ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska militia group member found guilty of weapons charges was sentenced Monday to five years in federal prison in a case involving others convicted of conspiring to kill government officials.
Coleman Barney of North Pole held his head in his hands and sniffled loudly while he waited for U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan to impose the sentence Monday in Anchorage.
“I think you got into some real bad stuff here, and this sentence reflects it,” Bryan said.
Pretty standard stuff except that this particular article seems to veer a little off the usual course.
Before he was sentenced, Barney apologized for making poor choices and decisions. A member of the Mormon church, he said he loved his country and that the militia started out as a group of “wonderful Christian men” who wanted to protect their families in case of a collapse. He said he got caught up in the hype and said things he didn’t mean.
Whats different here is that in virtually every article about ‘militias’ there is no mention of how the group started. Was it a rabid, anti-government group from the start? Or was it something benign that gradually shifted focus into something else?
In this case, from the phrasing in the article, it sounds like a bunch of guys who had a common interest and a common concern and somehow got ‘carried away’. This is worth thinking about because ‘conspiracy’ is one of those great catch-alls that is used to nail people to the wall in cases like this. You don’t have to have done anything, and you may not even have to take real material steps, but as long as you and your buddies agreed to do it someday….well, seems like thats as good as doing it in some folks’ eyes.
So…you, your buddy at work, the guy down the block, and another guy from the gun range…….you guys get together once a week or so to shoot guns or watch football. One day a semi-serious discussion about politics turns into a serious discussion about ‘what are we gonna do if TSHTF?’. And the conversation goes on for a couple hours and when its done you’ve got an informal ‘group’. Thats the organic way these things happen.
You and your buddies, you go to gun shows together, check out military surplus stuff, maybe hit the cannery once a month, go in on group purchases to save money, maybe help each other on little projects like setting up radio towers or helping to move a new freezer into a basement…so far youre all a happy little group of like-minded individuals.
One day, after range practice, Steve pipes up and says “Man, you see all that looting in Haiti? You’re outnumbered, like, a million to one in a scenario like that. Check out what I picked up to help even those odds” and he reaches into his range bag and pulls out….what? A homemade silencer? An auto sear? Unpapered SBR or SBS? Maybe a grenade? And that’s right about the moment that your band of buddies who were nothing more than a bunucha guys with a common interest on being prepared suddenly turned into ‘persons of interest’. And at that same moment, every single thing youve done…the stored food, the piles of ammo, the rack of guns, the gold in the safe, the tweaked out BOV, those new solar panels on the roof….becomes threatened, Now, rather than ‘preps’ those things have become ‘supporting evidence’ when you get accused of being part of some end-of-the-world extremist fringe that was bent on overthrowing the government (or whatever).
Maybe everyone looks at Steve and says “Are you nuts? Put that crap away!”. Or maybe they say “Steve, if youre into that sorta stuff we cant have you hanging around us.” Maybe someone goes as far to say “Steve, it was nice knowing ya, but I can’t afford to be mixed up with that kinda stuff. Don’t ever come by my house again.” Or, more likely, everyone says “wow, cool!” and they pass it around like a party favor. And a week later someone tries to one-up Steve by acquiring something even more questionable.
Or, another likely scenario…..Steve never pulls anything ungood out of his range bag. But one day as theyre all driving back from the gun show he mentions that he thinks someone with a rifle ‘oughtta do something’ about ……and he starts naming politicians. Or local government officials. Or just people he doesn’t like for whatever reason. And someone in the back seat pipes in with “Yeah! And that other guy too! Someone oughtta take it to both of them!”
And this is how that fine line between conspiracy and harmless group of like-minded buddies gets blurred. A casual conversation about what to do about looters in a world ‘without rule of law’ turns into ‘and when those cops or feds show up and start violating their oath we need to……’. I know he didnt mean it. You know he didnt mean it. He probably doesnt even really mean it. But it’s not our opinion about it that matters in these things, sadly. There’s plenty of folks who’ll take what he said at full face value because thats their job.
I almost want to say that the secret to keeping any group of LMI from turning into a ‘ant-government militia that was planning on killing elected officials’ or a ‘group of extremists who were conspiring to blow up the…’ is to simply never talk politics at any of your little get-togethers.
I’ve met quite a few people over the years who would be in the red folder in some federal agencies ‘watch’ files. Usually they are so over-the-top that they’re unable to be taken seriously enough as a threat. But why take chances? When you and a couple buddies are getting together at the cannery and the discussion turns towards questionable things you have one of two choices – put an end to it politely, maybe even obtusely so the person talking doesn’t even notice you’ve changed the topic so abruptly…or…let him go on and be prepared to face the unpleasant possibilities that might happend when someone “hears something, says something” about your conversation.
Me, I’m the biggest advocate of free speech youre ever going to meet. I think you should be able to burn flags, bibles, korans, effigies, and all that stuff. Nothing gets my ire up like censorship and the notion that you cant express yourself however you like (as long as youre respecting other peoples rights…maybe not respecting their beliefs, or their opinion, but always their rights ). But the sad fact is that there are somethings you just have to keep to yourself if you want to stay out of trouble.
If you’ve got a loosely knit group of friends that you include in your preparations and stockpiling it is important to make sure that you don’t fall into that trap of someone going a little off the reservation and getting the whole group shot down.I hate the notion of guilt by association but thats how it plays out. Four guys are just stocking their shelves with canned goods and building solar battery chargers and one guy is doing that and building auto sears in his garage…or smuggling antibiotics over the border from Mexico…or mouthing off about how the local police chief is gonna ‘get it’ someday. And because of that one guy, four other guys who weren’t doing anything more extreme than building can organizers and working on their ham radio licenses are now caught up in a legal mess that’ll bankrupt them if theyre lucky, or send the to jail if theyre unlucky.
I like the idea of having a close little knot of friends who are on the same page as myself. It makes things easier, it gives me a chance to be myself, and the camaraderie and validation is quite nice. But if someone starts talking about something they shouldn’t, it gets tamped down…fast. It sucks to have to step on someone’s ideas and desire to express them but at this point in the game who needs the hassle of getting pinched for ‘conspiracy to….’?
So….moral of the story: nothing wrong with living a ‘secret life” as a survivalist. The trick is to make sure that things stay ‘survivalisty’ and don’t drift into something that others could, rightly or wrongly, construe as ‘dangerous extremist’. This article about the guys in Alaska sounds like a good example of a buncha guys that started out with noble intentions and somehow got sidetracked into becoming something they now wish they hadn’t. Don’t be those guys.