Muslim convert part of the Michigan militia warned authorities about the Hutaree Christian terrorist group.
ADRIAN, Mich. — The Stone family, and the fiercely militant Christian group that revolved around them at a ramshackle homestead outside of town here, were best known by their neighbors for their active use of guns and their increasingly heated talk about fighting back violently against the government.
But their biggest and most surprising adversary was practically next door: the local branch of the Michigan Militia.
From a distance, the two might seem like peas in a pod: both wear fatigues or camouflage, train in the woods with heavy weaponry and believe in threats to liberty from Washington.
But here on the ground the distinctions were crucial. The Michigan Militia, which in past years had links to extremist groups with neo-Nazi flavorings, has moderated over the years, according to members and experts who track the organizations. Meanwhile, the Hutaree (pronounced Hu-TAR-ay), as the Stone group was called, was going the other direction, with increasing talk of violence.
The crucial moment of that tension came Saturday night when one of the Stone family members — desperate and on the run from the law — called the local militia commander, Matt Savino, and begged for help in getting guns or shelter. Mr. Savino offered neither, not only refusing to help but in fact calling the State Police, who passed the call to the F.B.I.
“This was a new situation for us, and we did what we thought was right,” Mr. Savino said.
Led by a former high school marching band member, nine people in the Hutaree group have been arrested in raids since Saturday, linked to what federal law enforcement officials said was a plot to kill a police officer and then foment violence at the ensuing funeral. Eight pleaded not guilty at a court hearing in Detroit on Wednesday.
The decision to help the police corner the Hutaree — though Mr. Savino said he was not sure his tip made any difference — has drawn flak from some other militia members in Michigan and around the country, but Mr. Savino remains comfortable with his call.
“Some people have said, ‘Those are your brothers,’ stuff like that,” said Mr. Savino, 34, a former assistant manager at a GNC nutrition and health products store, who is currently unemployed. “The problem is, most of those people aren’t here, they don’t know those people, and they don’t know what that group is.”
A spokeswoman for the F.B.I. in Detroit, Sandra R. Berchtold, confirmed that agents spoke to Mr. Savino, but she declined to say what sort of information he provided.
The context of Hutaree life in and around Adrian, where guns and resentment of federal authority is fairly common, is crucial to understanding the Hutaree and the Stones, many people in the area say. Yes, they shot guns, did skirmish exercises on their land and hosted regular monthly meetings of people in militaristic clothing, said one neighbor. But they also kept to themselves, and their talk was deemed by many people to be just that.
“We never thought they were dangerous,” said Jane Ream, 68, who lives just up the road with her husband, Dick. “And lots of people shoot guns — that’s normal around here so you don’t pay any attention to it.”
Several people who have known the Stones for years said they were unsure what, if anything, might have transformed angry rhetoric into what the indictment released on Monday by the Department of Justice on Monday called an active conspiracy against law enforcement.
The retired principal at the school that David B. Stone Sr., 45, the patriarch and leader of the group, attended in this town of 21,000 people about 60 miles southwest of Detroit, remembered the young Mr. Stone as a child who “stayed in the middle and didn’t get noticed,” or in trouble either.
The principal, Richard G. Butler, 79, who worked his whole career in Adrian schools, said Mr. Stone — pictured in a yearbook in the early 1980s with short hair and a flamboyant vest — loved motorcycle dirt bikes and played in the band all through high school, marching on the field and playing on stage as well.
Squinting at an old yearbook on a recent evening here on his porch overlooking the woods, Mr. Butler could not remember what instrument Mr. Stone played, and the band picture did not help since the young man stood in the back. But never, he added, did Mr. Stone seem like a person headed for trouble.
“Whatever happened to him happened after high school,” Mr. Butler said.
The Michigan Militia also changed over the years, Mr. Savino and other militia members said, especially since the early 1990s, when the name became associated with an earlier wave of antigovernment angst after the election of President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, in 1992.
Some militia groups in Michigan then had a strain of vehement anti-Semitism, in particular, that has mostly faded over the years as more radical members left, said Mark Potok, who tracks extremist groups at the Southern Poverty Law Center. People like Mr. Savino and his father, Jim Gulliksen, who is the local chapter’s chief executive officer — and like his son, a Navy veteran — said they have worked since then to distinguish the group from its past. Estimates of statewide Michigan militia membership range from several hundred people to 500 or more.
“My goal is to get the militia name clean,” said Mr. Gulliksen, 60, who works as a manager in the paint and hardware department at the local Wal-Mart.
The strict Christian dogma espoused by the Hutaree does not fly as well these days either, at least in Adrian militia circles. Mr. Savino said that he converted to Islam in the late 1990s after a soul-searching separation from the Lutheran faith he had grown up with, and that he believed that he was the only Muslim in the militia.
But people across the militia world, and people like Mr. Potok who study it, agree that anxiety within that world is rising — from economic frustrations growing out of the recession, or fear of the Democratic Party leadership in Washington, or both — and that small, outlier groups like the Hutaree are probably the ones to keep on eye on.
One longtime friend of the Stones who also got a call for help last weekend from a Hutaree leader did say yes.
The friend, Robert C. M. Dudley, 80, said he met Mr. Stone 10 or 15 years ago at a weekly dinner for people to talk about “what’s wrong with the country.”
When Mr. Stone’s son Joshua knocked on Mr. Dudley’s door on Saturday night, seeking help, Mr. Dudley said he let him and the group of people he was with sleep in their van. But he said he thought it wise not to ask too many questions. “I figured it was none of my business,” he said.
Joshua Stone was ultimately tracked to the property and arrested on Monday.
Source: New York Times