As often has been true in the case of 12 men accused of plotting an overthrow of the government in communist Laos, what was going on Monday outside Sacramento's federal courthouse was more scintillating than the proceedings in court.
Throughout the morning, more than 3,000 men, women and children of Hmong descent engaged in a spirited but orderly demonstration in front of the courthouse to show their support for the defendants, 11 of whom are of Hmong heritage.
Inside it was routine business as a phalanx of lawyers talked with U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. about dates to file pleadings.
The federal indictment accuses the group of conspiring to mobilize an insurgent force with the aim of transforming Laos into an American-style democracy. The prosecution contends that the men were planning to arm Hmong people in Laos for a revolt against the country's communist rulers.
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All 12 defendants have pleaded not guilty, and the defense argues that the whole case is a concoction by ATF agents and federal prosecutors.
The Hmong, a Laotian mountain people, fought a CIA-sponsored war for 14 years against communist infiltration into South Vietnam and Laos. When those countries fell to the communists in 1975, tens of thousands of Hmong made their way to the United States by way of refugee camps in Thailand.
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