KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Prosecutors described a frightening standoff at a Tennessee courthouse between law enforcement and an armed man who vowed to take it over in his quest to oust President Barack Obama. The man’s attorney said he was just a “loudmouth” expressing his political opinions.
The defense didn’t work for Darren Wesley Huff, who was convicted Tuesday on a federal firearms charge that could send him to prison for up to five years.
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Huff, 41, was armed with a Colt .45 and an assault rifle on April 20, 2010, when he and about 15 others, some also armed, arrived in Madisonville, a small town about halfway between Knoxville and Chattanooga.
About 100 law enforcement officers also were there because Huff had told an FBI agent who visited his home in Dallas, Ga., and police who stopped him for a traffic violation in Tennessee that he was prepared to help take over the Monroe County Courthouse if necessary.
“Huff said he was ready to die for his rights and what he believed in,” Special Agent Mark Van Balen wrote in a pre-trial affidavit. Huff was convicted of carrying a firearm in interstate commerce with the intent to use it in a civil disorder and acquitted of another charge of using a firearm in relation to another felony.
The prosecution presented the courthouse plot as a serious and frightening.
“It was the tensest day we ever had,” District Attorney Steve Bebb testified. Bebb coordinated the law officers that day as they prepared against the plot Huff had described.
“Every one of you all may think he (Huff) and his ilk are kooky as all get out,” defense attorney Scott Green told jurors at the beginning of the trial last week. He said his client was a “loudmouth” but “not the scary guy they have been trying to paint.”
Huff himself testified, fighting back tears as he told jurors how hurt he was that “my government has called me a potential domestic terrorist.”
Jurors also heard at length from Huff thanks to a dashboard camera video taken after he was stopped and given a warning for driving too closely. In the tape, Huff chatted for an hour about religion and guns with officers, volunteering many details about what he was planning to do in Tennessee.
“I like y’all,” Huff told the officers in the recording.
He said he was motivated to go to Madisonville by Walter Fitzpatrick, a Navy retiree who has had a beef against the federal government since he faced a court martial decades ago.
Fitzpatrick was facing charges in the eastern Tennessee town about halfway between Knoxville and Chattanooga because he tried to use a citizen’s arrest warrant to take into custody local officials who wouldn’t pursue a legal case to oust Obama. Fitzpatrick’s warrant called the local officials “domestic enemies” and Obama an “illegal alien, infiltrator and impostor.”
Huff said in the video that he and others were ready to help carry out the citizen’s arrests Fitzpatrick wanted.
“I’ve got my .45 because ain’t no government official gonna go peacefully,” Huff told the police.
Green argued that Huff had a permit to carry the guns and right to express his opinion and didn’t cause a disturbance.
“I have never made a statement about taking over the courthouse, the city, the state, nothing,” Huff testified. “I never said anything about taking anything over.”
That was disputed by two employees of his local bank who testified that he had threatened to take over the courthouse. They alerted the FBI, which then visited Huff at his home northwest of Atlanta the day before he left for Tennessee.
The 12-member jury in the case heard a week of testimony and arguments. It reported late Monday that members were hung, but U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan told them to try again Tuesday and the verdict came back with a conviction on one charge and acquittal on the other.
“The verdict on count one reflects exactly what the law is supposed to do, which is prevent harm before shots get fired, people hurt, or property damaged,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Will Mackie told reporters after the verdict.
Defense attorney Green didn’t comment after the verdict but when he spoke The Associated Press on Monday he quoted former New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay: “Those who suppress freedom always do so in the name of law and order.”
Huff was taken immediately into custody and couldn’t be reached for comment. His sentencing is scheduled for February.