Militia had 'dark hearts and evil intent,' prosecutor says

USA TODAY/April 5, 2010

Clayton, Michigan - His rundown double-wide trailer served as a rally point - the primary meeting spot of the Hutaree, a self-described Christian-based militia readying itself for war.

Federal prosecutors say it was there that David Stone Sr. railed against the government, creating his own vocabulary for the powers he condemned - with terms such as "Elitists In Charge," who he said undermine the Constitution.

The Elitists' foot soldiers were law-enforcement officers he called the "Brotherhood," and Stone ordered that bombs be built to slaughter thousands of them, according to the scenario presented by federal prosecutors last week.

Nine members of the Hutaree have been charged with plotting to overthrow the government in a bloody civil war; eight are likely to return to federal court this week to appeal a judge's decision to detain them pending trial.

Stone was the ringleader, prosecutors said, while his 21-year-old son, Joshua Stone, served as second-in-command.

The others jailed while awaiting trial are: Stone's new wife, Tina Stone, 44; his 19-year-old adopted son, David Stone Jr.; Joshua Clough, 28, of Blissfield; Kristopher Sickles, 27, of Sandusk, Ohio; Michael Meeks, 40, of Manchester; Jacob Ward, 33, of Huron, Ohio; and Thomas Piatek, 46, of Whiting, Ind.

The suspects' lawyers say the clan is merely a group of disgruntled Americans arrested for speaking their minds.

U.S. Attorney Joseph Falvey said they plotted to turn talk into action.

"Owning guns is not a crime. Wearing uniforms is not a crime. Training is not a crime," Falvey said. "But when persons with dark hearts and evil intent get together and conspire to oppose by force with firearms and violence the authority of the United States, it is a crime."

Robert Dudley, 80, of North Adams agreed about four years ago to allow the group to use his woods for training. They gathered three or four times a year, sometimes camping out overnight, he said.

"They were sneaking around, trying to be invisible," Dudley said. The men had guns, he said, but he never heard them fire.

Dudley said he chatted with Stone Sr. beforehand about survival - pondering hypothetically about what to do if the government turned off the power or heat.

Other members of Michigan-based militias have posted messages distancing themselves from the Hutaree in the wake of the arrests.

"As far as ideology, they are neither a militia nor Christian, as far as I know," said Mike Lackomar, 36, a member of the Southeastern Michigan Volunteer Militia. "They are not much better than a well-armed street gang."

Lackomar said Stone and five other members of the Hutaree group trained with his unit on at least two occasions in 2007.

"To me, this looks like a bunch of young guys following David Stone," he said. "Without him in place, it would have just been training on the weekend."

According to prosecutors, Stone Sr. did more than train.

His goal was to take over a handful of counties in southeast Michigan to lure the enemy to him, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Waterstreet told a federal magistrate at a detention hearing last week.

"He believed that war was approaching, and therefore he needed to train harder," Waterstreet said.

Hutaree members regularly talked about killing officers, Waterstreet said. In one scenario, he said, they would gun down one officer, then wait for the funeral so they could ambush his mourning law enforcement brethren.

Detroit attorney James Thomas, who represents Joshua Stone, said the allegations are serious, "but they are nothing more than that - allegations. The presumption of innocence still applies."

Aitan Goelman was chosen by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to prosecute Oklahoma City bombing suspects Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.

"It's always a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't position in cases like these for law enforcement," he said. "You can't wait till the actual fuse is lit in a case like this."

He said the Hutaree's threats cannot be taken lightly.

"Lots of times a group likes to talk and then ends up not pulling the trigger," Goelman said. "But if they amassed explosives and were talking about plans … law enforcement has to make a move."

Amber Hunt reports for the Detroit Free Press. Contributing: David Ashenfelter, Ben Schmitt

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