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A jury in Detroit today began the task of attempting to determine whether a heavily armed Christian militia group was embarking on an armed confrontation with the federal government or merely living in a fantasy world of “recreation” and protected free speech.
Seven members of the Hutaree militia arrested in an FBI sweep last March are on trial in U.S. District Court on charges of seditious conspiracy – plotting the overthrow of the U.S. government – and the companion felonies of attempted use of weapons of mass destruction and possession of firearms during crimes of violence. An eighth member has struck a plea bargain and may be a key prosecution witness during the trial, expected to last six to eight weeks.
“These individuals … wanted an armed confrontation with law enforcement and the federal government,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Graveline said in opening statements, the Detroit Free Press reported.
The group planned to kill a police officer, then use homemade bombs to kill other officers at a funeral service, the prosecution alleges in an indictment backed by conversations secretly recorded by informants. The indictment alleges that planning and military training were carried out in Lenawee County, Mich., where Hutaree members learned bomb-making techniques and practiced weapons proficiency drills, patrolling and reconnaissance.
“They didn’t just talk, they planned (and) were ready, willing and able to go to war,” the prosecutor told a jury that was selected Monday.
Defense attorney William Swor, who represents accused militia leader David Stone, said the government’s case is nothing more than a fantasy built by undercover FBI agents and paid government informants, the Detroit newspaper reported.
“You will have to decide whether this is a real conspiracy of David Stone exercising his God-given right to blow off steam and open his mouth,” Swor told the jury. “These are ordinary people living ordinary lives. Doing this stuff was merely their form of recreation.”
Besides Stone, the defendants are his wife, Tina Stone, 46; sons Joshua Stone, 24, of Clayton, Mich., and David Stone Jr., 22, of Adrian, Mich.; Michael Meeks, 42, of Manchester, Mich.; Thomas Piatek, 48, of Whiting, Ind.; and Kristopher Sickles, 29, of Sandusky, Ohio.
When Joshua John Clough, 29, became the only member of the group to plead guilty in December, he confessed that the militia “advocated and prepared for violence against local, state and federal law enforcement.” He pleaded guilty to use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence but won’t be sentenced until after the trial of his co-defendants concludes. If he testifies as a prosecution witness, he could get a lighter prison term in exchange for accepting responsibility and “substantial assistance.”