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Judge dismisses conspiracy charges against militia members

The federal judge presiding over the trial of seven member of a Michigan militia who were accused by prosecutors of plotting a rebellion against the government dismissed the charges on March 27 for lack of evidence. In granting the defendants' motion to dismiss, the judge said that secret recordings of their conversations were merely evidence of protected speech, not a criminal conspiracy.

As readers in Pittsburgh learned in our previous blog post, the six men and one woman were accused of conspiracy to commit sedition, or rebellion against the federal government. The defendants, who are members of a rural militia called Hutaree, were also accused of conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction.

Based on news reports, it appears the bulk of the government's case was based on audio and video recordings made by an FBI informant and agent who infiltrated the group in 2008. The FBI agent gained the militia leader's trust and even stood as best man at his wedding. Hutaree's leader had extensive knowledge of explosives and weaponry, the agent claimed.

He and the informant recorded hours of conversations between the leader and his followers, who included his wife. In the tapes, the defendant discussed his beliefs that all federal agents were part of a "brotherhood" with United Nations troops to protect a global conspiracy. He claimed that the U.S. government put computer chips in flu vaccine and that Canada was planning to invade Michigan. The group is heard discussing their willingness to kill police officers and their families.

After prosecutors played these and other tapes for the jury, defense attorneys moved to dismiss. They said that nothing on the tapes indicated the defendants actually embarked on a plan to attack police officers.

The judge dismissed the jury for the day on March 26 and listened to arguments from both sides. The next day, she dismissed most of the major charges against the defendants. While a criminal conspiracy can be proven through "mere words," under federal law, she said, the defendants' statements "do not rise to that level."

Source: Associated Press, "Michigan militia members cleared of conspiracy," Ed White, March 27, 2012

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