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Alaska militia leader takes stand in own defense

The leader of an Alaska militia accused of conspiring to kill government officials and possess illegal weapons presented a gentler side when he took the stand Monday in his own defense.

At a trial in Anchorage, Schaeffer Cox of Fairbanks downplayed any notions of an aggressive Alaska Peacemakers Militia, claiming they would only act as a protective force in the event of a government collapse.

Besides, there was no need to engage in guerrilla warfare, he said, since the government faces certain collapse because of out-of-control spending.

"No, I don't think that will be necessary in America," said Cox, a boyish-looking 28-year-old who wore a dark gray suit, teal-colored dress shirt and pink tie on the stand.

Use of arms, he said, was only appropriate if someone was about to take your life. And the use of violence is only warranted against the government if they are breaking the law. He pointed to the situation in Syria as an example.

Federal prosecutors have portrayed Cox as a dangerous militia leader who with others amassed a huge cache of illegal weapons while plotting a strategy to one day kill judges, state troopers and other government officials.

According to prosecutors, Cox believed his group would eventually need to take up arms against the government, and "be sufficiently armed and equipped to sustain a takeover of the 'government' or become a new government in the event of a 'government collapse.'" So he and others allegedly hatched a plan intended to kill two government officials for every one militia member who was killed — a strategy known within the group as "241" or "two for one."

Cox, Coleman Barney and Lonnie Vernon are on trial on charges of conspiracy to possess restricted weapons and conspiracy to murder law enforcement officers.

The militia was intended to act as a protective force for its members in the Fairbanks areas, Cox said. He also admitted that he exaggerated the militia's membership at 3,500 in a speech in Montana in November 2009, which brought him to the attention of federal investigators.

The group set up a Liberty Bell Network, in which anyone who signed a declaration card and felt they were in trouble would only have to call the network operator, and members would converge on the address in support. If the perceived aggressor was a police officer, the other members in attendance were only encouraged to video the encounter with their cellphones.

But instead of intimidation, Cox said the group's three-pronged goals included undermine social sanctions of what he called heavy-handed government, take care of one's family if society breaks down and become friendly with local officials.

He said that means introducing yourself to the officials and being aboveboard with them.

When asked by his defense attorney, Nelson Traverso, if that included going to a trooper's home, he said, "Yes, we're trying to make things personal.

"Barney Fife's not going to do bad things in Mayberry. He knows everybody," Cox said, referring to the bumbling officer in "The Andy Griffith Show."

Cox also described the training of the group's militia. He said they would train at a Fairbanks shooting range or at people's rural properties, shooting and performing maneuvers.

The militia members had uniforms and ranks. Members automatically become private when they join the militia and progress in rank over time.

He said if men got their own guys, they move up in rank. "Kind of like a pyramid scheme," he said. But it wasn't clear from testimony if this related to being assigned men who already were members, or if this was for men who recruited new members.

Much of his Monday afternoon testimony was taken up by the airing of an hour and 39 minute video of his Montana address, which has become known as "The Solution Speech." In it, he outlined to the crowd in Hamilton, Mont., how the group was set up including the Liberty Bell Network and its common court system. He encouraged the crowd to follow suit, saying they were better suited for the cause than a previous audience he spoke to in Chicago.

He said he frequently spoke to like-minded crowds in the Lower 48, basically to any group that would pay his way.

Cox will continue on the stand Tuesday.

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