Offering a splendid example of the dubious practice called “lying by headline,” the New York Times reports that a federal judge in Michigan has “acquitted” members of the Hutaree militia on sedition charges. Although the ruling, like an acquittal, is not reversible, using that term to describe the outcome dramatically understates the magnitude of the federal government’s loss in the sedition case, which was thrown out of court before it could reach the jury.
In dismissing the sedition charge, U.S. District Judge Victoria A. Roberts ruled – for the second time – that the case was entirely devoid of merit. This wasn’t so much an acquittal of the defendants as a summary rebuke to the over-reaching prosecution – who had manufactured a “seditious conspiracy” charge with the help of a paid agent provocateur.
The Obama administration’s indictment was “built largely of circumstantial evidence,” pronounced Judge Roberts. “While this evidence could certainly lead a rational fact-finder to conclude that `something fishy’ was going on, it does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendants reached a concrete agreement to forcibly oppose the United States government.”
While two of the defendants, David Brian Stone and his son Joshua, still face relatively trivial weapons charges, dismissal of the spurious sedition case relieves all of the defendants of the prospect of life in prison as punishment for engaging in “hate speech” regarding law enforcement officers and other government officials.
Former federal prosecutor Peter J. Henning, a law professor at Michigan’s Wayne State University, predicts that dismissal of the case against the loosely organized and previously obscure Hutaree militia – which was more properly described as a “social club” – will “make the FBI more hesitant to intervene early on when you’re talking about domestic threats.” In this case – like many others involving purported Muslim terrorist cells – the FBI actually manufactured a supposed “threat” by planting a paid informant in the midst of a group of political dissidents with no documented inclination toward criminal violence.
The federal indictment described the Hutaree militia as a domestic terrorist group – the very incarnation of recent warnings from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security regarding the supposed menace of “anti-government extremism.” At the beginning of the trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Graveline dramatically announced:”The court will hear testimony and examine evidence concerning this particular group’s hatred for, and desire to do physical harm to, law enforcement.”
The federal case was built on 100 hours of covertly recorded conversations and the testimony of a confidential informant (that is, federal snitch) who has pleaded guilty to a domestic violence charge involving the use of a firearm.
Rather than accusing Hutaree activists with plotting specific material offenses, the Feds charged them with “sedition” – an “offense” consisting of expressing opinions about government corruption and making physical preparations to for self-defense against criminal violence by government authorities.
The Hutaree group militia was accused of plotting to murder a law enforcement officer and then follow up with opportunistic attacks on other LEOs who would attend the funeral. (Ironically, a similar tactic has been used by the Obama administration in its drone-fired missile strikes in Pakistan, in which initial attacks on suspected “militants” are quickly followed by secondary assaults targeting first responders and others who rush to the scene to aid victims.) This assault would supposedly precipitate a wide-scale revolt against the federal government and its local affiliates.
Conversations discussing that scenario were reported by the federal informant who infiltrated the group and – acting as a provocateur– thoughtfully offered to teach them how to make improvised explosive devices.
While federal prosecutors collected evidence that members of the Hutaree group are passionately anti-government — a sentiment as innately American as baseball, apple pie, and the writings of Thomas Paine – they weren’t able to demonstrate that the group did anything more than engage in survivalist training.
Defense attorneys, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1969 Brandenburg v. Ohio decision, insisted that seditious speech — including speech that constitutes an incitement to violence — is protected by the First Amendment as long as it does not indicate an “imminent” threat.
The prosecutors’ brief, invoking the 1995 seditious conspiracy trial of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, maintained that it was not necessary to demonstrate a threat of imminent harm, but rather only that the defendants had formed an “agreement to oppose by force the authority of the United States.”
(It should be noted that Rahman was able to obtain a U.S. visa only through the CIA’s intervention, and that the radical Muslim terrorist cell he joined, which carried out the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, included at least three others who had been on the payroll of U.S. intelligence.)
Federal prosecutors originally attempted to have all nine members of the Hutaree militia held without bail as a severe threat to public safety. In May 2010, Judge Roberts granted them bail. She also expressed pointed misgivings about the merits of the federal case.
Judge Roberts didn’t find the government’s case compelling.
“Discussions about killing local law enforcement officers — and even discussions about killing members of the judicial branch of government — do not translate to conspiring to overthrow, or levy war against, the United States government,” she wrote.
“The message emanating from this case is it is not only protected speech to criticize the government, it is downright patriotic to question authority,” asserted attorney Todd Shanker, who had represented David Stone, Jr., told the Detroit Free Press. Erstwhile Hutaree defendant Michael Meeks – one of nine people who had endured arrest, detention, and years of expensive and stressful official persecution for exercising their rights — offered a more sobering assessment of the outcome.
“Watch what you say,” Meeks, a former U.S. Marine, summarized. “Even the most innocent of statements can be used against you.”
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