Courthouse takeover trial starts in Knoxville

BILL POOVEY, Associated Press

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Jurors at the federal weapons trial of a Georgia militia supporter charged with traveling into Tennessee with an AK-47 and handgun to make citizens' arrests of judges and law officers found out quickly Tuesday from his attorney what to expect: "Downright kooky."

Court records show Darren Wesley Huff, 41, of Dallas, Ga., traveled in April 2010 to the Monroe County Courthouse for what he said was a plan to take it over, and if necessary use force to do so, in support of serving a citizens' arrest warrant that also named President Barack Obama.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Will Mackie said Huff and others were involved in a takeover plan that stemmed from their support of a local activist's earlier unsuccessful attempt to arrest the Monroe County grand jury foreman.

Gary Pettway testified Tuesday as the first witness at the trial that as grand jury foreman at the time in the rural county between Knoxville and Chattanooga he refused a demand to pursue charges Obama related to questions about his American citizenship.

"Every one of you all may think he (Huff) and his ilk are kooky as all get out" Huff's attorney, Scott Green, said in an opening statement. Green said Huff and the others "love their country."

Green said there was no violence in the courthouse confrontation and Huff told law officers before going to Tennessee what he was going to do.

"There's not going to be any question they are going to prove he is a loudmouth who likes guns," Green said.

Huff is charged with carrying a firearm in interstate commerce with the intent to use it in a civil disorder. A conviction carries a maximum possible penalty of five years in prison. He is also charged with using a firearm in relation to another felony, which on conviction carries a mandatory two-year minimum prison sentence.

Although there was no violence, law officers in Madisonville said Huff and several others "were in the possession of openly displayed and concealed firearms" outside a court building and some appeared to be conducting surveillance on officers.

Huff has identified himself as being involved with the Georgia militia and the Oath Keepers group but in pre-trial filings asked that the court prevent prosecutors from making any reference to those groups kicking him out after he was charged.

Huff had told FBI agents he wanted to help Walter Fitzpatrick, a military retiree who was arrested after he tried to put the grand jury foreman under citizen's arrest. Fitzpatrick, who became hostile to the government two decades ago when he faced a court-martial, is in state custody and has been subpoenaed to testify at Huff's trial.

According to an FBI affidavit, Huff claimed he and others were going to Madisonville to help carry out citizen's arrests of 24 federal, state and local officials named in the so-called warrants signed by Fitzpatrick.

Questions about Obama's U.S. citizenship have been raised in the past by so-called "birthers." They claimed there's no proof Obama was born in the United States, and he is therefore ineligible to be president. But Hawaii officials have certified Obama was born in that state.

The U.S. Constitution requires that presidential candidates be "natural-born" U.S. citizens, be at least 35 years old, and be a resident of the U.S. for at least 14 years.

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