No one quite knows why the group in the middle of the latest armed-militia controversy calls itself the Hutaree. Even the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery, Ala., group that monitors militias and extremist groups, knows little about the Hutaree. Bloggers following the raids on Hutaree camps in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio over the weekend speculated that the word was made up, one that came out of the group's own invented dialect, which appears to include military ranks with bizarre names of no clear etymology (its leader, for instance, was known as Captain Hutaree, and was sometimes just called, Joe Stonewall.)
But while the name Hutaree may have a mysterious flavor, the plot its members were reportedly hatching was part of a familiar form of American paranoia. On Monday, federal authorities charged nine alleged Hutaree members with seditious conspiracy and attempted use of weapons of mass destruction. The government believes the group which apparently espouses an extreme form of fundamentalist Christianity may have been plotting to kill law-enforcement officers to help spark a broader armed conflict. According to court documents, the Hutaree deemed police "foot soldiers" of the federal government which in turn was part of the new world order, a perpetual bogeyman of militia groups.
While training, Hutaree members reportedly wear tiger-stripe camouflage uniforms, with shoulder patches bearing a black cross, two brown vertical pillars that form the letter H. All part, it seems, of "Preparing for the end time battles to keep the testimony of Jesus Christ alive," as a slogan on the Hutaree's website declares (it has a background of military fatigue). A photo on the site shows 18 men holding rifles in a wooded area. There's also a two-minute YouTube video showing men running through woods, wearing fatigues, shooting rifles.
The group's alleged plot appears to have required killing a cop at a traffic stop, or after a faked 911 call. Then, the group planned to attack the funeral of that officer in order to wreak further havoc by killing even more government and law-enforcement officials who would have gathered to mourn. According to court documents, Hutaree members met in February in Lewanee County, Mich., a rural county of barely 100,000 about a 90-minute drive southwest of Detroit, to train for just such an April exercise. The Hutaree website has a message urging members to contact headquarters immediately for an April 24 training exercise. In court documents, federal authorities said the Hutaree leader may have already identified the initial law-enforcement target.
So far, the authorities have charged nine alleged Hutaree members. On Monday, some of those defendants appeared in a Detroit courtroom on Monday morning. Among them was David Brian Stone Sr., 45, identified by the feds as the Hutaree leader. Wiry with close-cropped silver hair, he appeared in a green Wayne County, Mich., jail uniform. He barely uttered a word throughout the proceeding. The authorities said the group was apparently formed in August 2008, and was divided into separate units led by Stone and one of his sons, Joshua, 21, who remains at large. The proceeding also included the lone woman in the case so far, Tina Stone, 44, believed to be the Hutaree leader's current wife.
The family members who made it into the courtroom gave the impression that Hutaree was more ragtag than a fearsome killing machine. Brittany Byrant, 18, the fiancé of Stone's son David Jr., said the FBI was gruff during the raid, pointing guns to her head and ordering her to put her six-month-old child on the floor. "He wasn't racist," Bryant said of her fiancé, as she sat in the last row of the courtroom. "I have friends who are Arabic and colored, and David didn't care." Next to her was Donna Stone, the elder man's former wife and the mother of David Jr. She said her ex-husband lived in two single trailers "a hillbilly double-wide" and related how he tried to recruit her into the Hutaree, saying, "'You pray as a family, you stay together as a family.'" She added: "Once he got into the big guns, I said no." She left him.
Still, the Hutaree are a symptom of the continuing militia phenomenon, one that seems to have gained impetus since the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American President of the U.S. The Southern Poverty Law Center says that last year alone, the number of patriot and militia groups increased 244%, to 512. Though not necessarily racist, such groups fiercely oppose the federal government. In recent weeks, the health care debate seems to have fueled antigovernment sentiment that is far different from the last noticeable rise in extremist-group activity, after the 1992 election of Bill Clinton. "These shifts are a little more than some people can take," says Heidi Beirich, the Southern Poverty Law Center's director of research.