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Michigan's Hutaree militia: Band of gun enthusiasts or a threat to the US?

Members of the Hutaree militia were arrested in 2010 for allegedly planning 'war against the United States.' Their trial on 'seditious conspiracy' and other charges opened this week.

By Staff writer / February 17, 2012

A gun leans against a washing machine in the yard in front of a trailer on property in Clayton, Mich., belonging to David Brian Stone, the leader of the Hutaree, in March 2010 after an FBI raid. Nine members of the Hutaree, are facing federal seditious conspiracy charges.

Madalyn Ruggiero/AP

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Nine members of the Hutaree, a southern Michigan-based militia, are facing federal seditious conspiracy charges in a trial that is expected to determine whether the group presents a credible threat to the US or if, as defense lawyers maintain, it is merely a small band of gun enthusiasts gathered in a “social club.”

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The Hutaree members, whose trial opened this week in US District Court in Detroit, were arrested in March 2010 after FBI intelligence suggested the group was planning to “levy war against the United States,” according to the indictment.

The FBI says the group planned to ambush and kill a local police officer and then use his or her funeral as a stage for further killings using explosive devices.

The group was charged with five counts, including seditious conspiracy, attempts to use weapons of mass destruction, teaching or demonstrating the use of explosive materials, and carrying, using and possessing a firearm with the intention to use for violence.

If convicted, the suspects could face up to life in prison, the maximum penalty for the weapons of mass destruction charge. The trial opened Monday and is expected to continue for six weeks.

Prosecutors say they have over 100 hours of audio and video recordings from an undercover informant that show the group was serious about attacking law enforcement.

David Stone, a Hutaree member, is heard on the recordings, saying the group should “start hunting” law enforcement “pretty soon.” “They're easy to find, they're sittin' alongside the road, and they got these red and blue lights on top of their car,” he is heard saying on recordings played this week in court.

The group’s website advocated a “New World Order,” a time in which the militia was preparing to battle an Antichrist. It included a picture of men and women posing in camouflage and brandishing assault weapons as well as videos showed them detonating explosives and running quasi-military maneuvers.

The FBI, in their raids, confiscated machine guns, assault rifles, and explosive devices. In court, prosecutors displayed about 20 of the weapons that were seized, including 148,000 rounds of ammunition.

“These individuals wanted a war,” Assistant US Attorney Christopher Graveline told jurors.

Defense attorneys say the militia’s antigovernment talk is protected under the First Amendment and their actions were not illegal. They described the group as gun and hunting enthusiasts. “Calling this group a militia is pushing it,” attorney Todd Shanker said.

Another attorney, William Swor, said Mr. Stone “was exercising his God-given right to blow off steam and open his mouth.”

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