Seven members of a militia accused of plotting to overthrow the U.S. government stood trial Monday, with jurors to decide whether federal authorities prevented an attack by homegrown extremists or simply made too much of the boasts by weekend warriors who had pledged to "take our nation back."
Members of the Hutaree militia are charged with conspiring to commit sedition, or rebellion, as well as weapon crimes.
Following the March 2010 arrests in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said the time had come for authorities to "take them down." An undercover agent had recorded the group's leader, David Stone, saying the militia needed to "start huntin'" police soon.
But since their capture, only one of nine people charged has struck a plea deal, an unusually low number in a case with so many defendants. Their attorneys have maintained a consistent stance: The anti-government talk was simply colorful yet aimless bluster.
"I'm going to fight it tooth and nail," David Stone's wife and co-defendant, Tina Mae Stone, said during a break in jury selection last week. "It was just a bunch of good ol' boys out to have fun. We did survival stuff. I did it mostly to spend time with my husband. People tell me, 'Good luck.' I don't need luck. I've got God on my side."
The militia prepared for survival in case of domestic chaos or an attack on the United States, attorneys Todd Shanker and Richard Helfrick said in a court filing. They noted the group even had a website and promoted its weekend outings.
The indictment, however, describes a more sinister band. The government says the Hutaree, which the militiaclaimed means "Christian warriors," was an anti-government group committed to fighting authorities who belong to a so-called "New World Order." The defendants are accused of conspiring to someday ambush and kill a police officer, then attack the funeral procession with explosives and trigger a broader revolt against the U.S. government.
"The court will hear testimony and examine evidence concerning this particular group's hatred for, and desire to do physical harm to, law enforcement," Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Graveline said.
Agents seized machine guns, unregistered rifles, ammunition and parts for improvised explosive devices.
The government's case got off to a rough start in 2010, when U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts released the nine until trial under strict conditions. The government swiftly appealed but then agreed that four could go home wearing electronic monitors. An appeals court ultimately ordered the other five to remain locked up, including David Stone.