DETROIT – Nine alleged members of a Christian militia group that claimed to be girding for battle with the Antichrist were charged Monday with plotting to kill a police officer and slaughter scores more by bombing the funeral – all in hopes of touching off an uprising against the U.S. government.
Seven men and one woman believed to be part of the Michigan-based Hutaree were arrested over the weekend in raids in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. The ninth suspect was arrested Monday night after a search in rural southern Michigan.
FBI agents moved quickly against Hutaree because its members were planning an attack sometime in April, prosecutors said. Authorities seized guns in the raids but would not say whether they found explosives.
The arrests have dealt “a severe blow to a dangerous organization that today stands accused of conspiring to levy war against the United States,” Attorney General Eric Holder said.
Authorities said the arrests underscored the dangers of homegrown right-wing extremism of the sort seen in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people.
In an indictment, prosecutors said the group began military-style training in the Michigan woods in 2008, learning how to shoot guns and make and set off bombs.
David Brian Stone, 44, of Clayton, Mich., and one of his sons were identified as ringleaders of the group. Stone, who was known as “Captain Hutaree,” organized the group in paramilitary fashion and members were assigned secret names, prosecutors said. Ranks ranged from “radoks” to “gunners,” according to the group’s Web site.
“It started out as a Christian thing,” Stone’s ex-wife, Donna Stone, told the Associated Press. “You go to church. You pray. You take care of your family. I think David started to take it a little too far.”
Donna Stone said her ex-husband pulled her son into the movement. Another of David Stone’s sons was arrested Monday night about 30 miles from the site of the weekend raid at a home where he was found with five other adults and a child.
Joshua Matthew Stone surrendered about 8 p.m., said Andrew Arena, head of the FBI’s field office in Detroit. Stone’s friends and relatives had recorded messages, urging him to surrender, that the FBI played over loudspeakers outside the home before he and the others came out willingly, Arena said.
“We’re guessing he’s been in there at least a day,” Arena said.
Arena said the other adults at the home were taken into custody and will be interviewed. A determination will be made later about whether they might face charges, he said. The child was 1 or 2 years old, Arena said.
Other details, including whether those in the house had weapons or were affiliated with Hutaree, weren’t immediately released.
Prosecutors said David Stone had identified certain law enforcement officers near his home as potential targets. He and other members discussed setting off bombs at a police funeral, using a fake 911 call to lure an officer to his death, killing an officer after a traffic stop, or attacking the family of an officer, according to the indictment.
After such attacks, the group allegedly planned to retreat to “rally points” protected by trip-wired explosives for a violent standoff with the law.
“It is believed by the Hutaree that this engagement would then serve as a catalyst for a more widespread uprising against the government,” the indictment said.
The charges against the eight include seditious conspiracy – plotting to levy war against the U.S. – possessing a firearm during a crime of violence, teaching the use of explosives, and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction – homemade bombs.
Hutaree says on its Web site its name means “Christian warrior” and describes the word as part of a secret language few are privileged to know. The group quotes several Bible passages and declares: “We believe that one day, as prophecy says, there will be an Anti-Christ. … Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment.”
The nature of the organization’s alleged grudge against law enforcement and the government was unclear. The Web site does not list specific grievances.
The site features a picture of 17 men in camouflage, all holding large guns, and includes videos of armed men running through the woods. Each wears a shoulder patch that bears a cross and two red spears.
David Cid, executive director of the Oklahoma City-based Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, said there has been a resurgence in the past year or two of “domestic militancy” similar to what was seen before the Oklahoma City bombing.
“It’s issues like eminent domain and immigration, and apparently national health care in some quarters,” said Cid, a former FBI counterterrorism agent. “It’s increasing these people’s ire and their discomfort with their own government.”
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.
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.”
She 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.”
One of the defendants expressed anti-tax views during his Monday court hearing.
Thomas W. Piatek, a truck driver from Whiting, Ind., told a federal judge he could not afford an attorney because he was “getting raped on property taxes.”
The mother of another defendant, 33-year-old Jacob Ward, told police in Huron, Ohio, last summer that family members took away his two guns – an AK-47 rifle and a semiautomatic pistol – because she thought he needed mental health treatment.
Ward told police he needed to protect himself from members of a crime family that was keeping him from his girlfriend, according to Huron police records. He also said he was going to meet with the CIA.