FBI says ruse created to arrest militia members
Associated Press Writers
DETROIT (AP) – Five members of a Midwest Christian militia accused of conspiring to overthrow the government were lured to a warehouse to attend a phony memorial service so they would be unarmed when authorities arrested them, Michigan’s chief federal agent said Thursday.
The ruse in Ann Arbor was part of a series of weekend raids in several states that resulted in the indictment of nine people in the alleged plot, officials said.
“We basically set up a scenario where we were able to draw them all to one location,” Andrew Arena, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Detroit, told The Associated Press. “And the reason we did that was to obviously get them away from their weapons.”
Nine suspected members of a group called the Hutaree based in southern Michigan’s Lenawee County were charged this week with seditious conspiracy, or plotting to levy war against the U.S., attempting to use weapons of mass destruction and other crimes.
They planned to make a false 911 call, kill responding police officers and set off a bomb at the funeral to kill many more, according to prosecutors. The FBI said it broke up the plot with the help of an undercover agent and informants.
Eight of the suspects are in custody in the Detroit area. The ninth is being held in Indiana.
U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Donald A. Scheer in Detroit said Thursday he needed more time to decide whether to grant prosecutors’ request that the eight remain locked up until trial. A decision was expected Friday.
Urging Scheer to deny the request for bond, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Falvey Jr. said that while there is nothing wrong with owning guns or hating the government, it is illegal when “people with dark hearts and evil intents” gather to discuss ways to commit violence.
Releasing the defendants would allow them to regroup and would increase their fear of law enforcement, Falvey said.
The Hutaree are self-proclaimed “Christian warriors” who trained themselves in paramilitary techniques in preparation for what they say on their Web site is a battle against the Antichrist.
Defense attorneys told Scheer that no evidence against the group has been aired outside the indictment.
Kristopher Sickles, 27, of Sandusky, Ohio, issued a statement late Thursday in which he said he is “not an extremist, racist or a cop killer.” In the statement, released by his brother, Alec Romick of Huron, Ohio, Sickles said he is “simply guilty by association and personally had no intentions of harming any person, member of law enforcement or the United States government.”
Arena said the FBI started looking into the Hutaree nearly two years ago based on “information from the public” he wouldn’t disclose.
An undercover agent infiltrated the group, becoming part of suspected ringleader David Brian Stone’s inner circle, making explosive devices under Stone’s supervision and attending meetings and special family events, authorities said.
They said the agent accompanied Stone and others to a planned meeting of militias in Kentucky in February. They were forced to turn back in Indianapolis because of bad weather, but the agent recorded a speech to those in the van by a speaker identified as Stone.
“Now it’s time to strike and take our nation back so we will be free of tyranny,” the speaker said on the recording played Wednesday in U.S. District Court. “The war will come whether we are ready or not.”
Stone’s attorney, William Swor, objected on free speech grounds, saying the tape and government’s testimony shows only “my client has an opinion and knows how to use his mouth.”
Arena said the FBI investigation found that Stone, 44, and his followers did more than just talk.
“We’ve got evidence … that it wasn’t just paramilitary training,” he said. “It wasn’t just a bunch of guys out playing army in the woods. They had taken some steps down the road towards actually doing something.”
The government alleges the Hutaree planned to conduct training in April. Stone wanted anyone who came upon them to be “put on the ground by a bullet or knife,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Waterstreet said.
“That’s the point we had to take this thing down,” Arena said. “When you start talking about actually interacting with innocent third parties, that’s when we can’t let it go any further.”
Authorities say Saturday’s arrests of Stone and the others sent Stone’s 21-year-old son, Joshua Stone, into hiding – and into action. The younger Stone is accused of calling on other Hutaree members and friends and gathering food and weapons.
He hunkered down in a camper on land owned by family friend Bob Dudley in Hillsdale County’s Wheatland Township. The government said the property was a “rally point” for the Hutaree where members could meet once the fighting started.
Arena said the FBI went to great lengths to prevent a violent standoff with Joshua Stone, who “had access to weapons.” They set up what Arena called “a very loose perimeter” and played recorded messages from family and friends urging him to surrender. Joshua Stone surrendered peacefully on Monday.
“Maybe he had an epiphany out there,” he said. “Dad wasn’t there. The leader wasn’t there. He was with these other people. I don’t know exactly what happened inside that location. Maybe they talked some sense into him.
“It didn’t go down like Dad said it was going to go down.”
Associated Press Writer Ed White contributed to this report.
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