Trial Begins for the Hutaree Militia


The latest trial in what seems like an endless series of ginned-up "domestic terror threats" is under way now in Detroit. Let's check in with some details.

From the Huffington Post, summing up the charges and the defense's basic line:

The seven are charged with conspiring to commit sedition, or rebellion…

A Midwest militia whose members prosecutors say were willing "to go to war" against the U.S. government was more like a "social club" whose talk was little more than fantasy, defense attorneys say.

Displaying guns, vests and other military gear, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Graveline told jurors Monday that members of anti-government Hutaree wanted to kill a police officer as a springboard to a broader rebellion against the U.S. government…

Two defense attorneys offered an opening rebuttal to the government's introduction, telling jurors there was no specific plan to do any harm to anyone in authority.

Jurors will hear more opening statements from defense attorneys Tuesday in the case against seven members of the Hutaree…..

Graveline showed the jury a video clip of leader David Stone declaring, "Welcome to the revolution." The government placed an undercover agent inside the Hutaree and also had a paid informant. More than 100 hours of audio and video were recorded….

Todd Shanker, attorney for David Stone Jr., acknowledged there are "offensive statements" on the recordings but said the words were "almost fantasy" made among people who were comfortable with each other….adding later that the Hutaree really was more of a "social club" than any organized militia.

William Swor, attorney for David Stone…told jurors the government was displaying weapons in court to "make you afraid." Swor said members lived hand-to-mouth and couldn't even afford transportation to a regional militia meeting in Kentucky, a trip that wasn't completed because of bad winter weather. He said it was the undercover agent who supplied the van, gas and a secret camera that captured Stone on video.

Of the original nine defendants, Joshua Clough, of Blissfield, Mich., is the only one to make a deal with prosecutors. He pleaded guilty in December to illegal use of a firearm, faces a mandatory five-year prison sentence and could be called as a witness to testify for the government.

Besides the Stones, the other defendants are Tina Mae Stone and Joshua Stone, both from Lenawee County; Thomas Piatek, of Whiting, Ind.; Michael Meeks, of Manchester, Mich.; and Kristopher Sickles, of Sandusky, Ohio. Jacob Ward, of Huron, Ohio, will have a separate trial. Besides conspiracy charges, all face at least one firearm charge and some have more.

More from the defense, via the Detroit Free Press:

"You will have to decide whether this is a real conspiracy or David Stone exercising his God-given right to blow off steam and open his mouth," Stone's lawyer William Swor of Detroit told jurors. "The United States government has never been the enemy of David Stone or his family. … These are ordinary people living ordinary lives. Doing this stuff was merely their form of recreation."

Details from the Free Press on the jury selection process.

"Patriot movement" mag Republic sums up some of the issues with the government's legal case:

Rather than charging the Hutaree members with overt criminal acts, the Feds are prosecuting them for "sedition" – that is, criminal "offenses" that consist of expressing opinions about government corruption and making physical preparations to for self-defense against criminal violence by government authorities.

Lloyd Meyer, a Chicago attorney and former terrorism prosecutor, points out that this kind of prosecution is very unusual:

"How often do American citizens get charged with sedition or inciting discontent and resistance against big government? Heck, most citizens are discontented with the government. In this case, no one pulled a trigger and no one got hurt. … A jury could believe that the feds went after this group with a meat cleaver instead of a scalpel.

Federal prosecutors initially attempted to have all nine members of the Hutaree militia held without bail as a severe threat to public safety. In May 2010, Federal District Judge Victoria Roberts granted them bail

Defense attorneys, citing the U.S. Supreme Court's 1969 Brandenburg v. Ohio decision, maintain that seditious speech — including speech that constitutes an incitement to violence — is protected by the First Amendment as long as it does not indicate an "imminent" threat.

The prosecutors' brief, invoking the the 1995 seditious conspiracy trial of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, maintained that it was not necessary to demonstrate a threat of imminent harm, but rather only that the defendants had formed an "agreement to oppose by force the authority of the United States."

Jesse Walker wrote here at Reason all the way back in May 2010 after the arrests were first made. Key takeaway:

There are signs that the judge is unimpressed with the state's case, and she has stressed that prosecutors must demonstrate that the arrestees were guilty of an actual conspiracy to kill cops, not just loose talk. Even "hate-filled, venomous speech," she said, is "a right that deserves First Amendment protection."

Obviously we don't know what evidence has yet to be introduced at trial. Perhaps there really is more at issue here than some chest-beating chatter; perhaps there's a good reason to think a genuine murder plot was underway. But either way, we've learned enough about the Hutaree in the last month to know that the media narrative that greeted their arrests hasn't held up. Assume the worst-case scenario: that the defendants really were planning a massacre and that they really were capable of carrying it out. They still aren't the vanguard of the right-wing revolution. The Hutaree are isolated and despised, not just by the American mainstream but by the bulk of the groups on the SPLC's Patriot list. Indeed, the government may have had the help of some anti-Hutaree militiamen as it forged its case against the accused.

More Reason on the Hutaree.

This month's Esquire has the best extended reporting on another case of sleazy government informants enticing some angry white men into saying or planning things that the government can then make a "big terror bust" on, the Georgia "Waffle House terrorism" case. As with the Hutarees and even more so, this arrest and prosecution is much government effort expended in a way that isn't really protecting anyone from anything.