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Alaska militia members charged in murder-kidnap plot

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - 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.

Cox and his associates had developed an extensive plan to launch their attacks, the troopers said in a statement.

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.

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 a judge and his family.

Vernon allegedly was seeking retaliation against the judge for various rulings on federal tax matters, said a statement issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Anchorage.

He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted of that federal charge, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The five are expected to be arraigned Friday in Fairbanks, and more details about the charges will be released then, said Megan Peters, spokeswoman for the troopers.

The investigation and arrests were coordinated by federal, state and local law-enforcement officials.

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

He ran for the state legislature in 2008, and has tangled with law enforcement officers over domestic-violence charges and weapons charges. At the time of his arrest Thursday, he was the subject of a warrant for failure to appear in court on a weapons charge.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Greg McCune)