Nine alleged members of a Christian militia group that was girding for battle with the Antichrist were charged Monday with plotting to kill a police officer and slaughter scores more by bombing the funeral — all in hopes of touching off an uprising against the U.S. government.
Seven men and one woman believed to be part of the Michigan-based Hutaree were arrested over the weekend in raids in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. The ninth suspect was arrested Monday night after the FBI played recorded messages from family and friends, who urged the man to give himself up, over loudspeakers outside a home in rural southern Michigan.
FBI agents moved quickly against the group because its members were planning an attack sometime in April, prosecutors said. Authorities seized guns in the raids but would not say whether they found any explosives.
The arrests have dealt "a severe blow to a dangerous organization that today stands accused of conspiring to levy war against the United States," Attorney General Eric Holder said.
Authorities said the arrests underscored the dangers of homegrown right-wing extremism of the sort seen in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people.
In an indictment unsealed Monday, prosecutors said the group began military-style training in the Michigan woods in 2008, learning how to shoot guns and make and set off bombs.
David Brian Stone, 44, of Clayton, Mich., and one of his sons were identified as the ringleaders of the group. Stone, who was known as "Captain Hutaree," organized the group in paramilitary fashion and members were assigned secret names, prosecutors said. Ranks ranged from "radoks" to "gunners," according to the group's Web site.
"We're guessing he's been in there at least a day," Andrew Arena, head of the FBI's field office in Detroit, said after Joshua Stone surrendered.
Arena noted the pleas from Stone's family and friends. "They worked with us. They recorded some messages for us," he said.
According to the indictment, the group had been meeting and conducting military-style training exercises in the Michigan woods since 2008 to prepare for an impending war with its enemies. Members practiced building and detonating explosives and shooting firearms and built storage bunkers, investigators said.
Prosecutors said David Brian Stone, the militia leader, downloaded information about how to build explosive devices from the Internet and e-mailed diagrams of them to someone he believed was capable of making them, NBC reported.
He then directed his son and others to begin gathering the needed materials. Stone was charged, along with his wife and two sons.
The Detroit News quoted Donna Stone, the ex-wife of Stone, as saying his growing radicalism was a factor in their divorce three years ago.
"You pray as a family, you stay together as a family," the News report Stone as saying. "When he got carried away, when he went from handguns to big guns, it's like, now I'm done."
The group says on its Web site that Hutaree means "Christian warrior" and describes the word as part of a secret language that few are privileged to know. The group quotes several Bible passages and states: "We believe that one day, as prophecy says, there will be an Anti-Christ. ... Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment." Religious scholars contacted by NBC News on Monday had not heard of the term.
The site also features a picture on the site of 17 camouflaged men, all holding large guns, and includes videos of camouflaged men toting guns and running through wooded areas in apparent training exercises. Each wears a patch on his left shoulder that bears a cross and two red spears.
Investigators: Police seen as enemy
According to investigators, the Hutaree view local, state, and federal law enforcement personnel as a "brotherhood" and an enemy, and planned to attack them as part of an armed struggle against the U.S. government.
The idea of attacking a police funeral was one of numerous scenarios discussed as ways to go after law enforcement officers, the indictment said. Other scenarios included using a fake 911 call to lure an officer to his or her death, killing an officer after a traffic stop or an attacking the family of a police officer.
Once other officers gathered for a slain officer's funeral, the group planned to detonate homemade bombs at the funeral, killing scores more, according to the indictment.
After the attacks, the group allegedly planned to retreat to "rally points" protected by trip-wired improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, for what they expected would become a violent standoff with law enforcement personnel.
The indictment says members of the group conspired "to levy war against the United States, (and) to oppose by force the authority of the government of the United States."
The charges against the eight include seditious conspiracy, possessing a firearm during a crime of violence, teaching the use of explosives, and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction — homemade bombs. All seven defendants in court on Monday requested to be represented by the federal defender's office, and a bond hearing is set for Wednesday.
Raids over the weekend
The raids on the group began over the weekend. FBI agents in Michigan swarmed a rural, wooded property Saturday evening in Adrian, about 70 miles southwest of Detroit. The same night in Hammond, Ind., law enforcement agents flooded a neighborhood, startling workers at a nearby pizzeria. In Ohio, authorities blocked off streets and raided two homes.
Outside Adrian, Heidi Wood, who lives near the property that was raided, said she hears gunshots "all the time" from near two ramshackle trailers that sit side-by-side. On Monday, a long gun leaned against a washing machine that sat in the yard, and on top of a nearby canister was another long gun.
Wood's mother, Phyllis Brugger, who has lived in the area for more than 30 years, said Stone and his family were known as having ties to militia. They would shoot guns and often wore camouflage, she said.
"Everybody knew they were militia," Brugger said. "You don't mess with them."
In Ohio, one of the raids occurred at Bayshore Estates, a well-kept trailer park in Sandusky, a small city on Lake Erie between Toledo and Cleveland. Neighbors said the man taken into custody lived in a trailer on a cul-de-sac with his wife and two young children.
The wife of one of the defendants described Hutaree as a small group of patriotic, Christian buddies who were just doing survival training.
"It consisted of a dad and two of his sons and I think just a couple other close friends of theirs," said Kelly Sickles, who husband, Kristopher, was among those charged. "It was supposed to be a Christian group. Christ-like, right, so why would you think that's something wrong with that, right?"
Sickles said she came home Saturday night to find her house in Sandusky, Ohio, in disarray. Agents seized the guns her husband collected as a hobby and searched for bomb-making materials, she said, but added: "He doesn't even know how to make a bomb. We had no bomb material here."
She said she couldn't believe her 27-year-old husband could be involved in anything violent.
"It was just survival skills," she said. "That's what they were learning. And it's just patriotism. It's in our Constitution."
The FBI's Arena said the case "is an example of radical and extremist fringe groups which can be found throughout our society. 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."
FBI spokesman Scott Wilson said agents arrested two people Saturday after raids in two towns in Ohio. A third arrest was made in northeast Illinois on Sunday, a day after a raid took place just over the border in northwest Indiana.
Michael Lackomar, a spokesman for the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia, said one of his team leaders got a frantic phone call Saturday evening from members of Hutaree, who said their property in southwest Michigan was being raided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
"They said they were under attack by the ATF and wanted a place to hide," Lackomar said. "My team leader said, 'no thanks.'"
The team leader was cooperating with the FBI, Lackomar said. He said SMVM wasn't affiliated with Hutaree, which states on its Web site to be "prepared to defend all those who belong to Christ and save those who aren't."
Lackomar said none of the raids focused on his group, which is affiliated with the Michigan Militia, a larger militia umbrella group. About eight to 10 members of Hutaree trained with SMVM twice in the past three years, he said. SMVM holds monthly training sessions focusing on survival training and shooting practice, he added.