Federal authorities had been monitoring members of a Michigan-based Christian militia preparing to fight the Antichrist for some time but were forced to "take them down" over the weekend after learning of an imminent threat against police, the U.S. attorney leading the prosecution said Tuesday.
Barbara McQuade's comments came three days after eight members of a small group of "Christian warriors" were arrested in several Midwestern states and a day after the FBI nabbed a ninth suspect, Joshua Stone, following a standoff at a trailer in rural Michigan.
"The time had come that we needed to arrest them and take them down," McQuade told The Associated Press in an interview at her office.
Across the street in Detroit federal court, Stone was arraigned Tuesday and was ordered held without bond until a hearing Wednesday.
McQuade said the "most troubling" finding of the investigation was that Hutaree members plotted to make a false 911 call, kill responding officers and then use a bomb to kill many more at the funeral.
The nine suspects face seditious conspiracy charges after weekend raids in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. Eight appeared in court Monday.
The arrests 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.
In an indictment, 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 ringleaders. Stone, known as "Captain Hutaree," organized the group in paramilitary fashion, prosecutors said. Ranks ranged from "radoks" to "gunners," according to the group's Web site.
"It started out as a Christian thing," Stone's ex-wife, Donna Stone, told The Associated Press. "You go to church. You pray. You take care of your family. I think David started to take it a little too far."
Holed up at home
Donna Stone said her ex-husband pulled her son, David Brian Stone Jr., into the movement. The arrest of another of the senior Stone's sons Monday night happened 30 miles from the site of the Michigan raid, at a home where he was found with five other adults and a child.
"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.
Arena said the other adults at the home were taken into custody and a determination about whether they will face charges will be made later. The child was 1 or 2 years old, he said.
Other details, including whether those in the house were affiliated with Hutaree, weren't immediately released. Joshua Stone and his family were familiar with the area and may have done some training there, though not necessarily at the site where he was apprehended, Arena said.
Prosecutors said David Stone had identified certain law enforcement officers near his home as potential Hutaree targets. He and other members discussed setting off bombs at a police funeral, using a fake 911 call to lure an officer to his death, killing an officer after a traffic stop, or attacking the family of an officer, according to the indictment.
After such attacks, the group allegedly planned to retreat to "rally points" protected by trip-wired explosives for a violent standoff with the law.
"It is believed by the Hutaree that this engagement would then serve as a catalyst for a more widespread uprising against the government," the indictment said.
The charges against the nine suspects include seditious conspiracy — plotting to levy war against the U.S. — possessing a firearm during a crime of violence, teaching the use of explosives, and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction — homemade bombs.
Hutaree says on its Web site its name means "Christian warrior." The group quotes several Bible passages and declares: "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."
The Web site does not list specific grievances against law enforcement and the government.
The site features a picture of 17 men in camouflage, all holding large guns, and includes videos of armed men running through the woods. Each wears a shoulder patch that bears a cross and two red spears.
Heidi Beirich, research director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said her group learned about Hutaree last year while compiling its annual list of "patriot groups."
"Their Christian apocalyptic vision is quite different from most other militias," Beirich said. "Most don't put their religion first — they're more concerned with out-of-control federal government."
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 agents seized the guns her 27-year-old husband collected as a hobby and searched for bomb-making materials at her home near Sandusky, Ohio, but added: "He doesn't even know how to make a bomb."
One defendant expressed anti-tax views during his Monday court hearing. Thomas W. Piatek, a truck driver from Whiting, Ind., told a federal judge he could not afford an attorney because he was "getting raped on property taxes."
The mother of another defendant, 33-year-old Jacob Ward, told police in Huron, Ohio, last summer that family members took away his two guns — an AK-47 rifle and a semiautomatic pistol — because she thought he needed mental health treatment.