March was shaping up to be a happy month for the members of the Hutaree Christian Militia in Michigan.
Joshua Stone, the son of the organization’s leader David Brian Stone, wed his fiance Shannon in a small service on March 13.
The honeymoon didn’t last long. This weekend Josh’s father, his father’s wife Tina Stone, his brother David Brian Stone Jr. and five others — Joshua Clough, 28; Michael Meeks, 40; Thomas Piatek, 46; Kristopher Sickles, 27; and Jacob Ward, 33 — were arrested by the FBI. Josh is currently a fugitive, wanted in connection with an alleged plot to kill law enforcement officers.
In indictments unsealed on Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan alleged that they planned to kill an unidentified member of local law enforcement and then attack other law enforcement officers when they gathered for the funeral.
The nine individuals were charged with seditious conspiracy, attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, teaching the use of explosives materials and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence.
According to a Web site affiliated with the organization, the group was preparing to face the anti-Christ.
Tracking Extremist Movements
Attorney General Eric Holder called the arrests of of the Hutaree members a “severe blow to a dangerous organization.”
“The indictment unsealed today outlines an insidious plan by anti-government extremists to murder a law enforcement officer in order to lure police from across the nation to the funeral where they would be attacked with explosive devices,” Holder said. “Thankfully, this alleged plot has been thwarted and a severe blow has been dealt to an dangerous organization that today stands accused of conspiring to levy war against the United States.”
The indictment does not mention how the FBI tracked the group, but it does mention that leader David Stone used the Internet and e-mailed diagrams of improvised explosive devices to a person he believed capable of manufacturing them. He also organized a meet up in February of several militia groups in Kentucky, but weather prevented them from reaching their destination.
“This is an example of radical and extremist fringe groups which can be found throughout our society,” FBI special agent in charge Andrew Arena said. “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.”
An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment on how the agency investigated the group.
But the group’s online presence would have been a good place to start – the membership of a Facebook group associated with the organization includes several of those indicted. The group also had a Myspace page and posted highly stylized YouTube and Facebook videos set to background music.
Earlier this month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation obtained an internal Justice Department document through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that demonstrates that federal law enforcement have begun to use social networking sites to gather information for investigations.
That makes sense, said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center, because the Internet has made it easier than ever for extremist groups to organize. The SPLC, a nonprofit civil rights organization, has tracked the rise in militia organizations for several years.
“It’s a more efficient way for these people to share their ideas, to get their ideas out there, to recruit, to interact,” Beirich said. “It’s much harder in the 90s when you had to send faxes to tell people what the government is doing bad.”
Law enforcement must have some indication of violence before they can keep files on groups, Beirich said. But the Internet makes that easier.
“It provides intelligence in a way that it didn’t before,” Beirich said.
Beirich attributed the rise of militia movements to several factors, including the economic downturn, the Democrats’ control of Congress and the presidency and changes in the racial dynamics of the country.
According to Beirich, there has been a 240 percent rise in the Patriot movement — extremist groups that see the federal government as their enemy – of which militias are a part, from 2008 to 2009.
But Beirich said the Hutaree group was a bit out of the ordinary.
“That’s a little different than your typical militia,” said Beirich. “These groups usually profess to be Christian, but that type of apocalyptic rhetoric is something quite different. It’s not something typical you see in these types of groups. It almost looks more like a cult than your classic militia.”