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Alaska Militia Charged in Murder-Kidnap Plot

Five accused of planning to kidnap or kill state troopers and a local judge


Supremacist group may have ties to bomb plot (MSNBC “The Rachel Maddow Show,” March 11, 2011) — MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reports on the alleged connection between a white supremacist group and the man arrested in the Martin Luther King bomb plot in Spokane, Washington. (06:08)

By Yereth Rosen

March 11, 2011

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Five Fairbanks-area residents involved in a loose-knit militia group have been arrested in connection with a plot to kidnap or kill Alaska state troopers and a local judge, federal and state authorities said on Friday.

The group includes Francis “Schaeffer” Cox, the 26-year-old leader of the so-called “citizen sovereignty” movement, which considers individuals to be sovereign nations not subject to any state or federal laws. …

They had already conducted extensive surveillance on Fairbanks-area troopers, locating the homes of two troopers, and acquired a large cache of weapons, some of them illegal, according to the statement.

According to prosecutors, the weapons amassed by the group included machine guns, multiple assault rifles, multiple pineapple grenades, at least one grenade launcher, dozens of high-powered rifles and pistols and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

The five are charged with conspiring to commit murder, kidnapping and arson, weapons misconduct, hindering prosecution and tampering with evidence, the troopers said. They were arrested late on Thursday without incident, the troopers said.

One of those arrested, 56-year-old Lonnie Vernon, was charged with threatening to kill U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline and a member of Beistline’s family.

According to the grand jury indictment issued on February 17 and unsealed Friday, Vernon was seeking retaliation against Beistline for rulings in a case in which Vernon and his wife have been found to owe about $166,000 in back taxes. …

Cox has become a minor celebrity in Alaska for his outspoken views and flamboyant style.

He ran for the state legislature in 2008, has identified himself as a good friend and associate of unsuccessful Tea Party-supported U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller and has tangled with law enforcement officers over domestic-violence charges and weapons charges. …

Full story


Related reports on this site

Security Watch: Domestic Threats (Feb. 28, 2011)

Murdered police officers
Police officers Brandon Paudert (left) and Bill Evans, seen here during an April 2010 drug bust, had worked together frequently. On May 20, at the hands of a father-son pair of “sovereign citizens,” Jerry Kane and his son Joe, they died together. (Photo credit: Southern Poverty Law Center)

Extremism Rises in America (June 16, 2010)


Why ‘The Rise of the New Right’ Matters (June 15, 2010) — Chris Matthews discusses “Rise of the New Right.” (01:46)

Sovereign Citizens Group Issues Ultimatum to Governors (April  3, 2010)

Christian Militia Terror Plot (March 29, 2010)

Suspected in a conspiracy to attack police officers are, from left to right, top row: David Stone, Sr.; David Stone, Jr.; Tina Stone, Jacob Ward. Left to right, bottom row: Michael Meeks; Joshua Clough; Kristopher Sickles, Thomas Piatek.

Extremism Explodes in America (March 3, 2010)


Number of hate groups reach record level (MSNBC “The Dylan Ratigan Show,” March 2, 2010) — According to a new report, militias and other extremist groups increasing 244 percent in 2009. Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center and radio host Mark Williams of the Tea Party Express discuss. (08:33)

Suspicious Plane Crash in Texas (Feb. 19, 2010)

A small plane crashes into the seven-story Echelon office building housing IRS employees in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010. (Photo credit: Jay Janner / Austin-American Statesman via AP)

Militia Movement Resurfaces Across America (Nov. 19, 2009)

Image: Ray Southwell and Norm Olson, members of the Alaska Citizens Militia
Ray Southwell, left, and Norm Olson, members of the Alaska Citizens Militia, stand by the woods near their home in Nikiski, Alaska, on Sept. 29, 2009. There has been a resurgence of the militia movement nationwide since the election of Barack Obama as president. (Photo credit: Rachel D’Oro / AP)

Obama, Economy Fuel Hate Groups (Feb. 28, 2009)

A cross and swastika are burned at an event called Hated and Proud in Nebraska in July 2008.
A cross and swastika are burned at an event called Hated and Proud in Nebraska in July 2008. (Photo credit: Southern Poverty Law Center / CNN)


3/8/2012 Update

Election, Economy Spark Explosive Growth of Militias

Screen shot from a training video used by the Christian militia group Hutaree in March 2010. The group was allegedly preparing for a battle with the Antichrist, whom they believed would be supported by local, state and federal officials. Nine were arrested and charged with conspiring to kill police officers, then kill scores more by attacking a funeral using homemade bombs. (Photo credit: via AP file)

By Stephanie Schendel
Murrow News Service
March 7, 2012


The election of President Barack Obama in 2008 triggered an explosion in the number of militias and so-called patriot groups in the United States, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported in its annual tally of such anti-government organizations.

There were 149 militias and patriot groups when Obama took office, compared to more than 1,200 today — an increase of 755 percent, the nonprofit civil rights organization reported.

“The increase has just been astounding,” said Mark Potok, editor-in-chief of the SPLC report. “The reality is that many of these groups are becoming more and more fearful that Barack Obama will win the re-election. You can see the anger rising along with that fear.”

The SPLC defines the “patriot” movement as made up of conspiracy-minded individuals who see the federal government as their primary enemy. The movement includes paramilitary militias as well as groups of “sovereign citizens,” who believe they are not subject to federal or state laws, nor obligated to pay federal taxes, according to SPLC.

The center also reports a steady rise in the number of hate groups in America — from 604 in 2000, to more than 1,000 last year. Those include anti-gay groups, anti-Muslim groups, black separatists and “Christian Identity” groups, which hold racist and anti-Semitic views that overlap with neo-Nazi beliefs.

The spike in these groups can be attributed to a combination of factors, including the sluggish economy, radical propaganda and anxiety over the election of a black president, Potok said. …

Government employees targeted

Two militia groups have made headlines in recent years for allegedly hatching violent plots to target government employees.

Seven people from the Michigan-based Hutaree Christian militia are on trial for allegedly conspiring to ambush and kill a police officer. They allegedly plotted to follow up the ambush with an attack on the officer’s funeral procession in the hope of killing more officers, and thus sparking a revolt against the U.S. government. Recent evidence presented in trial included a recording made by an undercover FBI agent in which the militia’s leader, David Stone, 47, says he is going to “start huntin'” police soon. The seven have pleaded innocent, and argue that the “plot” was nothing but talk, protected by the First Amendment.

And in November four members of a Georgia-based militia, all in their 60s and 70s, were charged with plotting to buy explosives and the ingredients to make a deadly toxin to attack government officials. They are in custody awaiting trial. …

The patriot movement first peaked in 1994, said Potok, the author of the SPLC report, in the aftermath of deadly confrontations at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992 and Waco, Texas in 1993, where anti-government groups came under siege by federal authorities.

Membership then dropped sharply during President George W. Bush’s two terms before rebounding in late 2008 after the election of Obama, which created a backlash that included “several plots to murder Obama,” according to SPLC.

The numbers of those groups have continued to grow, jumping from 824 in 2010 to 1274 this year, the SPLC said.

‘Sovereign citizen’ movement

The ailing economy also helped fuel a huge expansion in a subset of the larger Patriot movement — the so-called “sovereign citizens” movement. Followers generally believe they do not have to pay federal taxes or follow most laws. The SPLC estimates some 300,000 Americans are involved in the movement.

In September, the FBI issued a bulletin to law enforcement officials that called “sovereign citizens” a growing domestic threat due to some members’ belief that they can use armed force to resist police.

The bulletin noted that sovereigns have killed six law officers since 2000. In one of the more deadly clashes, a shootout in West Memphis, Ark., in 2010 left four people dead including two officers. Terry Nichols, convicted as a conspirator in the Oklahoma City bombing, was a sovereign citizen. …

If Obama is re-elected this year, “we will probably lose our republic” [said Spokane-based militia member Ed LeStage, 59, of the 63rd Battalion of Lightfoot Militia, which was listed on as an active militia group in the SPLC’s report]. “We will probably turn into another socialist country.”

On his website, some forum members have raised even more dire concerns about the fall’s elections.

“Nov. the 8th should be the start of the next civil war,” a member with the username “Thunder” wrote in January. “May GOD guide us safely.”

Full story

The Murrow News Service provides local, regional and statewide stories reported and written by journalism students at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.’s James Eng and Kari Huus, and NBC’s Pete Williams contributed to this report.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — March 14, 2010

Deadly Bombings in Kandahar


Taliban message (NBC Nightly News, March 14, 2010) — According to insurgents, the deadly bomb attacks were a warning to NATO’s top general that the they’re prepared for the looming coalition offensive in their stronghold. ITV’s Alex Thomson reports from Afghanistan. (02:46)

One year ago today, I reported that Afghan insurgents said deadly bomb attacks in the southern city of Kandahar were a warning to NATO’s top commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, that the Taliban were ready for battle in their heartland.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — March 14, 2009

Columbine: The Real Story

Columbine: A True Crime Story - by Jeff Kass
Art by Ralph Steadman
A True Crime Story

A victim, the killers and the nation’s search for answers

More information at

Two years ago today, on March 14, 2009, I reported that Jeff Kass, one of the first reporters on the scene of the Columbine High School shooting on April 20, 1999, had completed the definitive work on the tragedy, Columbine: A True Crime Story. (I collaborated on the project, developing psychological profiles of shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.)

One Response to “‘Sovereign Citizens’ Militia Plot”
  1. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Sovereign Citizen Gov. Ultimatum Says:

    […] ‘Sovereign Citizens’ Militia Plot (March 14, 2011) […]

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