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Seditious revolutionaries or all talk? Michigan jury will decide

February 13, 2012 | 10:58 am

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A Detroit jury will decide whether seven members of a Midwest militia known as Hutaree are Christian revolutionary bomb-throwers who broke the law -- or swaggering survivalists suffering from too much bluster and bravado.

Jury selection in the federal trial is expected to be completed Monday, with opening statements scheduled to begin soon after. The seven defendants are accused of conspiring to use force to oppose the authority of the U.S. government. According to the indictment, the defendants, acting as the Hutaree militia in Lenawee County, Mich., viewed all law enforcement as their enemy, and were preparing to engage them in armed conflict.

Nine people were charged in the case. In a deal with prosecutors, one defendant, Joshua Clough, pleaded guilty to illegal use of a firearm and could be called to testify agains the others, according to the Associated Press. Another defendant, Jacob Ward, will have a separate trial.

The group is accused of planning to kill an unidentified member of local law enforcement then attack with improvised explosive devices the other officers who would gather for the funeral. If convicted, the defendants will face a maximum of life in prison on the charge of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. Conviction of seditious conspiracy carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

The trial throws a spotlight on militias, which include a wide range of organizations -- from survivalist training groups to armed hate groups. The trial also raises questions about the line between talking and action. The former is constitutionally protected; the latter can be a crime.

In its defense, Hutaree members maintain that they were just exercising rights granted by the U.S. Constitution -- and that they were just fun-lovers.

“I'm going to fight it tooth and nail,” Tina Mae Stone, one of the defendants told the Associated Press last week during a break in jury selection. “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,” she said.

In a court filing, attorneys Todd Shanker and Richard Helfrick said the militia prepared for survival in case of domestic chaos or an attack on the United States.

“Regardless of the charges in the indictment, there is no dispute that the aims of the Hutaree militia included the free exercise of their 1st and 2nd Amendment rights, including freedom of speech, association, assembly and the right to bear arms,” said the lawyers, who represent defendant David Stone Jr.

The government sees the group in a different light.

It was an “insidious plan by anti-government extremists to murder a law enforcement officer in order to lure police from across the nation to the funeral where they would be attacked with explosive devices. Thankfully, this alleged plot has been thwarted and a severe blow has been dealt to an dangerous organization that today stands accused of conspiring to levy war against the United States,” Atty. Gen. Eric Holder said two years ago when the Hutaree members were arrested.

During questioning last week, most of the potential jurors said they knew little of militias, though one woman said she associated the fringe movement with Timothy McVeigh, who exploded a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. The attack killed 168 people and wounded more than 800.

McVeigh was convicted of 11 federal charges. He was executed in 2001.

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-- Michael Muskal

Photo: Members of a Midwest militia known as Hutaree, seven of whom are on trial accused of conspiring to use force to oppose the authority of the U.S. government. Top row from left: David Brian Stone Sr., 44, of Clayton, Mich.; David Brian Stone Jr. of Adrian, Mich.; Jacob Ward, 33, of Huron, Ohio; and Tina Mae Stone. Bottom row, from left: Michael David Meeks, 40, of Manchester, Mich.; Kristopher T. Sickles, 27, of Sandusky, Ohio; Joshua John Clough, 28, of Blissfield, Mich.; and Thomas William Piatek, 46, of Whiting, Ind. Clough has already entered a guilty plea. Credit: U.S. Marshal's Service 

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