By Meghana Keshavan
DETROIT (Reuters) - Seven members of a Midwestern militia group accused of plotting to kill police were preparing for war against the U.S. government, prosecutors told jurors Monday at the start of a federal trial in Detroit.
Defense attorneys said, however, the six men and one woman were part of a social club called the Hutaree who sought to defend themselves and did not view the government as an enemy.
Prosecutors laid out an array of weapons including assault rifles, military style helmets and bullet-resistant vests seized in the investigation and played video and audio recordings for jurors in their opening statement.
"David Stone Sr. wanted a war," Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Graveline said of the group's leader, who is on trial with three members of his family and three others.
In one video excerpt shown to jurors, Stone Sr. could be seen saying, "This war will come whether we are ready or not" and "We have to strike and take our nation back from tyranny."
The group opposes government regulation of firearms and explosives. The seven defendants are accused of conspiring to kill a police officer and then ambush a funeral procession using homemade explosive devices to spark a wider war against the U.S. government.
"The Hutaree believed there was a brotherhood of local, state and federal officers that was secretly run by global elitists who wanted to start a new world order," Graveline said.
Defense attorneys have argued the group was merely engaging in angry expressions of free speech in conversations that were secretly recorded and did not demonstrate real intent to carry out acts of domestic terrorism. No attacks were carried out.
The group members were training to defend themselves and did not see the U.S. government as an enemy, Stone Sr.'s attorney, William Swor, told jurors.
'A MERCENARY, A REAL FLAKE'
Swor described a government informant who had infiltrated the group as "more of a mercenary, a real flake."
"One thing is clear -- no conspiracy. No plan. No action," Swor said.
Todd Shanker, who represents Stone's son, David Brian Stone Jr., said Hutaree members were "not dark-hearted individuals."
"It's not against the law to defend your family, or your community," he said. "The Hutaree is more of a social club."
Nine women and seven men were selected as jurors or alternates for the trial. U.S. District Court Judge Victoria Roberts ordered the jury to remain anonymous to the defendants and public, an unusual measure to protect their safety.
Prosecutors contend the group had met regularly since 2008 to conduct military style training and were preparing for an upcoming attack when authorities executed search warrants and swept them up in raids in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.
Federal agents seized machine guns, unregistered short-barrel guns, ammunition, explosive devices and materials that could be used to make explosives, according to court documents.
Under a federal indictment unsealed in March 2010, the charges against all seven include sedition, the attempted use of weapons of mass destruction and firearms offenses. Nine members of the group were indicted, one pleaded guilty and trial has been delayed for another suspect.
On trial are accused group leader David Brian Stone Sr.; his wife, Tina Mae Stone; and their two sons, David Brian Stone Jr. and Joshua Matthew Stone. Michael David Meeks, Thomas William Piatek and Kristopher Sickles also face trial.
Opening statements were expected to continue on Tuesday. The trial is expected to last up to eight weeks.
The trial is being held in the same courthouse where a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was set to be sentenced Thursday for trying to take down a U.S. airliner with a bomb hidden in his underwear as the airplane neared Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009.
(Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Daniel Trotta)