Submitted by: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
A recurring meme used in American society by leaders and politicians is that certain acts must be done to “Defend Our Freedoms”. The use of this meme has occurred repeatedly in our history as a justification for certain governmental actions, particularly in defense of war. In some cases like our Revolution, or World War II its usage has been right on point, in others like Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan it’s been used as untruthful propaganda. On national and local levels the meme has also had a mixed history. It has been used to persecute radicals, as a States Rights justification of “Jim Crow” and post 9/11 to enact “security” legislation that many of us think actually diminishes freedom in the name of saving it.
“A federal judge on Tuesday gutted the government’s case against seven members of a Michigan militia, dismissing the most serious charges in an extraordinary defeat for federal authorities who insisted they had captured homegrown rural extremists poised for war. U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts said the members’ expressed hatred of law enforcement didn’t amount to a conspiracy to rebel against the government. The FBI had secretly planted an informant and an FBI agent inside the Hutaree militia starting in 2008 to collect hours of anti-government audio and video that became the cornerstone of the case.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20120328/us-fbi-raids-militia/
A four year investigation of this group by the FBI, that included planting two people in it as “members”, finally led to the indictment and the subsequent dismissal of most charges against this group. They had met and trained over the years in a common cause of hatred of the Federal Government and the desire to see it overthrown. They had at no time taken any definitive action towards implementing their beliefs, other than an exercise of their freedom to speak and believe in ideas far outside of mainstream thought. Behind the actions of the FBI was the premise that they were acting in defense of American freedom. Were they really, or were they overstepping the bounds of protected Constitutional conduct?
“The court is aware that protected speech and mere words can be sufficient to show a conspiracy. In this case, however, they do not rise to that level,” the judge said on the second anniversary of raids and arrests that broke up the group.”
“[Judge] Roberts granted requests for acquittal on the most serious charges: conspiring to commit sedition, or rebellion, against the U.S. and conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction. Other weapons crimes tied to the alleged conspiracies also were dismissed. Prosecutors said Hutaree members were anti-government rebels who combined training and strategy sessions to prepare for a violent strike against federal law enforcement, triggered first by the slaying of a police officer.”
“But there never was an attack. Defense lawyers said highly offensive remarks about police and the government were wrongly turned into a high-profile criminal case that drew public praise from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who in 2010 called Hutaree a “dangerous organization.”
“David Stone’s “statements and exercises do not evince a concrete agreement to forcibly resist the authority of the United States government,” Roberts said Tuesday.”His diatribes evince nothing more than his own hatred for – perhaps even desire to fight or kill – law enforcement; this is not the same as seditious conspiracy.””
“The FBI had put a local informant, Dan Murray, inside the militia in 2008 and paid him $31,000. An FBI agent from New Jersey also was embedded. Steve Haug, known as “Jersey Steve,” posed as a trucker and spent month’s secretly recording talks with Stone. He even served as Stone’s best man at his wedding, a celebration with militia members wearing military fatigues.”
“[FBI Agent] Haug repeatedly talked to Stone about building pipe bombs and getting other sophisticated explosives. The FBI rented a warehouse in Ann Arbor where the agent would invite him and others to store and discuss weapons.”
Those seven quotes above pretty much give you a picture of the Huffpost article and the issues involved in this case. At the end of this post I’ll supply more links for those who want to dig deeper into the case. This story though, based on the article supplies the essence of why I have been a lifelong supporter of the ACLU and also what drew me to Professor Turley and his blog.
In my opinion there are two key elements in this case that call into question the actions taken to “Defend Our Freedoms” in this instance by the Justice Department/FBI and in many others throughout American history. The first element is that of “Freedom of Speech”. The presumption of this “freedom” is that as Americans we can believe and discuss anything, providing we take no affirmative actions to inhibit the rights of others in their exercise of their own constitutional freedoms. This “Hutaree” Group believed in some wacky things, they were not hesitant to discuss their beliefs and use them to recruit others to their cause. The question devolves upon what is the role of government in monitoring organizations such as this, which could potentially at some future time pose a dangerous threat?
The second element that I see is the placement of an informant (Dan Murray) and an FBI Agent (Steve Haug) inside the organization. Were these men merely gathering information, or were they acting as “agents’ provocateurs” in moving this group more towards the type of affirmative actions that would turn this into an illegal conspiracy? It would seem that Agent Haug’s repeated discussions with Stone, the group’s leader, about building bombs and explosives, was leading the group on into criminal conspiracy.
That the FBI rented a warehouse where Haug could help push the group to action and weapons storage also seems a case of trying to bring about a desired result, where perhaps in the absence of provocation the group would have remained little more that a impotent debating society. Indeed the Judge’s dismissal seems to indicate that despite the provocations by the undercover operative this group was impotent and certainly not a threat.
I believe that Judge Robert’s decision was the correct one. While I understand the need for American Law Enforcement to protect us all from internal threats, I don’t believe that Law Enforcement or Security Agencies should be able to simply pick on those whose beliefs they consider abhorrent and actively work to push these groups into compromising positions. This has often been the case as COINTELPRO clearly illustrated. In that line also was J. Edgar Hoover’s bugging of Martin Luther King and the various anonymous threats the FBI sent to MLK in order to destroy the Civil Rights Movement, which Hoover, an ardent racist, hated.
However, I’m well aware that one can find certain instances where Law Enforcement intervention might have and actually did, avert tragedy. So the question I pose to the reader is what is acceptable government intervention in instances of “radical” groups, if any?
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger