BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Raids that resulted in the arrests of six alleged militia members and the seizure of hundreds of hand grenades and bullets were “much ado about nothing,” a defense lawyer said Friday.
A cache of ammunition that was confiscated _ 2,500 rounds _ wasn’t that large, and the scores of homemade hand grenades that agents seized could be made with powder from fireworks and components readily available in military surplus stores, attorney Scott Boudreaux said.
Even prosecutors say the ragtag group called the Alabama Free Militia had no intended target and was simply stockpiling munitions, said Boudreaux, who plans to meet this weekend with his client, Raymond Kirk Dillard, 46, of Collinsville, a supposed major in the paramilitary group.
“Frankly, I don’t think that’s a big deal,” said Boudreaux. “It seems to be much ado about nothing.”
Jim Cavanaugh, regional director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said the raids eliminated a huge threat. The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks extremist organizations, said the weapons seizure was the largest in the South in years.
“The arrests and the seizure of such an enormous arsenal are a compelling reminder that extremist groups continue to operate in otherwise peaceful communities filled with law-abiding citizens,” said Bill Nigut of Atlanta, ADL regional director.
Five men were jailed without bond on federal charges of conspiring to make a firearm after the raids, conducted early Thursday in four Alabama counties. They included Dillard; Adam Lynn Cunningham, 41; Bonnell Hughes, 57; Randall Garrett Cole, 22; and James Ray McElroy, 20.
A sixth alleged member, 30-year-old Michael Wayne Bobo, was charged with being a drug user in possession of a firearm.
Don Colee, an attorney for Hughes, said all six men were due in court on Tuesday for a hearing where a federal judge will determine whether the government can keep them in custody.
Dillard lived in a small camper without electricity or running water in northeast Alabama, and neighbors said McElroy lived in a makeshift tent nearby. Bobo lived with his parents in an upscale subdivision in suburban Birmingham.
A court document indicates Dillard, unknowingly met with an ATF informant at a flea market in Collinsville about four months ago, told him he was organizing a militia and later accepted him into the group as a sergeant major.
The informant was at the home of Cole, an alleged militia lieutenant, about two months ago when he saw grenades, according to the document, a sworn statement by ATF agent Adam Nesmith. Investigators found more weapons as they monitored the group through the informant and with video and audio surveillance, Nesmith said.
During the raid, agents recovered 130 hand grenades, a grenade launcher, about 70 hand grenades rigged to be fired from a rifle, a machine gun, a short-barrel shotgun, 2,500 rounds of ammunition, explosives components, stolen fireworks and other items.
U.S. Attorney Alice Martin said the fireworks used to make the grenades were commercial grade, not the type sold in retail stores in Alabama.
“Even to possess these fireworks without a license is a felony in Alabama,” she said.