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Leonard Zeskind

Leonard Zeskind

Posted: March 30, 2010 04:44 PM

The Hutaree Militia & the Charge of Seditious Conspiracy

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Eight men and one woman from the Hutaree militia have been charged in an Eastern Michigan federal court, according to a recently released indictment. If the charges are to be believed, they apparently planned to kill a lawman and then set up IED's to subsequently kill even more people in the funeral procession. If I am correctly reading between the lines of the indictment, an as yet unnamed person probably provided the information the feds needed to make arrests. In any case, someone is going to have to stand up in open court and testify about this plot. And in order for the feds to get a conviction on counts four and five, "carrying ... a firearm during ... a crime of violence," those witnesses will have to be believable and convincing to the average Michigan juror. The same will hold true for counts two and three, which are also weapons and explosives related charges.

To win the first count, a charge of seditious conspiracy, however, prosecutors will need much more than a good witness. As I describe it in my book, Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream (pp. 144 - 171), the federal government has never won a sedition case against militia-types, white supremacists, or neo-Nazis. Since World War One, they have won numerous seditious conspiracy cases against Puerto Rican independentistas, communists and others on the left. But no one on the radical right has ever been convicted of plotting to overthrow by force of arms the government of the United State of America.

Not that federal prosecutors haven't tried.

During World War Two, two sets of indictments were brought against as many as thirty people with sympathies for the Axis powers. The first one was dropped shortly after it was made. A second set of charges were thrown out of court in 1943. Finally, in 1944, 28 leaders from the Silvershirts, the German-American Bund, the Defenders of the Christian Faith and other National Socialist types were brought to trial in Washington D.C. on charges of sedition. The trial ended after eight months, however, when the judge died. Neither the Roosevelt nor Truman administration re-tried the case.

A second attempt occurred in 1988, when fourteen members of The Order, Aryan Nations, Posse Comitatus and the Covenant Sword and Arm of the Lord faced a mélange of charges -- including seditious conspiracy. The three month trial in Ft. Smith, Arkansas ended in acquittals all around. Simply put, the federals had unbelievable witnesses, a jury with more sympathy for the white supremacists than the prosecutor, and an inept case from start to end.

More significant for the militia case at hand, in order for the prosecution to prove a case of seditious conspiracy they need something more than wild talk and gun charges. They need to be able to prove that these conspiracy-besotted gun nuts had imminent plans to cross the line from speech to sedition.

Now the federal government had less than that when they won convictions of labor militants after World War One and Communist Party members in the 1950s. And the independentistas simply aimed to get the United States government out of their island nation of Puerto Rico, not overthrow it entirely.

Perhaps the government will win the seditious conspiracy case in Michigan, after all. If so, it will be a first.