From top left, David Brian Stone Sr., 44, of Clayton, Mich,; David Brian… (U.S. Marshall / Associated…)
Reporting from Washington and Atlanta — Nine members of a Michigan-based anti-government militia that posted its military exercises on the Internet and allegedly plotted to kill police officers were indicted in Detroit on Monday on conspiracy and weapons charges.
The indictment said the Hutaree, which describes itself as a "Christian warrior" group, viewed all law enforcement as the enemy. It said members planned a violent act to get the attention of the police, possibly by killing an officer at a traffic stop, then attacking the funeral procession with explosives.
Federal agents said the small group of extremists had hoped to trigger a military clash with the government, but did not suggest they were part of any larger movement.
In recent months, Hutaree members had conducted military exercises with live ammunition and allegedly tried to obtain materials for bombs that could be used as "weapons of mass destruction." The group also had discussed carrying out an attack in April, authorities said.
The arrests of the Hutaree members comes amid what the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama nonprofit that tracks extremism, has called "an explosion of new extremist groups and activism across the nation." The organization has cited the economic downturn as a major reason for the change, and contends that the far right has been particularly animated by the election of the nation's first black president.
Those groups "came roaring back after years out of the limelight," Mark Potok, director of the SPLC Intelligence Project, wrote in the group’s latest report.
The group's activities were hardly a secret. It maintained a website with videos of its men slogging through the woods and playing war games in military attire. Prosecutors also said David Brian Stone, the group's leader, used the Internet to obtain information on explosives.
Detroit U.S. Atty. Barbara McQuade said agents moved to arrest the nine over the weekend rather than wait for them to attack.
The indictment accuses them of conspiring "to levy war against the United States." Charges include seditious conspiracy, attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence.
"The safety of the public and of the law enforcement community demanded intervention at this time," McQuade said.
"This is an example of racial and extremist fringe groups which can be found throughout our society," said Andrew Arena, the FBI special agent in charge of the Detroit office. "The FBI takes such extremist groups seriously, especially those who would target innocent citizens and the law enforcement officers who protect the citizens of the United States."
Among those indicted along with Stone, 45, were his wife, Tina, 44 -- both of Clayton, Mich. -- and two sons, Joshua, 21, and David Jr., 19, of Adrian, Mich.
The Hutaree wore uniforms with the letters CCR, which stood for Colonial Christian Republic. Their members stood out as extremists even among other militia activists in eastern Michigan.
The group's website, hutaree.com, describes its philosophy.
"We believe that one day, as prophecy says, there will be an Antichrist," the site says. "All Christians must know this and prepare, just as Christ commanded. . . . Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment."
The site features video clips of camouflage-clad people firing weapons and running around in the woods. But unlike some militias, which emphasize the 2nd Amendment's right to bear arms and other constitutional rights, the Hutaree peppers its site with a mix of biblical references and conspiratorial language.
One blog post on the site argues that government unemployment checks are "critical for the government to starve off revolution." A section called "Beast Watch" warns against the "10 Horns of the European Super State."
The Southern Poverty Law Center first became aware of the group last year, when researchers discovered its MySpace page. In February, the SPLC included two chapters of the Hutaree, in Utah and Michigan, on a list of militia groups.
The SPLC, in its recent report, noted an "explosion of new extremist groups and activism" fueled by "broad-based populist anger at political, demographic and economic changes in America." The group identified 512 "patriot" groups that were active in 2009. The group defines such groups as those that "engage in groundless conspiracy theorizing, or advocate or adhere to extreme anti-government doctrines."
Some other members of the militia movement distanced themselves from Hutaree on Monday.
"They talk about fighting the Antichrist and things like that," said Michael Vanderboegh, a former militia member and leading voice of the constitutionalist militia movement in a phone interview. "I'm a Christian, OK? But that's so far around the bend I can't see that bend from here."
Vanderboegh, 57, of Pinson, Ala., has played a part in the debate over the anger and frustration that is sweeping the American right. To protest the new healthcare law, he called "for the breaking of local city and county Democrat headquarters windows," and documented such vandalism as it made headlines around the nation on his blog.
Vanderboegh denounced the Hutaree militia group's "nuttery" on his site, but also wrote that the federal government was wading into sensitive territory with their arrests. "If, God forbid, shots had been exchanged, people killed, or buildings burned down a la Waco, we would be looking at a nationwide mobilization and civil war," he wrote.