The Hutaree Among Us: A Michigan Town in the Glare

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Madalyn Ruggiero / AP

A law-enforcement official walks away from an armored vehicle in Hillsdale County, Michigan, on March 29, 2010

Last Saturday, black humvees suddenly appeared in Clayton, Mich. By Sunday evening, helicopters were hovering over the small village, a 90-minute drive southwest of Detroit. "It was weird, like in a movie," recalls Dale Robinson, 59, a displaced autoworker and one of Clayton's 300 or so inhabitants. During the previous week, there had been a rumor — no one knew who started it — that residents should keep their doors and windows locked. Some residents figured an inmate might have escaped from the nearby state prison. It turns out all the commotion was over a group whose alleged leader lived in a double-wide trailer that sits down the gravel road from the local wiring plant where he worked.

That would be David B. Stone Sr., who federal authorities say is the leader of a Christian militia group called the Hutaree, which they accuse of plotting to kill law-enforcement officers in an attempt to spark a broad revolt against the U.S. government. Including raids in Ohio and Indiana over the same weekend, the authorities would arrest nine people, including Stone, his wife Tina and his son David Jr., 19. Another son, Joshua, 21, was apprehended late on Monday. The alleged Hutaree members have been charged with sedition and attempted use of weapons of mass destruction. Says Emily Robinson, 27, who works as a custodian in Clayton: "You never expect to see something so big happen in a small town like this."

Very few locals, however, were even aware of who David B. Stone Sr. was, even if they had heard of militia activity in the area. But Stone grew up in Clayton. About two decades ago, he had apparently been a member of the Michigan militia, a paramilitary group that was active in the late 1990s. He'd always been into guns. Penny Delaney recalled that when she dated Stone about 18 years ago, they would often practice shooting "by swinging the tire [and firing at its opening], to make sure you kept shooting on target." Back then, she said, "he didn't believe in killing things — at least not unless he was going to eat it."

Stone, said Delaney, made his own ammunition, carefully measuring portions of gunpowder to strengthen the shots from his M-15 rifle. He'd store the ammunition in the bedroom of his trailer — partly, she recalled, to save money for his two sons, whom he homeschooled for a period. "Even then," she said, "he knew Armageddon was coming. He wanted to be ready, to protect his family." On Tuesday afternoon, Delaney stood on the road leading to Stone's trailer. She pointed to the old Fords on the front lawn. "Jesus is coming back," she said, "and the four horsemen too." Sometime in 2012, she thinks. Nevertheless, she declined to join the Hutaree or any other militia group because, she said, "I don't want my kids involved in that stuff."

It is not clear when Stone became the leader of the Hutaree — or if his group is affiliated with an identically named organization in Utah. Stone's Hutaree, authorities say, scanned the Internet for guidance on how to build improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, similar to those used in Iraq. Its website shows a disparate menu of links, including ones to the European Union's army, the Financial Times and an apocalyptic theorist whose TV show has been presented on Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcast Network. The Hutaree views federal, state and local law-enforcement officers as "foot soldiers" for the federal government, or participants in the "new world order" — the perpetual bête noire of the American militia movement. The group had apparently planned to execute its uprising in April. "We couldn't let that exercise go forward," said Barbara McQuade, the top U.S. attorney in eastern Michigan.

Back in Clayton, many wonder if there are other Hutaree members still waiting to stage an attack on police. It's certainly a concern of Sheriff Jack Welsh of Lewanee County, where Clayton is located. "It's scary," he says. Welsh has tightened security at his department's buildings, telling his troops, "Be vigilant, be aware."