No One Really Won In NATO 3 Trial
By aaroncynic in News on Feb 11, 2014 8:30PM
Brent Betterly, Brian Church and Jared Chase have been charged in an alleged NATO summit terror plot. (Chicago Police Department booking photos.)
Friday's ruling in the NATO 3 trial was a mixed bag for both the defense and the prosecution. After weeks of testimony a jury found Brian Jacob Church, 22, Jared Chase, 29, and Brent Betterly, 25, not guilty of terrorism charges but convicted the three out-of-state men on lesser charges, mob action and arson related charges, that carry prison terms of up to 30 years.
Assistant State's Attorney John Blakey dubbed the three men “Mr. Cop on Fire,” “Captain Napalm” and “Professor Molotov” respectively, and of hatching a nearly super-villanous terrorism plot that would have included attacks on police stations, President Barack Obama's Chicago campaign headquarters, Chase Tower and burning police officers in the streets.
The trial was the first time the Illinois State's Attorney's office prosecuted a case under a 12 year old terrorism law passed just after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Prosecutors argued the three men came to Chicago “ready for war” and presented the jury with inflammatory and incendiary statements the trio made recorded by undercover police, as well as four beer bottles filled partially with gasoline and a collection of various weapons including a bow and arrow, a throwing star, a slingshot and a homemade “shield” emblazoned with the words “austerity ain't gonna happen.”
If one were to believe Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez Betterly, Chase and Church—who have spent nearly two years in Cook County Jail awaiting trial with $1.5 million bonds—were “cold, calculating terrorists.” Even Judge Thaddeus Wilson seemed to believe the rhetoric (at least in part) when he declined a move by the defense for a direct acquittal. Wilson repeated a line allegedly said by Church to the undercover officers that was not recorded: “Chicago will never be the same,” adding “the court has that as a backdrop for all this. Chicago will never be the same.”
But, were “Mr. Cop on Fire,” “Captain Napalm” and “Professor Molotov” hardened “violent anarchists” preparing a terrorist plot of chaos and destruction worthy of Cobra Commander, or were they a trio of loud mouthed, outspoken kids who spat a lot of tough violent sounding rhetoric after getting drunk and high when prompted by police? The defense showed—and the jury at least partly agreed—on the latter.
The prosecution's case relied heavily on testimony about recordings made by two undercover police officers, Nadia Chikko and Mehmet Uygun, also known as “Gloves” and “Mo.” Both Uygun and Chikko, aided by intelligence units within the Chicago Police Department, spent months working undercover in Chicago's activist community attempting to build relationships and trust with local organizers. Testimony from Chikko and Uygun revealed that police had spent plenty of time prior to the summit searching the city for “anarchists.” Chikko attended a punk show in Pilsen in March 2012 and spent some time chatting up a local young man, Ian Wise, because of a tattoo he had of Emiliano Zapata. After Wise expressed his distrust of police to Chikko, she took special note, saying “it could be something to look into.” Police took down license plate information from cars at more than one punk rock show. When asked on the stand about this, Uygun said “we are the police, sir. We run plates sometimes.”
Chikko and several other police officers spent time at Heartland Cafe in Rogers Park to see “if there was any criminal activity being talked about, discussed or planned.” According to reporter Kevin Gosztola from Firedoglake, police trolled Division Street looking for anarchists and graffiti related to anarchism. Uygun once even spent several hours handcuffed to an organizer of one of the protests held at the Woodlawn Mental Health clinic, when local activists attempted to fight its closure. Many of these things happened before Church, Chase and Betterly even set foot in Chicago. After the pair of undercover cops set their sights on the three, the recordings revealed “Mo” and “Gloves” spent more time talking about Molotovs than the three combined. In one recording, Uygun says “Dude, we got Molotovs — that's not whack” with Chikko later chiming in “you guys got anything? Should we make some? You got bottles?”
It seems that no one even brought the idea up before May 16, the day the three were arrested during the raid on their Bridgeport apartment. As to the cache of weapons and other fantastical ideas about plotting to bring Chicago to its knees with a coordinated series of attacks, the prosecution could produce no evidence the NATO 3 planned on bringing the legally owned items to any of the demonstrations or evidence the trio attempted to recruit anyone.
In fact, the three were mostly too drunk or stoned to do anything more than talk big in front of undercover police all too eager to egg them on. The Tribune reported that in one recording, Church apologized for not making coherent plans because he was “fucking spaced out.” Uygun told him that he and Chase needed to “come up with something before you hit the bowl.” In another instance, then underage Church was too drunk to drive, so Chikko had to take the wheel. One night, Church and Chase skipped a protest at Woodlawn to drink and wait for a weed dealer to stop by the apartment in Bridgeport. Chase’s attorney, Thomas Durkin, quipped “The revolution had to take a bit of a hiatus that night.”
Much of the way the trial played out was something of a tragic comedy. If three young men hadn't spent the past two years in jail and weren't looking at spending another thirty years behind bars, it might be. Even after all of the testimony revealing much of the actions the three discussed wouldn't have become more than words without the help of police, Anita Alvarez not only acted as if the arson charges weren't enough, but had the three not been arrested prior to the NATO summit, Chicago would've been victimized by a brutal terrorist attack. In a press conference with reporters after the verdict was read, Alvarez said: “Have we forgotten about Boston here? Have we forgotten about homemade bombs in backpacks? We were able to stop people from being hurt, and I would do it again.” She even asked an Associated Press reporter if he would “like a molotov thrown at him,” when asked if the verdict meant defeat.
An editorial the Chicago Tribune ran on Monday, hoping Judge Wilson would “throw the book” at the NATO 3 said:
“When a 20-year-old calls himself an anarchist in such a setting, you don't question whether he's man enough to mean it. If he builds a Molotov cocktail, you'd better assume he'll throw it. If he talks about firebombing a bank or a skyscraper — if he says, "Ready to see a police officer on fire?" — you don't stop to wonder if it's the beer talking, or the testosterone. You take it dead seriously. Police and prosecutors did just that.”
What the Tribune misses, what Alvarez misses and what the jury missed when sending down the conviction of the arson charges is not whether or not a 20 year old anarchist is “man enough to mean” his drunken, violent sounding rhetoric. It's that even that rhetoric is suspect, given the context of the state's desire to not only infiltrate and monitor political dissidents, but goad the few they can into doing something more serious to “make an example” of them. The City of Chicago spent millions of dollars on security for the NATO summit. Chicago Police spent hundreds of hours of manpower monitoring not only the NATO 3, but hundreds of other activists. Yet, the only “terrorist plot” foiled by law enforcement was the one they themselves engineered.
The NATO 3 trial shows what needs to be taken dead seriously are the lengths law enforcement are willing to go to make a case that activists—particularly ones who self identify as anarchists—are a step away from bomb throwing terrorists.