Trailers on the property belonging to David Brian Stone, the leader of Midwest Christian militia Hutaree, are shown Monday - the day after an FBI raid in Clayton, Mich.
When local militia expert Jack Kay first ran across a MySpace page for Lenawee County-based Hutaree six months ago, he thought it was just another militia group wrapping itself in God and country.
On Monday afternoon, following weekend raids by federal authorities in three states, Kay said the group went beyond that initial assessment. Kay, the provost and executive vice-president of academic affairs at Eastern Michigan University, has done extensive research on militias.
"Everything I've read about them and on their website establish to me that they are a cult," he said. "They are true believers. They feel they are on a divine mission. They are willing to be martyrs. It goes beyond patriotism and gets into groupthink.
"They believe everything is a conspiracy. They create their own fictional future. It's just not logical to think you're going to wake up someday and overthrow the government."
Even members of other militias describe Hutaree as a cult.
"You have an older religious leader with several young followers who obey his every command," said Michael Lackomar, a spokesman for the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia, which was not targeted in the raids. His unit has trained with Hutaree in the past.
Nine Hutaree members are charged with planning to kill an unnamed local law enforcement officer and then attacking the resulting funeral procession, targeting law enforcement vehicles with improvised explosive devices.
"There are a lot of groups that use the rhetoric that this group uses," Kay said. "Their plans, if what is in the indictment is true, go well beyond that. If what's in the indictment is true, this would be among the most extreme groups out there."
On its website, the group uses heavy doses of Bible to justify its actions and claims members are getting ready to battle the Anti-Christ.
The group wrote, "Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment. The only thing on earth to save the testimony and those who follow it, are the members of the testimony, til the return of Christ in the clouds. We, the Hutaree, are prepared to defend all those who belong to Christ and save those who aren't. We will still spread the word, and fight to keep it, up to the time of the great coming."
Donna Stone said her ex-husband, David Stone, the accused leader of the group, pulled her son David Jr. into the movement. Another of Stone's sons, Joshua Stone, also was charged.
"It started out as a Christian thing," Donna Stone said. "You go to church. You pray. You take care of your family. I think David started to take it a little too far."
The wife of one of the defendants described Hutaree as a small group of patriotic, Christian buddies who were just doing survival training.
"It consisted of a dad and two of his sons and I think just a couple other close friends of theirs," said Kelly Sickles, who husband, Kristopher, was among those charged. "It was supposed to be a Christian group. Christ-like, right, so why would you think that's something wrong with that, right?"
Sickles said she came home Saturday night to find her house in Sandusky, Ohio, in disarray. Agents seized the guns her husband collected as a hobby and searched for bomb-making materials, she said, but added: "He doesn't even know how to make a bomb. We had no bomb material here."
Sickles said she couldn't believe her 27-year-old husband could be involved in anything violent.
"It was just survival skills," she said. "That's what they were learning. And it's just patriotism. It's in our Constitution."
The overall militia movement has exploded across the country recently, driven in large numbers by the election of Obama as president.
About 50 militia members from five units live in Washtenaw County, militia leaders told AnnArbor.com. Most are survivalists who favor larger local government and a smaller federal government. Members are fiercely protective of their free speech and gun rights.
The Hutaree claim between 25 and 30 members, and say at least one lives in Scio Township and at least three live in Manchester Township. One of the those arrested, Michael Meeks, is from Manchester Township.
"Members tend to be very committed," Kay said. "These group tend to like to have smaller groups, almost like splinter cells where they are very close and many are members of the same family."
Kay said the leadership in militia groups tends to be "sophisticated" about communication and recruitment, and often target those who are "downtrodden."
Followers tend be those "who have had something taken away from them by some authority, either the government, or a bank, or someone."
Lee Higgins of AnnArbor.com and the Associated Press contributed to this story.