Federal investigators have discovered that two members of the extremist Michigan-based Hutaree militia group charged with plotting to assassinate law-enforcement officers are former U.S. military servicemen, including a Marine Corps corporal who was a Persian Gulf War veteran and decorated expert rifleman.
Among those charged in the Hutaree case and accused of "seditious" conspiracy to wage war is Michael David Meeks. An FBI official told NEWSWEEK that Meeks is a former Marine. Marine Corps records reviewed by NEWSWEEK show Meeks served in the Marines between 1988 and 1992 and was a rifle expert based at Camp Pendleton. The records show he received, among other decorations, a Kuwait Liberation Medal that was awarded to veterans of the Persian Gulf War.
His lawyer did not return a request for comment.
Another Hutaree member charged in the case was Kristopher Tyler Sickles, who enlisted in the U.S. Army in August 2007 and was discharged in October of that year after being absent without leave, according to Army records. His lawyer also did not return a call seeking comment. Sickles was identified as the creator of a violent video mimicking jihadist beheadings that was on YouTube but has been removed.
The particular concern raised by military members among extremist groups is that former service members, including disgruntled veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, may be helping to train extremists in firearms and military tactics, according to Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. In the Hutaree case, the federal indictment charges that, as part of their plans to spark an "uprising" against the U.S. government, group members engaged "in military-style training" that included "firearms and explosives training, weapons proficiency drills, patrolling and reconnaissance exercises, close quarter battle drills" as well as "preparing defensive fighting positions" and "ambush kill zones."
The discovery makes the Hutaree case the latest example of what watchdog groups say has been evidence of disturbing links between some current and former members of the U.S. military and extremist hate groups. "This is one more indication that [military] training is of interest to these kind of extremist groups," said Potok.
Federal prosecutors have yet to present specific evidence that they have about Meeks's and Sickles's roles in the Hutaree conspiracy. But a Pentagon spokeswoman said the military has long had a "zero tolerance" policy against active participation in extremist groups and that disciplinary cases for violating the rules are "rare."
Still, there is reason to believe Pentagon officials are increasingly concerned about association with such groups. In November 2009, after complaints that military-service members were posting racist and other ethnic slurs on NewSaxon.org, a social-networking site for white supremacists, the Pentagon tightened its policy. In addition to forbidding service members from engaging in "active" participation in extremist groups, the new rules also forbid any military personnel from "actively" advocating "supremacist doctrine, ideology or causes."
Read about the recent increase in ties between military members—both current and former—and extremist hate groups in the new issue of NEWSWEEK.