Eight U.S. militia members enter not guilty pleas
DETROIT (Reuters) - Eight members of an extremist militia group accused of conspiring to kill law enforcement officers as part of a wider war on the U.S. government pleaded not guilty in federal court on Wednesday.
Attorneys for the eight sought to fight government efforts to have the defendants detained for the duration of the proceedings, a court case that one of the lawyers predicted would be "a mega-trial that will take years to unfold."
The group's leader, 45-year-old David Brian Stone, had planned to take over three or four rural counties in southeastern Michigan and use the toehold to ambush and kill members of U.S. law enforcement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Waterstreet said.
The Christian militia group, which called itself the Hutaree, viewed the police as their enemy because they believed U.S. law enforcement officers were acting as agents of a "new world order," Waterstreet said.
Prosecutors played a recording which they said was taped by a federal agent who had infiltrated the group.
In it, Stone read from a speech he had prepared to deliver at a February meeting of other militia groups in Kentucky -- a meeting that was ultimately canceled because of a snow storm.
"How much longer are you going to put up with a foreign army controlling your streets and highways?" Stone was heard saying.
"Now's the time to strike and take our nation back."
William Swor, the attorney defending Stone, said his client was only exercising his constitutional right to free speech.
"What we heard today is that Mr. Stone talks a lot, that Mr. Stone is angry," Swor said in court. "There's nothing that says he was looking to make war on the United States."
A lawyer for the ninth suspect arrested in the four-state raid, Thomas Piatek, 46, of Whiting, Indiana, agreed with that assessment.
"The question is where they actually serious, or just a bunch of guys beating their chests and issuing rants?" said Jerry Flynn, his court-appointed attorney.
"There are a lot of allegations with very little proof."
An FBI agent said Piatek had nearly 50 firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition in his home. A magistrate judge in Indiana ordered Piatek transferred to Michigan, where he could stand trial with the others.
A federal grand jury indictment unsealed this week in Detroit charged the eight men and one woman with seditious conspiracy, attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence. They could face up to life in prison.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Stern in Chicago; editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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