JUDY WOODRUFF: The arrests of extremist militia members and their plot to kill police officers in Michigan, Margaret Warner has the story.
MARGARET WARNER: Nine people belonging to a Michigan-based Christian militia have been charged in an alleged plot to murder law enforcement officials. Seven of them were arraigned in federal court today.
Authorities said members of the group, known as Hutaree, conspired to — quote — “levy war against the United States.” The heart of their alleged plot? Kill a police officer, then mount attacks on other officers who attend the funeral or otherwise respond.
The FBI arrested eight of the nine suspects in raids over the weekend in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. Hutaree’s Web site features videos showing its members training for armed operations. The group declares it is preparing to battle the Antichrist.
For more on the story, we turn now to Paul Egan, the federal court reporter for The Detroit News.
And, Paul, welcome back to the program.
Tell us a little more about the conspiracy that these folks are charged with trying to perpetrate. It was pretty elaborate, wasn’t it?
PAUL EGAN, The Detroit News: Yes, the charges are quite serious.
The government says that they had been planning various ways to harm or kill law enforcement officers, in the hopes that this would lead to a greater uprising.
And the specific allegation, the most — the most — the most serious one is that they had planned to kill a police officer, and then, when scores of officers gathered for the funeral of that officer, they would use various types of missiles and improvised explosives to — to bomb the funeral procession.
MARGARET WARNER: And then they thought that would trigger some kind of uprising against the government?
PAUL EGAN: That’s — that’s what the government is alleging, yes.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, tell us about this group, this David Brian Stone, other members of his family and other people affiliated with him. Who are they, and what is driving them?
PAUL EGAN: Well, they — they are a group that has operated very much under the radar.
Few people I have spoken to had ever heard of them before this weekend. They describe themselves as a Christian militia. They wear camouflage and insignia. They have a complex paramilitary organization, in that they have titles and ways of referring to each other. And they — they have never really come to the attention of — of anybody until — until this recent operation by the FBI.
MARGARET WARNER: But when they say that they — on the Web site, it says that they are preparing to defend, I guess, the world against the Antichrist, I mean, how does — what is the religious connection here, and how does that connect to wanting to attack law enforcement officers?
PAUL EGAN: I spoke today to Stone’s ex-wife, who used to live with him in this trailer that the FBI raided over the weekend. She says that, you know, he — he was always religious, but that he — he developed this interpretation of the Book of Revelations, that he believed that there was an imminent battle coming with the forces of the Antichrist, and that it was his job to lead the battle against it.
And she said that he had a lot of weapons, that he threatened her in the past, and that, when he started getting larger and more dangerous weapons was when she decided that she would have to leave the marriage.
Not entirely clear what the relationship is between this battle against the Antichrist and killing police officers. Interestingly, the indictment and the U.S. attorney, if you talk to her in Detroit, they don’t make any reference to this group’s religious beliefs. They just say: We believe this is a militant group that wants to kill police officers. We don’t know anything about their religion.
And there’s nothing in the indictment that comments on their religious beliefs.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, how did the FBI get on to them, and why arrest them now? Because this plot, according to the indictment, had been under way for quite some time, at least 18 months.
PAUL EGAN: Right.
And — and we don’t know exactly how the FBI got on to this. I mean, one thing, it may have been just as simple as somebody looking on the Internet and giving them a tip, because, as you mentioned, Margaret, they weren’t exactly bashful about posting anti-police rhetoric and — and other extreme comments on — on Web sites.
And they had a number of Web sites. And they had a MySpace page and at least one Facebook page. So, you know, they were really out there on the Internet. And it may have been just as simple as that.
The reason the — the feds decided to move now is that they learned that they were planning an operation for April. It was going to be what they called a — a reconnaissance operation, in preparation for — for later developments.
But Stone had sent out the message that, if anybody — you know, if anybody happens upon this operation, anybody comes along, and they don’t do exactly what you tell them, and this could be an innocent passerby, that the group was to kill them. And — and the U.S. attorney said, based on that, they felt they couldn’t wait any longer, and they had to move and make arrests.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, this — oh, you were in court today. So, how did that go? I mean, did they speak? Did they say anything? What did they look like? How did they react?
PAUL EGAN: They — they didn’t say very much.
Seven of the defendants were arraigned in Detroit today. One was arraigned in — in Hammond, Indiana. And he had more to say, actually, than the ones in Detroit. I’m told that he actually denied committing the crimes. So, the defendants that appeared in Detroit today didn’t enter a plea. Some of their family members were there. It was a fairly packed courtroom.
But, really, they just — they appeared in green jail garb, having been arrested over the weekend. The alleged leader of this group is a tall, slim white man with white hair. And he wore glasses. And, you know, they really — they all looked like people that could be basically your neighbors.
These are people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, didn’t — they don’t have any — any radical appearance to them. They are all clean-shaven. But, really, all they said was that they don’t have attorneys yet, and they were bound over until Wednesday, when there’s going to be detention hearings.
MARGARET WARNER: And, very briefly, this part of Michigan has seen other militia elements, hasn’t it?
PAUL EGAN: Yes. Yes, there has. And, most notably, the Oklahoma City bombing, Timothy — Timothy McVeigh had ties to Michigan. James Nichols was — a co-defendant in that case — had lived in — on a farm in Michigan for a considerable period of time.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Paul Egan The Detroit News, thank you so much.
PAUL EGAN: Thank you, Margaret.