March 29, 2010 at 1:00 am

Militia members arrested in Sunday raid to be charged today

At least seven were taken into custody in raids by an FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio

Federal prosecutors plan to unseal charges today against members of a self-described Christian militia arrested Saturday and Sunday in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

At least seven people were taken into custody in raids by an FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force as part of an investigation into an Adrian-based unit of the Hutaree, a group that professes it is training in modern armed combat techniques for a prophesized coming battle with the Antichrist.

The suspects are expected to make an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Detroit today, according to federal authorities, who declined to discuss the charges behind the multistate arrests.

"Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment ...," one of the group's purported leaders wrote on its Web site. "We, the Hutaree, are prepared to defend all those who belong to Christ and save those who aren't. We will still spread the word, and fight to keep it, up to the time of the great coming."

The group's insignia, worn as a patch on military camouflage uniforms, is a cross-shaped sword and the letters CCR for Colonial Christian Republic. The Hutaree Web site features links to conservative Christian news outlets along with photos and videos of combat training sessions under the banner, "Preparing for the end time battles to keep the testimony of Jesus Christ alive."

U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said in Detroit on Sunday, "There is law enforcement activity in progress, but I decline further comment because I don't want to adversely affect its effectiveness."

Detroit FBI Special Agent Sandra Berchtold said warrants in the case are under court seal and declined further comment.

'Too extreme'

A member of the controversial Michigan Militia said Sunday that the Hutaree is a nationwide organization with an ardent following in Adrian, 10 miles from the Ohio border just west of Detroit. "Their philosophy and ours differ in many ways, so we don't do a whole lot with them. They are too extreme or radical for us," said Jim Gulliksen, coordinator of the Lenaway Volunteer Michigan Militia with membership of about a dozen in the Adrian area. "I just kind of got a bad feeling about the group and we did not want to associate with them. They are a little too paranoid for me."

Mike Lackomar of Michiganmilitia.com said he heard from other militia members that the FBI targeted the Hutaree after its members made threats of violence against Islamic organizations. Lackomar said the members of the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia and Michiganmilitia.com weren't arrested.

"Last night and into today (Sunday), the FBI conducted a raid against homes belonging to the Hutaree. They are a religious cult. They are not part of our militia community," Lackomar said.

Lackomar said he was told there were five arrests Saturday and another five early Sunday. The FBI declined to comment.

One of the Hutaree members called a Michigan militia leader for assistance Saturday after federal agents already had began their raid, Lackomar said, but the militia member -- who is of Islamic decent and had heard about the threats -- declined to offer help. That Michigan militia leader is now working with federal officials to provide information on the Hutaree member for the investigation, Lackomar said Sunday.

"They are more of a survivalist group, and in an emergency, they withdraw and stand their ground. They are actively training to be alongside Jesus," he said.

Gulliksen said he heard about the raids when he was in church Sunday morning. He immediately contacted local law enforcement, "to make sure they knew we weren't really affiliated with Hutaree."

Gulliksen said he believes national security tensions are high and the FBI may well be focusing on conservative groups because of anger over the federal overhaul of health care.

"A few months ago, I believe one of their (Hutaree) members down South was arrested on some sort of weapons charge," Gulliksen said. "Everything is getting a little nervous right now with all the threats against congressmen and all."

Law enforcement swarmed a rural, wooded property Saturday evening near Adrian, neighbors said. Two ramshackle trailers sat side-by-side on the property, the door to one slightly ajar late Sunday, as if it had been forced open.

Phyllis Brugger, who has lived in the area for more than 30 years, said some people who lived there were known as having ties to militia. They would shoot guns and often wore camouflage, according to Brugger and her daughter, Heidi Wood.

"Everybody knew they were militia," Brugger said. "You don't mess with them."

About a month ago, 50 vehicles showed up on the property, and the women said neighbors assumed something bad was going on.

The leader of the local group, Gulliksen said, is a man who goes by RD Merzonik on the group's Web site.

"I've met him. He's an opinionated man who likes to share those opinions," Gulliksen said. "The Hutaree is a nationwide group, but I have met a couple of the members here and I can say they all belong to one specific church. Our concern is the protection of our nation. Religion appears to be a big part of what they are doing."

Muslims shocked

Hutaree members use nicknames sometimes linked to their rank, within an elaborate system for Hutaree soldiers that includes titles such as "Radok, Boramander, Zulif, Arkon, Rifleman and Lukmore." A parable for commanders suggests, "You may be a leader of flesh but in heaven, leaders are of spirit."

Sources from the Michigan militia community said one of the FBI raids took place Saturday during a wake for a Hutaree member who had died of natural causes. A Hutaree leader was arrested during the wake while agents were conducting raids.

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on Islamic-American Relations of Michigan, made an announcement Sunday during the group's anniversary banquet about receiving a call from a journalist about the alleged threat against Muslims.

"Don't allow this news to scare you away from practicing your faith," Walid said.

Gasps were heard throughout the banquet hall when the news was announced. Walid said he will call local authorities about more information on the allegations. He urged local Muslims to recommit themselves to their faith in light of the accusations.

The Southern Poverty Law Center recently reported a resurgence in politically motivated militias, which emerged in the 1980s under perceived threats to conservative rights and conspiracies about a United Nations takeover when President George H.W. Bush spoke of a "New World Order."

Militia groups came into the national spotlight in 1995, after the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Michigan native Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh were convicted in the bombing, which killed 168 people. Nichols and McVeigh attended Michigan Militia events, a group which believes citizens have constitutional authority to organized an armed force. The Michigan militia denied Nichols and McVeigh were members.

Militia popularity declined during the administration of President George W. Bush, but the Southern Poverty Law Center claims the number of groups espousing anti-government doctrines and political conspiracy theories is again rising with anxiety over a perceived liberal agenda of President Barack Obama. The report identified 512 groups throughout the country, including 47 in Michigan, second to Texas, with 52.

The Associated Press and Staff Writers David Shepardson and Oralandar Brand-Williams contributed.

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