of giving the order. But we didn't because they had not yet done it.
Following Cox's arrest, not all of his high-profile former political buddies left him twisting in the wind. Michael Badnarik, the Liberterian Party candidate for President of the United States in 2004 and a fellow delegate to the 2009 Continental Congress, issued an open letter in support of Cox on March 13.
Badnarik's letter read, in part:
I'm beginning to have the same feeling in my stomach that I had on September 11th as I watched the World Trade Center begin to crumble. It was a combination of horror and stunned disbelief. Even after the dust had settled, I found it difficult to accept that the landmark was gone.
My friend, Schaeffer Cox, was arrested Thursday (March 10, 2011) in Fairbanks, Alaska by the FBI, U.S. Marshal Service, and the Fairbanks Police Department. They are accusing him (and four associates) of threatening to kidnap and/or murder Alaska State Troopers, and a U.S. District Court judge. I do not believe it for a single moment.
I met Schaeffer in St. Charles, Illinois in November of 2009. We were both delegates to the Continental Congress 2009, which resulted in the Articles of Freedom - a 65-page document that outlines many of the government's most egregious violations of the Constitution. My (admittedly biased) image of young people these days tends towards skateboards, smoking, and tattoos. I realize this does not describe everyone under 21, but those traits are not as rare as I wish they were. Therefore, when I noticed that Schaeffer was clean-cut, intelligent, articulate, and passionate about the Constitution, I was somewhat taken aback. He is only 26 years old, but he has my deep and sincere respect. I know him to be a man of integrity, so I refuse to believe the government's fictional account of conspiracy to murder.