DETROIT — Displaying guns, vests and other military gear, a prosecutor told jurors Monday that members of a Midwest militia were willing "to go to war" in an extraordinary plot to kill a police officer as a springboard to a broader rebellion against the U.S. government.
Some of the evidence was placed directly in front of the jury box as trial opened for seven members of a group called Hutaree, who are charged with conspiring to commit sedition as well as weapons crimes.
Still, defense attorneys dismissed any talk by the defendants as little more than fantasy and equated the group more to a "social club" than a militia.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Graveline said the anti-government Hutaree was looking for some type of conflict to trigger an attack – maybe a traffic stop, a search warrant or a dispute between authorities and another militia.
"They wanted to start an armed confrontation. ... The war to them meant patriots rising up against the government," said Graveline, who held up automatic weapons and other items seized after nine people were arrested in southern Michigan, Indiana and Ohio in March 2010.
The defendants are accused of conspiring to someday ambush and kill a police officer, then attack the funeral procession with explosives and trigger a broader revolt against the U.S. government.
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.
"They were ready, willing and able to go to war. They were preparing for war," the prosecutor said.
Stone and others, wearing their Sunday best instead of military fatigues, listened closely at the start of a trial that could last six to eight weeks. 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.
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.
"These are extreme charges. ... They are going to fail, and they are going to fail miserably," said Shanker, adding later that the Hutaree really was more of a "social club" than any organized militia.
William Swor, attorney for David Stone, said his client was a firm believer in the Bible's Book of Revelation and the coming of an "anti-Christ."
"The anti-Christ as David Stone understands it will come from overseas, and the troops of the anti-Christ will take over America. That is the resistance that David Stone was preparing for," Swor said.
He 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.
"There is a lot of talk and no action whatsoever. ... 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," Swor said.
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.
Twelve jurors and four alternates were selected before opening statements. There are nine women and seven men.