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2 Alaska militia members convicted of conspiracy

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A federal court jury in Anchorage on Monday convicted two Alaska militia members of conspiring to murder federal law enforcement officers.

Jurors deliberated two full days before returning a verdict against Schaeffer Cox, 28, and Lonnie Vernon, 56. The jury deadlocked on the same charge for another member, Coleman Barney, 37.

Prosecutors had argued that the three Alaska Peacemakers Militia members intended to kill federal officials as they armed themselves for an FBI hit squad they thought might attack Cox at public appearances he made.

All three also were convicted of conspiring to possess unregistered silencers and destructive devices. They were accused of amassing weapons like hand grenades, projectile launchers and handguns with silencers. Cox was acquitted of carrying a firearm during a crime of violence. That crime of violence, according to the government, was the conspiracy to murder.

Defense attorneys contend the men were within their rights to carry weapons to protect Cox.

They also say allegations of a murder plan were created by the government to silence Cox, who made speeches they acknowledged were offensive but protected by free speech language in the U.S. Constitution.

Cox feared he was the target of a Colorado-based FBI hit squad, and militia members conducted two meetings about what they planned to do if plainclothes men appeared unannounced at a North Pole television station and started shooting.

Militia members formed a five-member security detail. Barney testified he showed up with an assault rifle equipped with a projectile launcher that loaded with a “hornet’s nest” round filled with rubber pellets.

But he also said members of the detail were under orders to lay down their guns if Alaska State Troopers showed up to arrest Cox on a state charge. And he said they would not have fired at any law enforcement officer who identified himself. The only circumstance under which militia members would fire, Barney said, was if men out of uniform showed up without identifying themselves and started shooting.

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