By Meghana Keshavan
DETROIT (Reuters) - Jury selection began on Tuesday in the trial of seven members of a Midwestern militia accused of plotting to kill police to spark a wider war against the U.S. government.
Calling themselves the Hutaree, the group opposed any government regulation of firearms and explosives and conspired to kill a police officer and then ambush a funeral procession motorcade using homemade explosive devices, a federal indictment unsealed in March 2010 alleges.
The jury in the trial before U.S. District Court Judge Victoria Roberts in Detroit is to remain anonymous to the defendants and public, an unusual measure to protect their safety.
Defense attorneys argue the group was merely engaging in angry expressions of free speech in conversations that were secretly recorded and did not demonstrate real intent to carry out acts of domestic terrorism.
No attacks were carried out.
The court aims to narrow the pool to 50 possible jurors by the end of this week. Prosecutors and defense attorneys were due to select the final jury plus alternates on Monday, when opening statements were expected.
Roberts took the lead questioning prospective jurors on Tuesday, asking about their views on militias and the right to bear arms.
One possible juror who was charged with arson in 1994 for burning down her husband's house told the court she did so after he attempted to sell her daughter for $60,000. Another, a minister, said she believed only business owners and police officers should be allowed to own firearms. "We don't want crazy people walking around with guns," she said.
By the end of the day, 14 prospective jurors were approved for the next phase of selection and seven excused.
The FBI on Monday warned anti-government extremists opposed to taxes and regulations posed a growing threat to state and local law enforcement officers.
While most convictions were mostly for white-collar crimes -- there were 18 convictions each in 2010 and 2011 and 10 in 2009 -- two Arkansas police officers were shot and killed in May 2010 after an argument with a "sovereign citizen" following a traffic stop.
Another fired at but missed a police officer in Texas last year after a traffic stop.
In the case of the Hutaree, prosecutors contend the group had met regularly since 2008 to conduct military style training and were in training for an impending battle. Federal agents seized machine guns, unregistered short-barrel guns, ammunition, explosive devices and materials that could be used to make explosives, according to court documents.
The charges against all seven include sedition, the attempted use of weapons of mass destruction and firearms offenses.
The trial was expected to last six to eight weeks.
(Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Daniel Trotta)