Thursday, May 06, 2010

How strong is the government's case against the Hutaree Militia?

I have no trouble seeing the Christian terrorist-wannabes of the Hutaree Militia as no-good-niks based on their own self-descriptions and group propaganda.

But we have trials and due process for good reasons. For the government to send someone to jail, they have to demonstrate their guilt in a courtroom in which the defendants get to actually defend themselves and in which both sides have to follow a definite set of rules.

The government didn't do such an impressive job in their initial round in court, from what the news reports are saying. The judge even ordered the defendants released pending trial with stringent restrictions, including electronic monitoring. Mark Reiter describes those conditions in some detail in, U.S. attorney successful in blocking release of Hutaree members from jail Toledo Blade 05/06/10.

In her decision to release them, which has been stayed by the Appeals Court, Judge Victoria Roberts wrote:

While the Government contends that the crimes charged against Defendants go well beyond speech, there is no doubt that controversial, offensive and hate-filled speech is implicated. In their defense, the Defendants disagree that this case implicates anything other than speech, and, that whatever they said, did not amount to a conspiracy to commit illegal acts. ...

The United States is correct that it need not wait until people are killed before it arrests conspirators. But, the Defendants are also correct: their right to engage in hatefilled, venomous speech, is a right that deserves First Amendment protection. ...

When a person crosses the threshold between protected speech and illegal advocacy and related activity, is not always clear. That lack of clarity, and the fact that so much of the Government’s proffer was based on words spoken by Defendants, caused the Court to look closely not only at the protection afforded by the First Amendment, but also at the clear principle that crime masquerading as speech deserves no First Amendment protection.
Her decision discusses the charges and particular aspects of the government's case, including some transcripts of that "hatefilled, venomous speech".

All Defendants are charged with: (1) Seditious Conspiracy...; (2) Attempt to Use Weapons of Mass Destruction ...; and (3) Carrying, Using, and Possessing a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence...
Some defendants face additional charges.

Based on reading her opinion, from what the government has presented so far, their case against the Hutaree Militia may not be terribly strong. A lot can change between now and the verdict, of course. But it's a strong reminder that the government's initial announcement of arrest and charges may turn out to be overblown.

See also:

FBI agent short on details on militia inquiry AP/Toledo Blade 04/28/10

Feds pressed to show Hutaree group is threat AP/Toledo Blade 04/28/10

Ed White, Hutaree Militia Staying In Jail: Court Issues Emergency Order AP/Huffington Post 05/06/10


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