Feds: Christian militia needed to be `taken down’

Liz De La Torre

From The Associated Press

DETROIT – It started inside a trailer home in rural Michigan, where a small family gathered before bed for prayer. Years later, the private devotions had evolved into a small militia of “Christian warriors” preparing to fight the Antichrist.

The changes in David Brian Stone’s personal theology partly destroyed his marriage, his former wife says, and prosecutors claim they later led him to hatch a plot to kill police officers — a violent act the militia hoped would touch off an uprising against the government.

“The time had come that we needed to arrest them and take them down,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press.

Prosecutors believe that Stone, 44, of Clayton, is the ringleader of the Hutaree militia, a name the group’s Web site says they created to mean “Christian warrior.” He was among eight members arrested during a series of weekend raids in three Midwestern states, which federal officials said they carried out after monitoring the group since last summer and learning they planned to launch their attack next month.

A ninth defendant — Stone’s son, Joshua Matthew Stone — turned himself in late Monday night following an hours-long standoff with FBI agents and police near a wooded area southwest of Detroit the group had used for training. He and the others face charges that include seditious conspiracy, or plotting to levy war against the U.S.

Each of the suspects has requested a public defender, and bond hearings are scheduled for Wednesday.

Donna Stone, 44, said her ex-husband created the legal problems now faced by her stepson, Joshua Stone, and her 19-year-old son, David Brian Stone Jr., by involving them in a militia that grew out of his faith.

“I honestly feel, and think, their dad never told either of those boys what they were getting into,” she said. “This a bunch of garbage, these charges. There is no way my son would do these things.”

Donna Stone said she met David Brian Stone in the late 1990s in a Meijer grocery superstore where she worked. He courted her and soon afterward, she and her son, Sean Stetten, moved into his small trailer in Lenawee County, near the Ohio state line. The boys were raised as brothers, and David Brian Stone legally adopted Sean, whose name was changed to David Brian Stone Jr.

Both boys were home-schooled and at night, the family would pray together.

“David would preach out of the Bible,” said Donna Stone, who said she was married to David Brian Stone for about six years. “He would start at the beginning of Genesis and go to Revelations. He didn’t get into Revelations because we didn’t agree on it. David said it was supposed to be different. He had his own views. That’s when I thought it was time for me to go.”

The Hutaree Web site 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.”

Chip Berlet, a senior analyst with Political Research Associates, a think tank based in Somerville, Mass., said Hutaree’s online writings suggest the group fits into a Christian apocalyptic ideology that believes the U.S. government is “in league with Satan” and “the chief agent of Satan is the Antichrist.”

“In this particular reading of apocalyptic prophecy, there’s a huge battle between good and evil,” said Berlet, whose group studies right-wing extremists. “Powerful, political elected officials … are conspiring with Satan to build a one-world government.”

McQuade downplayed the role religious ideology played in the group’s alleged plans, saying the “most troubling” finding of their investigation into the Hutaree were the details of their alleged plot. Prosecutors have said the militia planned to make a false 911 call, kill responding police officers and then use a bomb to kill many more at the funeral.

“What we were focused on here is their conduct, not on their religion. And what they have talked about is being very anti-government,” McQuade said. “They fear this `new world order’ and they thought that it was their job to fight against government — the federal government in particular.”

The group was preparing to carry out an attack sometime in April, prosecutors said, after months of paramilitary training that began in 2008 and included learning how to shoot guns and make bombs. Authorities seized guns in the raids but would not say whether they found explosives.

The Hutaree Web site does not list specific grievances against law enforcement and the government. The site features a picture of 17 people in camouflage, all holding guns, and includes videos of armed men running through the woods. Each wears a shoulder patch that bears a cross and two red spears.

McQuade wouldn’t discuss those in the picture who haven’t been arrested, but she said the nine are “the core group” whose conduct “really crossed that line.”

“Just being a member of the group is not enough to get you into trouble,” she said.

FBI officials see little chance the arrests will spur other anti-government extremists to launch their own attacks. The agency issued a bulletin Tuesday to police departments saying it picked up Internet chatter among other militia groups — including some expressing sympathy for the suspects — but few signs of criminal copycats.

“The FBI assesses the likelihood of violent conflict from the remaining group members or other militia extremists as low,” according to an FBI intelligence bulletin obtained by The Associated Press.