Sunday, January 20, 2013


How an undercover 'supply sergeant' helped bring down Alaska militia

Published: January 15, 2013

William Fulton, center, owner Drop Zone Security and flanked by off-duty U.S. Army soldiers, threaten to arrest and handcuff reporters that were trying to talk to Tony Hopfinger, founder and editor of the news magazine website Alaska Dispatch, who sat nearby in handcuffs after being arrested by the private security guards while trying to ask U.S. Senate republican candidate Joe Miller questions as Miller was leaving a town hall meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, October 17, 2010. (Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News/MCT)
Bill Roth — MCT

In another life, William Fulton was "Drop Zone Bill," a bounty hunter who ran a military surplus store in Anchorage. You need a tactical vest? A bayonet that would clip neatly onto an M-4? Bill Fulton was your man.
"We do bad things to bad people," his company jackets said.
Fulton was also a go-to guy for Republican politicians who occasionally needed to reach out to the far right fringes of the party -- those who spent weekends in the woods in camo gear and considered the Second Amendment an expression of divine intent.
When then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was plotting a move against the Republican Party chief at the state convention in 2008, Fulton was there strategizing over whiskey and cigars with Palin staffer Frank Bailey and Joe Miller, who later made a well-publicized run for the U.S. Senate as a tea party conservative.
That was the meeting where Fulton was introduced to Schaeffer Cox, an up-and-coming young firebrand of the far right who was running for the state Legislature and had, as it turned out, plans that went well beyond upending the Republican Party in Alaska.
It was a meeting that opened the door to a dangerous cat-and-mouse game that would transform the two men's lives and leave them at opposite ends of one of the federal government's biggest prosecutions of right-wing extremism on the West Coast.
Cox, 28, was sentenced Jan. 8 to 25 years in prison for heading a militia that plotted to kill judges and other government employees and conspired to accumulate the firepower needed to do it from Fulton. And Fulton, who became one of two key informants the FBI used to gather evidence against Cox and his cohorts, went from being the Alaska Peacemakers Militia's "supply sergeant" to its most celebrated snitch.
Today, Fulton, 37, is nowhere to be found in Alaska.
The very moment that Cox and his associates were being arrested in Fairbanks in 2011, an FBI-paid moving van showed up at Fulton's door in Anchorage -- stunning his wife, who until then had known nothing about his double life -- and the family relocated to another state. Fulton transferred his surplus store to his partners, sold his house at a loss, changed his appearance and went dark.
"They would have killed me immediately," Fulton said at a cafe in his new hometown, as he sipped cappuccinos between furious smoking breaks outside. "If they found out I was working for the feds? I knew everybody up there in that right-wing militia area. ... So there were quite a few people that would have liked to have offed me at some point."
The story of Fulton's foray as a militia arms supplier ended with not just Cox behind bars. Three co-defendants were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 to 25 years. From his new base, Fulton is continuing to work with the FBI on other gun-related cases and writing a book about the improbable events that transpired in Anchorage over the last two years.
"If you look at it from a sane standpoint?" he said. "Even I sometimes look at the whole story and how it unfolded and I think, this is unbelievable."
Fulton and the other FBI informant, former drug runner J.R. Olson, offered the FBI an inside look at a group that seemed to be moving from right-wing, antigovernment rants -- perfectly legal under the First Amendment -- to something more dangerous. Cox had been boasting that his militia planned to set up common-law courts that would try people under principles they saw as more faithful to the U.S. Constitution. Those found guilty of serious offenses could be hanged or sold into slavery.
Fulton, who had long worked with Army criminal investigators through his surplus shop, had gone to the FBI in 2010 about a potential domestic terrorism case when the FBI learned he knew Cox.
"The wheels started turning: How can we use this to our advantage, to try to get more information? Is Cox really going down that path? Which inevitably, he was," said Sandra Klein, a supervisory special agent who became Fulton's chief handler.
Fulton's first assignment was to attend a gun and military surplus sale intended as a fundraiser for the Interior Alaska Conservative Coalition, which Cox had helped establish in Fairbanks. Cox had been trying to get in touch with Fulton, who had ignored him "because I thought he was an idiot." The night before the event in August 2010, Fulton invited Cox to meet him at his hotel. The militiaman arrived with Les Zerbe, a retired missionary ranked as a captain, and another associate.
Cox had been accused of assaulting his wife, and worried that state authorities were trying to take his son away. He talked about Fulton serving what he called common-law warrants on the officials he thought were out to get him.
"He said these guys need to be arrested and brought to trial," Fulton recalled. "I said, 'What are you going to do with them?' He said, 'We'll either fine them, or we'll hang them.' "
Cox and company discussed how they were going to go to the homes of selected enemies, cut the electricity to the house, and make enough noise to lure their main target onto the front porch, where he could be shot. Then the windows and doors would be boarded up, and the house, with the rest of the family inside, would be set on fire. "Collateral damage" is the way Fulton said they described it.
After Cox left, Fulton phoned Klein. "I'm like, 'Help! What am I supposed to do? Do I need to get my family out of here?' And she's like, 'We'll handle it. Just try to figure out as much as you can.' She was really good at calming me down, but even for her, I could tell it was stressing her out."
The next day was the gun show, and Fulton again met with Cox, along with others from various militias.
"We walk into this meeting, and they're wanding everyone. If you had a gun that was fine. They were looking for electronic listening devices," Fulton recalled.
Fulton said he sensed that he needed to make it apparent to everyone that he was a tough guy who could be counted on, and he went on the offensive with Cox.
"I said, 'Listen, you're a piece of ... You brought all these people in this room. You said you had a plan; you don't have a plan.' "
Zerbe walked up to him. "He says, 'You were never going to help us anyway,' " Fulton recounted. "I saw the doubt start to come up. ... If they had for a minute mistrusted what I was saying, I probably would have been dead." He walked toward Zerbe. "I said, 'If you ever question me, I'll slit your throat and bleed you out at my feet.' "
Someone intervened and calmed everyone down.
Fulton said he told Cox not to worry -- he'd help him get what he needed.
At the next meeting, several months later in Anchorage, Fulton was playing the role of arms dealer. With FBI agents eavesdropping nearby, both Fulton and Olson -- neither knew the other one was working as an informant -- met with militia members, with Cox joining in by speaker phone.
"We discussed their shopping list. Explosives: C4, Semtex, fragmentation grenades ... machine guns, silenced weapons. Pretty much a laundry list of bad things," Fulton said.
Within a month, in March 2011, Fulton flew up to Fairbanks and handed over some of the illegal armament to Olson, who then met up with the defendants in a parking lot. He was about to hand over pistols, silencers and grenades when the parking lot owner walked up to the vehicle and asked what was going on. FBI agents rushed in and made the arrests.
By this time, Fulton was already on his way back to Anchorage.
"I flew home and tried to explain to my wife why there was a moving van at my home," he said. "We knew that once the arrests went down, it was going to be literally days before people figured out who at least one of the informants was. We needed to be gone by the time those questions even started to be asked."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Skrocki, who prosecuted the case, scoffed at the assertions of Cox and others that Fulton scared them into talking about plans to kill federal officials. "The argument that Bill Fulton was a danger to Mr. Cox comes only from Mr. Cox," Skrocki said.
Did Fulton need to go into hiding? Are there people in Alaska who'd like to kill him?
Klein and her co-agent, Derek Espeland, seem dubious. But they say they've been in enough investigations to know what it feels like to operate undercover with bad guys.
"You go somewhere and you try not to be detected. And yeah, you have a little bit of fear," Klein said.
Fulton is trying to finish his book, which he hopes will earn some money. He collected $39,000 from the federal government for his work on the Cox case, but figures he lost a lot more, what with his house, his business and the money he spent playing the big guy in the militia movement.
Still, he's getting monthly disability payments for an old Army injury. His wife has a job. And for the first time in several years, he's spending the winter in some place that isn't Alaska.

Why was FBI militia informant involved in Alaska politics?
Published: January 15, 2013

By KIM MURPHY — Los Angeles Times

SEATTLE -- Now that the mole who helped bring down the Alaska Peacemaker Militia has talked publicly, the question on some Alaskans' minds is: Why was FBI informant William Fulton involved in political campaigns?

Fulton, an Anchorage military surplus store owner who gathered evidence against militia leader Schaeffer Cox, also managed right-wing former radio host Eddie Burke's unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor in 2010 and provided security for U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller -- all while penetrating Alaska's far-right fringes.

Fulton has since left Alaska to avoid the chance of reprisals stemming from his work with the FBI that helped send Schaeffer and three others to prison. He said federal law enforcement agents had no involvement in his political activity.

"The only thing that they ever asked me to do was to look into Schaeffer Cox and a few other people," Fulton said.

He added that the only comment the FBI made when agents learned about his political activities was: "'Hmm, Bill, maybe you shouldn't be doing this.'"

The issue has caused a brouhaha of sorts, with the Alaska Dispatch, an online news site, asking, "Should the FBI have kept a tighter leash on its militia mole?"

Fulton's contentious relationship with the Alaska Dispatch began when he provided security at a campaign event for Miller, who was running on a tea party platform. Fulton handcuffed and detained a man who had aggressively followed the candidate in an attempt to ask questions. As it turned out, the man was a reporter and editor for the Alaska Dispatch, and the specter of a beefy security guard handcuffing a journalist undermined Miller's campaign.

Though Miller had won the Republican primary against the relatively moderate U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, she launched a write-in campaign and beat him in the general election.

Miller recalled the 2008 election, when longtime U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens lost his bid for re-election after he was found guilty of failing to report gifts from an oil industry lobbyist as a result of a long FBI investigation in Anchorage. The charges were dismissed in 2009 because potentially exculpatory evidence had not been turned over to the defense. By then, Democrat Mark Begich had defeated Stevens.

"This is the second U.S. Senate race in Alaska that the FBI has had some involvement in," Miller said. "I'm certainly not expressing any type of conspiracy theory about the FBI causing any kind of trouble to my campaign, but it's conceptually troubling to me that you have a paid informant working on multiple campaigns answering to the FBI."

Sandra Klein, who was Fulton's FBI handler, has said his role was purely to meet with Cox and his associates in connection with their illegal attempts to collect guns, silencers, grenades and explosives as they plotted to kill judges, police and other government employees.

"The bureau had absolutely no role in Fulton's business dealings or his relationships with his clients." Klein wrote in an email.

Fulton said he agreed to take two of his guards with him to Miller's town hall event as part of his business, which typically provided security for concerts and other events.

As for the confrontation with journalist Tony Hopfinger, Fulton said: "This guy runs up to him, and by the way he had no credentialing, we had no idea who this guy was. He had something in his hand and he was like running up to the candidate. We of course get between him and the candidate because that's our job. After that happened five or six times ... we decided to arrest him."

Fulton said he agreed to help run Burke's campaign because the former radio host had frequently promoted his military surplus shop on his program. "Then when he became a candidate for lieutenant governor, of course he brought those listeners with him, which were of interest as customers," he said.

Burke said he had no idea Fulton was working on his campaign at the same time he was working for the FBI.

"I'm a little disappointed that he didn't say something to me up front about it," Burke said. "But then again, I understand the situation he was in, working with the FBI, trying to do the right thing, and not being able to tell people about it."

Fulton has since been the subject of venomous talk on Alaska militia forums on the Internet.

"FBI paid informant, Bill Fulton, was found dead last night from what sources say appears to be an assassination. His hands were bound and a hood was placed over his head. Militia literature was left near the body with a note scribbled, 'payback's a bitch,'" said one entry Fulton found on the Alaska Citizens Militia site. Norm Olson, the author, said the posting was written tongue-in-cheek.

Olson had earlier co-founded the Michigan Militia, which rose to prominence in the heightened national attention given to right-wing militias after the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.

Said Fulton, after forwarding the post: "I don't think the militia guys in Alaska are so happy about me right now."

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