MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Im Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And Im Robert Siegel.

The FBI recently arrested nine members of a Christian militia in Michigan, ending a nearly yearlong investigation. The two key characters in the case are 45-year-old David Stone, the group's alleged leader, and his son Joshua, who is said to be second in command. The two are now being held on weapons and sedition charges. Prosecutors say the group had hoped to spark a violent standoff with the government and in the process, goad other militias into battle.

But what makes this story different is how those militias reacted. Instead of helping the group, they played a crucial role in bringing it down.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports from Michigan.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Im standing in front of the two trailers where David Stone and his family lived, about an hour south of Detroit. The yard outside the Stone's home is littered with discarded bikes, old tires and a rusting washing machine. And it's here that the Stone family started the Christian militia they call the Hutaree.

It's inside these two trailers that prosecutors say the group hatched a plot to gun down a single policeman and then in a second wave, attack the officers who would show up at his funeral.

Ms. ANGELA CASE (Meat Cutter): You just never know when there's people out there that are crazy.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Angela Case. She's a meat cutter at a local supermarket in Adrian, Michigan. And she lives not far from the Stone family trailers. She heard gunfire out that way but as far as she knew, there were just a lot of farmers over there.

Ms. CASE: I think, everybody thinks that like, oh, well, theyre all - you know, like - they're all like, toting guns around and stuff. And it's like, no, we're mostly farmers and stuff.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TEMPLE-RASTON: Lenawee County in southeastern Michigan is farm country, all barns and flat fields that seem to go on for miles. It's also militia country -informal groups of heavily armed men who do everything from compass reading to sharpshooting out in the woods.

There are dozens of militia groups in Michigan. That makes it second only to Texas, so armed men in camouflage aren't so out of the ordinary. Even so, David Stone and his son, Joshua, stood out.

Mr. ANDREW ARENA (Special Agent in Charge, FBI, Detroit): I think going back a couple of years ago, we kind of got wind of this group and that there could be some issues with them.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Andrew Arena. He's the FBI's special agent in charge in Detroit.

Mr. ARENA: Like any extremist group, I don't think in reality they believe that they're going to personally overthrow the U.S. government. I think the plan is to basically be the match, or the spark, to ignite the revolution.

TEMPLE-RASTON: About a year ago, residents in Adrian contacted the FBI. They were concerned because David Stone seemed paranoid. Even local militia members were alarmed. Law-enforcement officials told NPR, a member of one militia decided to infiltrate Stone's group just to keep an eye on him. That militia member became a cooperating witness for the FBI.

Now, what we're about to hear is an FBI surveillance tape obtained by NPR. In it, David Stone is speaking about what he sees as a vast conspiracy: local cops joining forces with foreign soldiers to take over the United States.

Mr. DAVID STONE (Leader, Hutaree Militia): Do I think all the cops out here would they would fight right alongside some Chinese trooper. Heck, yeah. It's all about power. It's about the authority. They see us as the little people.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The little people, he said. Stone's lawyer confirmed that it was his client on that tape.

Now, last fall, the FBI says it got word that the Hutarees were building bombs. Thats when the bureau decided to infiltrate the group with its own undercover agent. There was a side benefit to that. The FBI's Andrew Arena said the undercover officer offered to make the bombs. That meant the FBI would be in charge of the explosives.

Mr. ARENA: We were very fortunate to be able to insert an individual who was able to kind of take that role. It certainly let me sleep a little better at night.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The undercover agent was the same person who made the recording we heard earlier of David Stone. The tape was made in February while the group was driving to Kentucky to attend a militia rally. Stone had prepared what he hoped would be a rousing speech. He read it to the others in the car, and the FBI got it on tape.

Mr. STONE: Now, we need to quit playing this game with these elitist terrorists and actually get serious, because this war will come whether we are ready or not. A war of this magnitude will not be easy. But like the rattlesnake on the Gadsden flag, we have rattled and warned the new world order. Now it's time to strike and take our nation back.

Mr. WILLIAM SWOR (Defense Attorney): The things were in that statement...

TEMPLE-RASTON: William Swor is David Stone's defense attorney.

Mr. SWOR: ...were no more radical, no more offensive or dangerous than anything any of the right wing whackos on television and radio said the week before these folks were arrested.

TEMPLE-RASTON: But the FBI's Arena says the Hutaree crossed a line when they plotted to kill police.

Mr. ARENA: In this country, you can say just about anything you want, but when you start taking action towards that government - and you know, how you define it, I think every case, its a little different. In this case, we're defining it as they started to plan how they were going to ignite the war.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Now there's one more twist to this story. Four years ago, a man named Matt Servino thought about joining the Hutaree. And he talked to David Stone about it, at length. Servino said Stone made him a little nervous.

Mr. MATT SERVINO: You know, you could tell that he was really upset about anything that the government was doing. Not to the point of saying, you know, let's go do this particular act or something. He would just say something along the lines of, something really needs to be done - these protests, these talking to people is just not cutting it anymore. Something serious needs to happen.

TEMPLE-RASTON: So, Matt Servino decided to start his own militia instead.

Mr. SERVINO: Our local unit here in Lenawee, you know, my brother and I, we organized it in summer 2006.

TEMPLE-RASTON: So Servino heads one militia in Adrian, and Stone was in charge of another. Then the weekend before Easter, federal authorities arrested David Stone and a handful of Hutaree members. Stone's son, Joshua, was not among them. Joshua Stone turned to Matt Servino for help. He assumed Servino would be sympathetic.

Mr. SERVINO: He asked for assistance - weapon, gears, whatnot. He asked us to back him up to get onto his property. He knew a back way onto his property. He was pretty confident in himself that he could get to some weapons and supplies that were stashed on the property.

TEMPLE-RASTON: As a general matter, the perception has been that militias are lying in wait for opportunities like this: occasions when these small bands of private warriors can engage the government and go out in a blaze of glory. That isnt what happened here.

Instead of helping Joshua Stone, Servino told him his group was staying out of it. And Servino went a step further. He brought his militia together and...

Mr. SERVINO: We talked about it. We decided as a group to go to the State Police Department - this local here - and talk to them, tell them what little bit of information we had.

TEMPLE-RASTON: A day later, the FBI arrested Joshua Stone in a neighboring county, without incident.

Servino says what the Hutarees are accused of doing is precisely the kind of thing that gives militias a bad name. And he says militias have changed.

Mr. SERVINO: I mean, I dont want to - the terminology the old-school militia versus the new age militia, it kind of is. I mean, just the way you look at things and the way you approach them is a lot different than it used to be.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The FBI's Andrew Arena agrees: Most militias aren't like the Hutaree.

Mr. ARENA: Well, I think their reaction to this latest incident with the Hutaree, I think that kind of shows what their mindset is right now. You know, I think they were appalled, to say the least, at the planning and the activities that these people were trying to do.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's what makes this story so unusual. Militia groups and authorities worked together to break the case.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

SIEGEL: And Dina Temple-Raston went out on a training day with the Southeastern Michigan Militia. That story is tomorrow on MORNING EDITION.

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