Defense: Midwest militia more like a 'social club'

By Ed White

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- A Midwest militia whose members prosecutors say were willing "to go to war" against the U.S. government was more like a "social club" whose talk was little more than fantasy, defense attorneys say.

Displaying guns, vests and other military gear, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Graveline told jurors Monday that members of anti-government Hutaree wanted to kill a police officer as a springboard to a broader rebellion against the U.S. government. Graveline said the group was looking for some type of conflict to trigger an attack -- maybe a traffic stop, a search warrant or a dispute between authorities and another militia.

Two defense attorneys offered an opening rebuttal to the government's introduction, telling jurors there was no specific plan to do any harm to anyone in authority.

Jurors will hear more opening statements from defense attorneys Tuesday in the case against seven members of the Hutaree. With so many defendants, opening remarks are taking longer than usual in federal court in Detroit. Three attorneys want to speak Tuesday before evidence is presented.

Members of the Hutaree militia, based in southern Michigan's Lenawee County, are charged with conspiring to attack the authority of the U.S. government through violence against local law enforcement. 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.

"They wanted to start an armed confrontation. ... The war to them meant patriots rising up against the government," said Graveline, who held up automatic weapons and other items seized after nine people were arrested in southern Michigan, Indiana and Ohio in March 2010.

Graveline showed the jury a video clip of leader David Stone declaring, "Welcome to the revolution." The government placed an undercover agent inside the Hutaree and also had a paid informant. More than 100 hours of audio and video were recorded.

"They were ready, willing and able to go to war. They were preparing for war," the prosecutor said.

Todd Shanker, attorney for David Stone Jr., acknowledged there are "offensive statements" on the recordings but said the words were "almost fantasy" made among people who were comfortable with each other.

"These are extreme charges. ... They are going to fail and they are going to fail miserably," said Shanker, adding later that the Hutaree really was more of a "social club" than any organized militia.

William Swor, attorney for David Stone, said his client was a firm believer in the Bible's book of Revelation and the coming of an "anti-Christ."

"The anti-Christ as David Stone understands it will come from overseas, and the troops of the anti-Christ will take over America. That is the resistance that David Stone was preparing for," Swor said.

He told jurors the government was displaying weapons in court to "make you afraid." Swor said members lived hand-to-mouth and couldn't even afford transportation to a regional militia meeting in Kentucky, a trip that wasn't completed because of bad winter weather. He said it was the undercover agent who supplied the van, gas and a secret camera that captured Stone on video.

Of the original nine defendants, Joshua Clough, of Blissfield, Mich., is the only one to make a deal with prosecutors. He pleaded guilty in December to illegal use of a firearm, faces a mandatory five-year prison sentence and could be called as a witness to testify for the government.

Besides the Stones, the other defendants are Tina Mae Stone and Joshua Stone, both from Lenawee County; Thomas Piatek, of Whiting, Ind.; Michael Meeks, of Manchester, Mich.; and Kristopher Sickles, of Sandusky, Ohio. Jacob Ward, of Huron, Ohio, will have a separate trial. Besides conspiracy charges, all face at least one firearm charge and some have more.

Published: Wed, Feb 15, 2012