The trial of Alaska militia members Schaeffer Cox, Coleman Barney, and Lonnie Vernon has been in progress at U.S. District Court in Anchorage, Alaska since Monday May 7th, 2012. The three are accused of conspiracy to murder officers and employees of the United States, solicitation to murder an officer of the United States, and carrying firearms and destructive devices during and in relation to a crime of violence (conspiracy to murder). Cox and Barney are also accused of possession of hand grenades, and Cox is accused of possession of a machine gun. Cox and Barney are also accused of possession of other destructive devices and conspiracy to possess silencers and destructive devices.
-- Read the complete 24-page indictment HERE.
-- Read daily synopses of the trial, to include media links, HERE.
Finally, on Days 18 and 19 of the trial, Coleman Barney, who's a member of the North Pole Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, got his opportunity to testify in his own defense. Late on Wednesday June 6th (day 18), Barney first took the stand, introducing himself to the jury as a father of five and an electrician. Barney said he first encountered Schaeffer Cox at a meeting of the Second Amendment Task Force in 2009. He was subsequently invited to and attended a militia training weekend in January 2010, joining several other men for physical fitness tests and early morning runs.
On Thursday June 7th, Barney was grilled in earnest. When he was asked if he believed Cox's claims that a six-man team of federal assassins was out to kill Cox, Barney said he thought it was unlikely but possible, because of incidents like Ruby Ridge that have happened in our country in the past. The mere mention of Ruby Ridge then triggered a sidebar discussion during which Judge Bryan temporarily excused the jury. Prosecutor Steve Skrocki claimed the defense was trying to "bootstrap" Ruby Ridge into the militia trial although they had not previously cited Ruby Ridge as a reason to surround Cox with armed security. In contrast, defense lawyer Tim Dooley said it was the FBI's own informant who can be heard talking about Ruby Ridge on evidence tapes. Finally, Judge Bryan said that he would not allow Ruby Ridge to be re-tried in his courtroom. The jury was brought back in, and the trial resumed. Barney was only allowed to say that his understanding of Ruby Ridge, which he learned about through talk shows and conversations at a Second Amendment Task Force meeting, caused him concern.
Barney said he was initially attracted to Cox because they both liked guns and shared similar concerns about America's financial instability. Cox had taken steps to assure his family's survival if society collapsed; he stored food and household supplies. He kept a few weapons on hand to keep the peace and protect his family should government break down, giving rise to lawlessness. Returning the nation to purer principles and better values was a movement he could get behind.
But Barney became uncomfortable with Cox's escalating rhetoric. He said statements about firepower, killing and bloodshed that Cox had made to judges and troopers were too bold, too jarring, risking the credibility of the militia and other like-minded, liberty-pursuing patriots. Barney also said he cautioned Cox to tone things down, because the shocking speech shined a bad light on the entire group. It wasn't the behavior he'd expected from the group of Christian men he'd signed on with to defend families and homes in the event of economic collapse.
A detailed story in Alaska Dispatch adds much more. Coleman's wife Rachel Barney was interviewed, and she says it's been an ordeal for her family. She says Coleman has missed the birth of his youngest daughter, the baptism of his son, and another child's kindergarten graduation. She gets riled up when she hears about how "well" FBI agents treated her family during the arrest on March 10th, 2011. Here's the pertinent part of the account:
Rachel, six months pregnant, woke up around 7 a.m. and got her 9- and 10-year-olds off to school. The men also left. At 11 a.m., she took her 4-year-old to preschool and headed off to a haircut. A few hours later, she returned home. With hungry kids to feed, she put a pot of water on the stove to boil to make macaroni and cheese when the phone rang. Just as the voice on other end said, "Hello this is the FBI," Rachel saw a line of gun-toting agents swooping across her front yard headed for her door. She screamed and begged the agents to not to kick in her door. With guns raised at her and her kids, they asked her if anyone else was in the home. Soon after, they told her she'd better cooperate because "we don't want a Ruby Ridge."
Unknown to Rachel, investigators had been watching Cox for nearly 10 months, and had grown concerned he and some of his militia members were poised to kill. They believed the group was heavily armed and may have access to grenades and other explosives. They knew a confrontation could be volatile.
At the house, agents hawked over Rachel. She listened in disbelief as they told her Coleman had tried to buy grenades. They monitored her calls as she tried to find someone who could watch her kids. They followed her into the restroom. They wrenched her arm when she hesitated to forfeit her cell phone. When she said she wanted to speak to an attorney, they told her there was "no time." They shadowed her as she went to pick up her eldest children from school, one agent riding with her in her car, and another following in separate vehicle. As the kids climbed in, she explained who the stranger was and that the FBI "had arrested Dad." Coleman and Rachel were cut off from each other for hours.
It is a good thing I was not there; I question whether I would have been able to restrain myself in the face of such abusive behavior by the FBI. In fact, the state of Alaska actually wanted to file state charges against Rachel Barney for hindering prosecution, but on August 12th, 2011, Superior Court Judge David Stewart dismissed the charge, ruling that it was improper to infer that Rachel Barney knew what her husband was up to or what he was thinking simply because they are married.
The Barney family has been through hell.
As far as I know, Coleman Barney is still a member of the LDS Church in good standing. A disciplinary council is not normally convened unless the member is actually found guilty or voluntarily confesses and takes a plea deal. Coleman Barney has pleaded not guilty to all charges, and there's a good chance he'll be acquitted on the conspiracy and solicitation charges. The weapons charges could be more problematic, since strict liability might be more applicable. But a growing number of Alaskans have become skeptical of these charges, and view this trial as a Soviet-style show trial intended to quash dissent.