News of the foiled Hutaree terror plot is chilling. The group planed to kill a policeman. Then, when lawmen turned out by the hundreds, if not thousands, to pay their respects to a fallen comrade, improvised explosive devices would tear through mourners. This, according to press reports, was the master plan. The Hutaree militia hoped this would spawn widespread resistance to the government.
The plan backfired, and now there is widespread condemnation of the militia.
Defense of the plotters will be difficult now that the Government has denounced the members of the group to the world. We learned yesterday that the arrests of the plotters were timed to occur before anyone got hurt. The risk of harm was elevated because the group was planning reconnaisance missions that might have resulted in the death of innocent bystanders. The Government, it turns out, acted just in the nick of time.
And how, you might wonder, did the Government know all this? Undoubtedly, there was an informant in the Hutaree group, either an undercover law enforcement officer who had infiltrated the group, or a disgruntled group member who thought the group was going too far. Frankly, I opt for the infiltrator theory. Hutaree members seem pretty fervent; their apocaplyptic ideas accustom them to violence.
And so, the defense of the Hutaree Nine begins.
Unless one or more of the defendants becomes a cooperating witness, the Government will need to identify the informant and have him or her testify. And should the infiltrator testify, expect a defense of entrapment. Once that happens, the Hutaree Nine trial becomes almost as combustible as the explosion of roadside IED's at a funeral.
The Hutaree Nine are already being blamed for violence directed at the offices of those Congressmen who voted for the new health care plan. Mainstream journalists have already decried the militia members, and others like them, as right-wing crazies. The plotting will lend succor to those favoring gun control. Even the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group for which I have great respect and admiration, has broadly labeled all groups espousing the view that the Constitution is something worth fighting for, literally, as members of hate groups.
But the defense can exploit these themes as incendiary.
Are militias terrorists? Or are they survivalists? Is there a difference? And were they prepared to turn their weapons on law enforcement before an informant egged them on?
I can hear the scoffing from here. "Egged them on? These people were a fuse waiting to be lit!"
Entrapment involves government encouragement of criminal acts that the defendants were not otherwise disposed to commit. How to draw that line?
There are plenty of people who are enraged at the federal government. There always have been in this country. We enacted a Bill of Rights to address our fear of federal power. We fought a civil war to vindicate the claims of the federal government to maintain unity in the face of state attempts to leave the union. Populists railed against emerging federal power in the form of railroads and Eastern banks in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Only the depression and the New Deal silenced critics, for a time. During the past three decades virulent hatred of the federal government has reemerged as a potent theme in American political culture.
One needn't be a cult member to be suspicious of federal power. And one needn't be a crazy to believe in the people's right to bear arms. Finally, one need not look far to see that the apocalyptic tendencies breed fear and paranoia.
There are thousands of Americans who believe the end is near. Many of them stockpile food and sit home reading signs of the times. It's all right there in their Bibles. The end is near, they say. And some of them arm themselves to prepare for the worst. Visions of the end of times are a staple of science fiction literature and films. And Cormac McCarthy's The Road, now in film, portrays a father's tender love of his son in a world destroyed. Like it or not, many Americans, especially those who've been on the short end of the economy's recent performance, are on edge.
It would not be hard to infiltrate a group such as this and to goad them along the path to violence. Cross-examination of the infiltrator in this case could be explosive. I find myself tossing and turning at night and thinking of John Adam's defense of the colonists at the Boston Massacre.
I wonder where the Hutaree Nine will be tried. The defendants were presented, or at least most of them were, in a Detroit federal courthouse on Monday. Michigan has been the home to a lot of militia activity. Expect a pitched battle for the hearts and souls of jurors in this case. The Government will want a Detroit jury; the defendants will want a rural jury. The Government will assert that we must fear the militia for the violence it threatens for all we who depend on the Government; the militia will defend that the infiltrator took over and pushed the group over the line from lawful dissent to prohibited violence.
The truth, I suspect, is not anywhere as clear as the ringing denunciations of the Hutaree Nine suggest. I envy the lawyers defending these folks the challenge.