(Reuters) - A federal judge in Detroit on Wednesday sentenced three members of a Midwest militia group known as the Hutaree to time served on weapons charges, ending attempts to prosecute them for violent revolt that collapsed at trial earlier this year.
David Brian Stone Sr., the leader of the group, and his son Joshua Stone, had pleaded guilty in March to a charge of possessing a machinegun after U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts dismissed more serious charges against them and five other defendants.
An eighth defendant, Joshua John Clough, pleaded guilty to a weapons charge late last year.
Clough and the two Stones will be on supervised release for two years, a court spokeswoman said.
In all, nine members of the Hutaree, a self-styled Christian militia group, were arrested in March 2010 following an undercover operation by the FBI.
They were charged with plotting a violent revolt using weapons of mass destruction.
Prosecutors alleged the eight men and one woman planned to kill a law enforcement official and then ambush the funeral using homemade bombs. The arrest was seen as a sign of the FBI’s determination to crack down on the growing threat of violence posed by homegrown, right-wing militias in the country.
Much of the evidence against the Hutaree consisted of audio and video recordings made by an undercover agent and a paid informant who infiltrated the group.
In the recordings, David Stone Sr. described law enforcement as the enemy, discussed killing police officers and argued for the need to go to war against the government.
Defense attorneys had argued that what the seven did was just talk and were protected by their free speech rights.
In March, two years after the Hutaree were arrested and several weeks into the trial, Judge Roberts agreed with the defense, rebuked prosecutors for bringing the case and dismissed the most serious charges against the remaining defendants.
The ninth man arrested in the 2010 FBI sting, Jacob Ward, was found not competent to face trial.
Wednesday’s sentencing comes four days after a white supremacist gunman opened fire in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, killing six worshippers and raising concerns once again about the threat posed by homegrown extremists.
Until the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington carried out by al Qaeda, the largest such attack on American soil was the 1995 bombing of a government building in Oklahoma City by anti-government zealot Timothy McVeigh that killed 168 people.
Earlier this year, on the eve of the Hutaree trial, the FBI warned that anti-government extremists posed a growing threat to local law enforcement officers.
As of late 2011, there were about 250 active militia groups in the United States, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The Hutaree is classified as a militia, the league said.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman