Fairbanks militia leader compared to cult leaders

The Associated Press/May 25, 2012

Anchorage, Alaska - The trial of a Fairbanks militia leader took a personal turn as relatives of Schaeffer Cox testified that he had the charm of a cult leader who turned increasingly paranoid and spewed violent rhetoric.

Several witnesses testified Thursday that they were helpless to stop Cox and Coleman Barney from slipping deeper and deeper into the ideology that landed them in a federal courtroom, the Anchorage Daily News (http://is.gd/nOwQgO) reported.

Cox, 28, the commander of the Alaska Peacemaker Militia, and Barney, 37, are on trial in U.S. District Court on federal weapons charges and conspiracy to murder law enforcement officials and judges. A third militia member, Lonnie Vernon, 56, is on trial with them.

One of the witnesses to testify was Cox's mother-in-law, Anchorage elementary school teacher Janice Stewart, whose daughter is married to Cox. Stewart testified that Cox's rhetoric became increasingly anti-government and violent.

"It was a gradual move toward a more radical view of what he thought he needed to do to offset the corruption and loss of rights he was feeling," Stewart said. "We got used to hearing him talk like that - he was on a tirade against the government. We let it flow over us."

Sarah Thompson, Barney's former sister-in-law, said she saw Cox become increasingly paranoid about his safety and sounding more and more like cult leader David Koresh of the Branch Davidians.

Thompson, once married to Coleman's brother Joseph, saw Barney become a different man before her eyes. When she and Joseph separated, Barney's wife, Rachel, invited her and her two children to live in their North Pole duplex in 2009.

"When I first moved in, the militia stuff wasn't a part of it. Coleman was very patriotic - hot dog and apple pie kind of thing," she said. "He was very sturdy as a man, I would say, a leader, a strong business owner. I just admired him a lot. Then the progression of the political stuff just got so much different than where he had started off."

By now remarried, Barney asked her husband to join an armed posse to protect Cox as he entered and left a court hearing on weapons charges. He declined, but the couple agreed to attend the hearing as observers. The courtroom was jammed as Cox launched into an argument about why the court had no authority of him.

"He went on a long, pretty boring-at-first tirade," Thompson said. "I became extremely uncomfortable when he gestured to us, the observers, that we would rather kill the judge in her bed at night than be in the courtroom. I froze up and wanted to get the heck out of there."

Barney had adopted all of Cox's rhetoric, even to the point of renouncing his once-cherished U.S. citizenship, she said.

"Coleman was impressed with Schaeffer," Thompson said. "He had an obsession with Schaeffer and his safety - he needed guards to go to a movie theater. It was all about Schaeffer after a while."

Cox's obsession with the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security has been the subject of testimony from several witnesses. Trina Beauchamp, the TSA's training specialist in Fairbanks, took the stand Thursday. Since 2007, she's been attending the church where Cox's father is pastor.

The prosecution put up an exhibit on a computer screen that was seized from Barney's house. It was a list of law enforcement officials targeted by Cox and his group, prosecutors said. Her name was at the bottom, slightly misspelled.

Beauchamp said she now carries a gun.

Cox blurted out from the defense table: "I love you, and I would never hurt you."

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