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Side character takes center stage in militia trial

From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --

In a conspiracy trial overshadowed by outspoken militia commander Schaeffer Cox, it was another militia member who took the stand today in hopes of convincing jurors the group posed no threat to government officials.

Meet Coleman Barney, a 37-year-old “major” in the Fairbanks-based volunteer army.

Barney became a trusted lieutenant after meeting Cox through a Second Amendment group and let Cox live with him in the weeks prior to the militia leaders' arrests on murder conspiracy and weapons charges. The portrait of Barney emerging for jurors today is that of a gun-toting but peace-loving electrician. Prosecutors are countering character witness testimony by asking witnesses how much time they really spent with Barney and why they didn’t join the militia themselves when invited. (Too busy, witnesses said.)

Asked if he believed Cox’s claims that a six-man team of federal assassins was out to kill the militia captain, Barney said he thought it was unlikely. But possible, Barney said, “because of things that have happened in our country in the past."

Just before the trial stopped for a lunch break, lawyers argued over how much Barney should be able to say about Ruby Ridge –the bloody 1992 siege conducted by federal agents in northern Idaho – and how that event influenced his concern Cox might be attacked.

“We’re not going to retry Ruby Ridge in this case,” U.S. District Court Judge Robert Bryan said while the jury was out of the room.

Prosecutor Steve Skrocki told Bryan the defense was trying to “bootstrap” the facts of the widely criticized Idaho confrontation into the militia trial. The Fairbanks militia members did not cite Ruby Ridge as a reason to surround Cox with armed security, he argued.

Defense lawyer Tim Dooley said it was the FBI’s own informant who can be heard talking about Ruby Ridge on evidence tapes.

In front of the jury, Barney was only allowed to say that his understanding of the event, which he learned about through talk shows and conversations at a Second Amendment task force meeting, caused him concern.

Rachel Barney, Coleman’s wife, said Ruby Ridge certainly appeared to be on the minds of federal authorities when they searched her North Pole home the day of the arrest.

In an interview outside the courtroom, Rachel said she looked out her window that day to see men with guns at her door. She told them to stop trying to kick it down, she said, and sat by the fireplace during the raid. One of the authorities told her “that I needed to cooperate because they didn’t want a Ruby Ridge,” she said.

The Barneys are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Rachel, who is originally from Utah and has attended every day of the trial, first met Coleman while on a church mission to Tennessee, she said.

He would never hurt anyone, she said. “The person being portrayed in there is not Coleman Barney.

The couple have five children, including an 11-month-old daughter, Sawyer, who was born while Coleman was in jail awaiting this trial. The girl is named for the “Lost” character, not the Mark Twain novel, Rachel said.

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