Going Deep Undercover In A Right Wing Militia Ruined My Life
When members of a "militia" took over a government building in Oregon, it might have been the first time you even knew these militias were a thing. You might have gotten the impression that they're all fairly ridiculous anti-government loons who would accidentally shoot themselves in the balls the moment a real war broke out. But, it's good to keep in mind that one of them, Timothy McVeigh, committed the largest domestic terrorist attack in American history not too long ago.
The FBI keeps pretty strict tabs on militias, for obvious reasons, which often means using paid informants such as Bill Fulton. In 2011, he went undercover to help bust a group of militants who planned to convene their own "Citizen's Court" and order and carry out the execution of dozens of local government officials. Their goal was to spark a revolution because, like most people, they operate under the delusion that deep down, everyone shares their worldview.
We talked to Fulton to see what it's like to try to infiltrate a group of very dangerous -- and seriously dumb -- people, and he said ...
It Started Because Crazy Militia Types Were His Best Customers
Bill Fulton owned an army-surplus store. He sold guns, hunting gear, survivalist equipment, and more in Alaska. Now, Alaska is one of America's militia hot spots, which is most clearly illustrated by the professional, cutting-edge website of the Alaska Citizens Militia.
All that's missing is a MIDI file of "Cat Scratch Fever" that you can't shut off, ever.
Fulton isn't a crazy person -- you don't have to be a lunatic to like guns and cool survival gear. But, when you operate a store that sells that kind of stuff -- especially in Alaska -- you're going to get militia. "I'm the Libertarian type," says Fulton, "but, like ... the pro-gay-rights sort of Libertarian type. Because my customers were essentially far right-wing, the political events I went to, the candidates I donated to, were all far right-wing. Being seen at the Democratic caucus for Anchorage would not have helped my business at all."
So, Bill Fulton, savvy businessman, finds himself in a community of loons who think President Obama's FEMA death squads are just waiting for the order to commit #WhiteGenocide. Hey, we've all got bills to pay. "I think militias are stupid ... but, if a bunch of guys want to put on camouflage and run around the woods with guns, go ahead. Just don't become a threat."
To others. Among yourselves, whatever.
But, one of the guys Fulton knew, Schaeffer Cox, decided he wanted to become a threat. Cox, then 28, was founder of the "Alaska Peacemakers Militia" and a former (failed) candidate for the House Of Representatives. He looked like the human embodiment of 4chan's /pol/ board:
"A chicken in every pot and a doxxing for every dissident."
Cox immediately rubbed Fulton the wrong way. Then, he and his awful hat started traveling around the country, speaking at public events about murdering government officials. " ... he sure told everybody in the speeches that he had 3,500 [men in his militia]. That's how he got on the FBI's radar. They have these Freedom Rallies in, like, Montana. Or, Liberty Rallies. He said some things during those speeches like, 'We have engineers that are building claymore bombs, and we have rocket launchers,' which, of course, is illegal."
Fashion ended up being his least offensive crime.
And that's when Schaeffer Cox finally rubbed the FBI the wrong way. Fulton's side gig was as a bounty hunter, because why not just hang out with the shadiest people possible. He had also worked with the FBI once to help bust a crazy customer of his ("He was talking about placing explosives at certain federal government installations"). And once he had done one job for the FBI, they placed him in their list of "people in Alaska we can trust, despite having just ... the worst friends."
So, one day, they handed Fulton a bunch of names of other people they considered sketchy in the area. "... they were like, do you know any of these other people? And, of course, I knew all those other people. If you own a military surplus store in Alaska, your clientele is pretty right-wing. Cox was one of those names." The FBI asked him to go to a militia meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska, that Cox would be attending and to "have a chat -- see what he's got to say."
That's all the information they would give him, and those simple orders would eventually lead to massive undercover arms deals and, for Fulton, a life in hiding.
Cox Wanted To Start An Armed Revolution
So, Schaeffer Cox is a "sovereign citizen." In brief, they're people who believe the whole U.S. government is a sham, and if they do things, such as spell their name a certain way, the government won't legally be able to prosecute them. They also believe all courtrooms in America are invalid because they fly the wrong flag.
"Your sea-laws can't stop me, Judge!"
Sovereign citizens do things such as driving without ID, or plates, or registration, ensuring that there are warrants out for many of them at any given time. Police generally hate serving said warrants, because sovereign citizens have a nasty habit of flipping out and gunning down cops. A 2014 survey of American law enforcement showed they considered sovereign citizens more of a threat to their lives and communities than Islamic terrorists or neo-Nazis.
Schaeffer Cox had a warrant out for his arrest, like most of these chucklefucks, so he was in "hiding" when Fulton arrived in Fairbanks. "So, he's at a safe house or something. But, that safe house is his friend's couch. Sovereign citizen safe houses aren't really the Hollywood version." Fulton and Cox then settled in for a long night of talking about angry nonsense. "As the evening progresses, he starts talking about how they have their own judges, and they're going to issue warrants for real judges and police officers, and since I own this fugitive recovery business, would I serve these warrants for him?"
Wait, what? Yeah, Cox's plan was to arrest and execute a bunch of government employees on behalf of a new government they were going to form right there in the living room. "He's like, if we do this, we'll start a revolution. And I have my own militia, and it's like 3,500 guys. And I'm like, OK, I'm going to need another beer."
"We need to bring back the America that the Founding Fathers envisioned,
where people like me have no rights because I'm too poor to own land."
That specific idea -- that if they just start fighting the government, the whole nation will rise up with them against the tyranny of, uh, Obamacare or photo IDs or whatever, is incredibly common. If you listen to the hours of audio interviews with the militia nuts who occupied that park building in Oregon, you'll hear a lot of the same rhetoric: "Once the American people see what's going on, they'll rise up!", et al.
"Needless to say, my phone call with the FBI was not pleasant. I was like, what in the hell did you guys get me into? I was a little freaked out that night."
Tip: When Helping The FBI With An Investigation, Don't Freelance
Fulton, without getting permission from the feds, decided he wanted to put an end to Cox right away. He decided to show up at a gathering Cox had held of several different Alaskan militia leaders. Oh, his goal wasn't to assassinate or capture the man, only to make him look like a jackass, and thus stop anyone from trusting him as the leader of their revolution. Hey, what if somebody had done that to a young Hitler?
"Your mustache is ugly, and your dick is weird. Seriously, show them your dick."
"I got loud and made fun of him; the whole goal was to cut his nuts off in front of everybody, so all these militias who supported him didn't support him when that meeting was done. So, I'm in a dark, smokey room with, like, the heads of probably 15 different militia groups, with the combined brainpower of a walnut ... we're all there to hear what Schaeffer Cox's plan is. He's like an hour-and-a-half late, so by the time he gets there, we're all drinking and pissed because he's late. He starts talking, and Schaeffer Cox is one of these guys who loves to hear himself speak. If he has a 15-minute slot of time, he'll be up there for two hours.
"He starts in with one of his little speeches, and I say, 'Dude, don't give us your speech, just give us the plan.'
'Well, I don't really have a solid plan.'
'And I'm like, well, you told me your plan last night'."
"OK, my new plan is to let this guy do all the talking while I stand here and think about hats."
Fulton basically spent the rest of the night mocking Cox for being badly prepared and wasting everyone's time by convening a Nut Moot without good cause. "When you think of the type of guys who command militias, it's a very alpha-male sort of environment. So, it was a good environment to do that in. Now, I never asked the FBI if this was a great idea. But, at this point, I'd decided the dude was dangerous. All I had to go off of was the conversation from the night before, so by the time this little meeting's over, Cox runs off, none of the militia guys are gonna support him, and I go home thinking I'll never see Cox again."
Fulton felt his plan worked, but the FBI was not happy. They gave him a dressing down, and he promised not to go "off the reservation" again. Unfortunately, neither they nor Fulton were done with Schaeffer Cox yet. And the next step involved a shitload of fake guns.
Hey, Did You Know That The FBI Has A "Props" Department?
Two months later, the FBI reached out to Fulton again. They asked him if he would get back in touch with Schaeffer Cox, and despite the fact that Fulton felt like he would "rather eat glass" than hang out with Cox again, he agreed. It turned out Cox was actually looking to move forward on his "execute random government employees" thing. He wanted to buy grenades, machine guns, and silenced pistols under-the-table.
Fulton attended a few meetings with Cox and his "cronies," including one other man who wound up being a confidential source for the FBI. "He had a history in the militia movement, and he had a criminal history. And me, being as naive as I was, thought everyone working for the FBI thought it was the right thing to do. No, some people do it so they won't go to jail."
During a mass meeting of the militias in Anchorage, Fulton met up with Cox and his men to arrange an illegal arms deal. Fulton even tried to talk them out of it. "I'm like, you understand you can get this legally with tax stamps? You know buying automatic weapons illegally is 10 years in jail? I even had Cops playing on the TV!" But, they still wanted to buy their weapons illegally because they probably figured adhering to the law prior to your revolution is like taking an escalator to the gym.
But, hey, if you really want to find out how above-the-law that whole "sovereign citizen" thing actually makes you ...
So, Fulton agreed to do the selling. "... there was a U.S. Attorney and a couple FBI agents overhearing things in the room next to me." Once the order was placed, the ball was in the hands of the prop department the FBI apparently has. "Quantico has ... a division that has a bunch of fake stuff that looks really real. So, the grenades, the silenced pistols -- all of them appear to function, but none of them will. So, as the case agent you say, 'Hey, I need a case of grenades and couple of silenced pistols' or rocket launchers or nuclear bombs or whatever else you need.
"I get off the plane, and rent this hotel room. One of the case agents shows up and hands me suitcases. I open them. He's like, don't touch it. It was a couple silenced pistols and grenades, which is what these idiots had ordered. They wanted to execute some police officers with the silenced pistols. I dunno -- whatever video game fantasy they had in their heads."
Why can't they fantasize about overthrowing that asshole L-shaped Tetris block, like normal people?
The Real Danger Is The Ringleaders, And They Often Go Free
This asshole, Norman Olson, is a self-proclaimed "general" who has bounced around several militias:
Jesse "The Scrawny" Ventura.
Like Schaeffer Cox, he gave rousing speeches and held militia gatherings, some of which were attended by Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh, AKA the Oklahoma City Bombing guys. Olson has never gone to jail himself, but he regularly incites dumber militiamen to violence.
"Guys like Norm Olson ... they keep 'em right on the edge. I view 'em almost as like a pastor. These guys are almost like preachers. They have their flock and their congregation, and then you have instances like McVeigh ... does Norm Olson have some responsibility in that? Absolutely. Does he have responsibility in telling Schaeffer Cox his rhetoric was right? Absolutely. Can we convict him? No. So ... a subset of people like that literally manipulate a large portion of these cases you hear about."
Getting rid of the turds doesn't do much when the asshole is free to shit out new ones.
We are talking about seriously easily influenced people here. There's a reason the first thing the FBI had Ammon Bundy do once they had arrested him was ask the other Oregon militia occupiers to stand down. "Do I think Schaeffer Cox would've personally killed anyone? Absolutely not. But, one of his minions? Absolutely. I remember a meeting with Schaeffer ... he was talking about the coming revolution, but that he couldn't be too close to the front lines because he was too important to the movement to die. But, Schaeffer was a great orator; I saw him lift crowds into frenzies."
Schaeffer Cox received 25 years in prison for his crimes. He won't be speaking to any crowds anytime soon. As for Fulton ...
It Might Involve Leaving Your Entire Life Behind
Two weeks before the deal went down, it started to become clear that Fulton's continued residence in Alaska might be a bad idea. " ... my handler, the agent that works with the source, is like, 'Not saying it's gonna happen, but if you guys had to move someplace, where would you move?'" Fulton didn't actually find out he was being put into witness protection until 24 hours before the operation. "The day before it all went down, they were like, 'It's going down. For your safety, we're authorized to move your and your family dadadada.' I'm like, are you sure this is worth it? I have a whole life, a business. My wife didn't know until they showed up with a minivan."
So, that kind of sucks. But, hey, at least Fulton got a free new life, right? "My loss, not including the business, was probably upwards ... after reimbursing some costs, a direct loss of about $150k. And then the business was valued at $500k of just inventory. So, I lost around $500k in the business. There's only so much money in the investigation budget, and because the dirtbag [the other CI] had no assets, most of the investigative fund was used to relocate him. I'm not bitter."
Alaska needed a new doughnut shop or dive bar or whatever else went in there, anyway.
Fulton was paid a total of $30,000 for his trouble. But, he still works with the FBI as an informant on various militia groups. Most of that happens online. Even with his continued involvement, Bill doesn't feel particularly worried about reprisals. He recognizes there's danger in staying near them, but doesn't think there are high odds of them bothering to track him down. He did tell us he's changed his face: "I haven't had plastic surgery or anything. But, there are ways."
He seemed secure in the fact that right-wing militias are, quote, "dumber" than other groups you can piss off. If so, the rest of America is hoping these guys never suddenly get smart.
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