When the FBI wanted to highlight its work against extremist milita movements in September, they singled out their case against members of the Michigan-based Christian group known as the Hutaree as an “example of the dangers posed by so-called militia extremists.”
In the largest and highest profile bust of an extremist milita group in recent memory, nine members of the Hutaree were arrested in March 2010 and accused of being involved in a conspiracy to kill cops and start a battle with federal authorities. But on Tuesday, the four year ordeal came to a dramatic end when the vast majority of the case was tossed out. So how does fact that a judge tossed the conspiracy charges against members of the Hutaree reflect on the FBI’s larger battle against extremist militias?“Whatever the particular merits of this case, the reality is that things of this nature are going on across the country whether or not prosecutors are able to make a case that actually sticks. What I don’t think this means is ‘there’s no threat.’ There clearly is a threat from the radical right,” Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center told TPM.
“It’s always very difficult to make a conspiracy case, American juries are known for their reluctance to convict on conspiracy cases, but of course this wasn’t a jury question,” Potok said.
“These cases are often close calls and its often impossible to judge them without being in the courtroom. It really is a question for the judge and jurors,” Potok said. “That said, the fact that so many of these people were acquitted does not mean there’s not an active and a dangerous right out there, there really is. Whatever becomes of this case, the fact remains we’ve seen an an enormous expansion of the radical right in recent years.”
The key failure in the Hutaree case, according to Judge Victoria Roberts, was that the alleged plot wasn’t specific enough. The FBI had planted an undercover agent in the group known as “Jersey Steve” who even served as best man at leader David Stone’s wedding. Roberts concluded that Stone’s words didn’t rise to the level of a concrete plot against the government, noting that there wasn’t a time and place for the alleged attack to take place.
The FBI has dealt with other extremist militia cases. In October, a Georgia man was found guilty of bringing guns over state lines with the intent of taking over a Tennessee courthouse to execute “citizens arrest warrants.” The case against Schaeffer Cox continues to unfold in Alaska, while a case against senior citizen members of a militia group allegedly plotting an attack against the government is in its early stages. But as the FBI emphasizes the threat that militia groups pose, the Hutaree case may have them rethinking their approach.