Militia Chief's Mistrust Festered, Friends Say

Portrait Emerges of Man Who Despised Authority; Undercover Agent Played a Role in Probe

The Wall Street Journal/March 31, 2010

The leader of a Michigan militia group charged this week with conspiring to kill law-enforcement officers was described Tuesday as a private, family-oriented man who nurtured a festering mistrust of governmental authority, according to people close to the family.

"On the inside of this man's brain, something evil lurks, and until you get to know him, you don't know it," said Andrea Harsh, who was engaged to David Brian Stone Sr. until the couple broke up last year.

She described Mr. Stone, a trim 45-year-old man who wears his whitish hair cropped short over spectacles and a bushy gray mustache, as having a "bubbly personality." But he became consumed by the Hutaree, she said, a southeastern Michigan militia group that described its members as "Christian warriors."

In an indictment Monday, federal authorities named Mr. Stone as leader of the Hutaree and accused him and eight members with plotting to spark an uprising against the U.S. government by killing police. Along with Mr. Stone, seven other men and one woman from Michigan, Ohio and Indiana are in being held without bond on weapons and sedition charges.

The indictment said Hutaree had practiced attacks and other military maneuvers for more than a year, and had planned to kill a law-enforcement officer, then use homemade bombs to attack officers who attended the funeral.

An undercover agent played a role in the investigation that led to Monday's indictments. Grand jury testimony by a law enforcement officer referred to an "undercover FBI agent" who worked on the case. The FBI declined to comment, but infiltration is a common tactic for law-enforcement officials targeting domestic militia groups.

Those charged in the case included Mr. Stone's current wife, Tina Mae Stone, 44; as well as two sons, David Brian Stone Jr., 19; and Joshua Matthew Stone 21. Attorneys for Ms. Stone, David Jr. and Joshua declined to comment Tuesday; the senior Mr. Stone had no attorney as of late Tuesday.

The Hutaree appears based at Mr. Stone's home, a pair of dilapidated house trailers near the intersection of dirt roads in rural Clayton, Michigan—population 303—about 85 miles southwest of Detroit. The yard this week held three cars, a dog house, debris and a gun leaning on an old washing machine.

Family members and acquaintances said Mr. Stone doesn't curse, smoke or drink alcohol and was a strict disciplinarian with his sons, whom he home-schooled from a young age. While he rarely attended church, he studied the Bible nightly, memorizing long passages, said Ms. Harsh, his ex-fiance. Several scripture passages appear on the Hutaree Web site.

On his page on the MySpace social-networking site, Mr. Stone, using the alias of "(RD) Merzonik," listed his interests as "GOD, Guns and Girls." He said he liked action and science-fiction movies and writes, "only dead people are true heroes ... so I guess I don't have any." He listed his hometown as, "Wasteland, America," and 73 MySpace friends include several state and county militias.

Mr. Stone is listed as a 1982 graduate of Sand Creek High School on an alumni Web site. Donna Stone, his ex-wife, said she met Mr. Stone in the mid-1990s when she worked at a deli counter and he was a customer. She said he was charming and funny.

But Mr. Stone increasingly displayed a stubborn streak, as well as an affinity for guns. Ms. Stone, 44, said she left him after about a decade together. "When he went from handguns to big guns, I said, 'Enough,' " she said.

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Ms. Harsh, 40, said she began dating Mr. Stone in 2008 after meeting him at a plastics recycling factory where they worked. Mr. Stone showed her a Hutaree business card when they met, but otherwise said little about the group while they dated for several months.

After they moved in together, Ms. Harsh said, he spent hours on the computer, building the group's Web site and searching online for weapons. "His life was pretty much consumed by the Hutaree," she said.

Mr. Stone despised authority, Ms. Harsh said, particularly "anyone with a badge." She said his temper finally drove her away last year. Mr. Stone remarried a few months later.

Ron Gaydosh, 62, said he had known Mr. Stone for more than 15 years, and frequently invited the Stones over for barbecues. He described Mr. Stone as a "good guy," with "all-around good kids," and said the family enjoyed hunting and fishing.

He said Mr. Stone was easily upset by talk of the government. "Some of the things that upset Dave also upset me," said Mr. Gaydosh, who belongs to another militia group with no ties to Hutaree. They frequently discussed survivalist techniques and poked fun at government officials, he said, but "there was never any violence planned."

Mr. Gaydosh said Mr. Stone didn't like law enforcement officials driving by and shining lights at Mr. Stone's house, adding that he always referred to police as "feds." Mr. Stone also didn't like neighbors complaining about his target shooting, Mr. Gaydosh said.

It's not clear whether Mr. Stone had money troubles. Ms. Harsh said he was working at Demlow Products, an auto-industry supplier in Clayton; a person who answered the phone at the company declined to comment. Mr. Stone and his ex-wife, Donna Stone, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in 1999.

Over the past couple of years, Mr. Stone attracted more Hutaree members, Ms. Harsh said: "His goal was to have all of the states have at least one group of Hutaree."

But he scared off some potential recruits. Jon Killman said he visited Mr. Stone and his sons in December because he was interested in joining a militia to practice survival skills.

He said Mr. Stone was a gracious host and offered him coffee. But soon Mr. Killman "got a bad vibe" as the Stones started joking about police officers who'd been shot in a coffee shop in Washington state.

The family's dining room table was strewn with shotgun shells, Mr. Killman recalled. The elder Mr. Stone said the shells would be filled with gunpowder and tied to trip wires to simulate landmines.

At first "they just seemed like a down-to-earth hillbilly family," he said. "After 20 minutes into the meeting, I realized these guys are not dealing with a full deck."

Matt Savino, commander of the Lenawee Volunteer Michigan Militia near Mr. Stone's home, said in recent months Mr. Stone became "paranoid" and began asking other militia groups to join in military exercises.

Mr. Stone began talking more about how "the federal government was coming down on them" and the need to be on the offensive and retain the element of surprise, Mr. Savino said.

Ms. Harsh said Mr. Stone "always thought he could hide from the government. He thought he was invincible."

James Oberman contributed to this article.

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