Fairbanks-area militia members face new charges they plotted to kill a federal judge, a member of the judge's family and an IRS employee, and, as part of a larger group, gathered illegal weapons to carry out the attacks, according to a U.S. attorney.
Karen Loeffler, U.S. Attorney for Alaska, on Thursday announced new charges against four Fairbanks-area residents who were arrested on different charges last week. State prosecutors last week described all four as senior members of the Alaska Peacekeepers Militia.
Loeffler said there were two indictments:
• Lonnie G. Vernon, 55, and wife Karen Vernon, 64, were charged with conspiracy to murder a U.S. District Court judge who was presiding over a case involving their unpaid taxes, and with threatening to kill the judge and the judge's family member. They are also accused of conspiring to kill an IRS employee, and Lonnie Vernon is charged with illegally possessing a handgun with a silencer. For Lonnie Vernon, the new indictment replaces earlier charges he alone threatened the judge.
• In the second indictment, militia founder Francis Schaeffer Cox, 27, Lonnie Vernon, and Coleman L. Barney, 36, were charged with conspiracy to possess unregistered destructive devices, and other weapons charges. Cox is accused of illegally having a machine gun and a silencer.
All four are described as militia leaders in a separate state criminal complaint filed March 10. That complaint includes allegations that Cox, Barney and the Vernons conspired to kill and kidnap state judges and Alaska State Troopers and burn their homes.
"The federal charges are not about anybody being a militia member or not being a militia member," Loeffler told reporters Thursday. She was flanked by an FBI special agent, a U.S. marshal, a troopers official and the Assistant U.S. Attorney who is prosecuting the case.
The federal government is just as concerned with protecting Americans' rights to free speech and assembly as it is with prosecuting people who threaten lives and have illegal weapons, Loeffler said.
"This is about people that issued threats, and at the same time they're issuing threats, they're holding weapons that are destructive devices and are illegal under the law," Loeffler said.
According to the state's complaint last week, the militia members possessed at least two mounted machine guns -- one .30 caliber, one .50 caliber -- dozens of assault rifles and grenades. Loeffler said some of the grenades were purchased and others were handmade by the suspects.
Loeffler would not divulge any details on the source of the weapons, nor did she comment on the possibility of further federal charges or additional conspirators.
"This is all that we have, and this is all I'm going to comment on," she said in reference to Thursday's indictments.
To prove a conspiracy took place, the government will have to convince a jury that the accused agreed to break the law and took clear steps to carry out their plan, Loeffler said.
Numerous FBI recordings comprise much of the evidence in the separate state case against Cox, Barney, the Vernons and another man, Michael Anderson, 35.
Anderson allegedly aided the others by collecting surveillance and is charged in his own complaint.
All five arrested in the case March 10 have been in custody since then. Loeffler would not say where they were held.
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.