Three Occupy activists raided on May 16 and disappeared for a period of time by Chicago police were brought before a bond judge this afternoon and officially charged with material support for terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism and possession of explosives or explosive or incendiary devices. The State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez asked for bail to be set at $5 million for the three men who had come from out-of-state to protest the NATO summit. The judge set the bail at $1.5 million. Each of the charges are felony charges.
The case marks the first time that state prosecutors have used the Illinois Terrorism law to prosecute individuals. The prosecutor accused Brian Church, 22, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Jared Chase, 27, of Keene, New Hampshire, and Brent Betterly, 24, who lives in Massachusetts, of planning to “destroy police cars and attack four Chicago Police district stations with destructive devices, in an effort to undermine the police response to the conspirators’ other planned actions for the NATO Summit.” The prosecutor claimed defendants possessed and/or constructed “improvised explosive-incendiary devices” (IEDs) and “various types of dangerous weapons including a mortar gun, swords, a hunting bow, throwing stars, and knives with brass-knuckle handles.”
Alvarez alleged the activists were “self-proclaimed anarchists and members of the ‘Black Bloc’ group, who traveled together from Florida to the Chicago area” and were prepared to commit “terrorist acts of violence and destruction directed against different targets in protest to the NATO summit. She claimed the three men had proposed targets that included “the Campaign Headquarters of President Obama, the home of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and certain downtown financial institutions.”
The details presented by Alvarez were all part of a “public safety investigation” that began in early May and was conducted with assistance from the FBI and Secret Service. The details consisted of allegations and claims about the three activists that had not been shared with National Lawyers Guild (NLG) attorneys representing the arrestees until the bond hearing.
Michael Deutsch of the NLG and People’s Law Office in Chicago was in court to represent Church. He said the NLG questions the charges against these men from top to bottom. He said the three men had told NLG attorneys “had no intent to commit any criminal violent act.” In fact, Church had been going to Broward Community College to become an emergency medical technician (EMT).
In Illinois, a person has to post 10% of the bail to get out of jail.
“Obviously these people do not have the resources to post bail,” Deutsch said. “For the near future, they will be in until we can get a real bail hearing, which explains these outrageous claims that the State’s Attorney read.” He added the NLG believes the charges are “fabricated charges” and they are “based on police informants and provocateurs which is a common pattern that we have seen against people who are protesting.”
During the bond hearing, Deutsch called the accusations against Church “propaganda.” The State’s Attorney claimed Church “wanted to recruit four groups of co-conspirators (16 people) to conduct the raids, and that reconnaissance had already been conducted at CPD Headquarters located at 3510 South Michigan Avenue for the purpose of a planned attack.”
The prosecutor claimed to have Church on the record saying the “city doesn’t know what it is in for during the NATO summit. And things will never be the same.” They claimed the activists had gone to a BP station at 31st & Halsted to get gasoline for Molotov cocktails and that they had Church on record saying, “Have you ever seen a cop on fire?”
“All of these things are surprises to us,” Deutsch explained. “All the charges were in the newspaper this morning but other than that all the specifics” were presented to the arrestee’s attorneys during the hearing for the first time. The attorneys had yet to see a search warrant for the apartment that was raided.
Deutsch called the investigation, targeting and raid of these activists “worse than entrapment.” According to the NLG, two police informants infiltrated the group. The NLG believes “they’re the ones who provoked this and they’re the ones,” who committed the “illegal activity” and had the “illegal materials.”
Additionally, they said the informants didn’t provide the materials and convince the activists to engage in some plot. The activists did not take the bait. The informants simply left the materials in the apartment ahead of the raid so the materials would be there for police to find.
“This is our understanding,” Deutsch declared. “Police brought the materials, they suggested that this happened, people were not willing to do it, they called for a raid and arrested everybody in the apartment.”
Alvarez and Chicago police chief Garry McCarthy released statements. Alvarez said:
These individuals are domestic terrorists who came to Chicago with an anarchist agenda to harm police officers, intimidate citizens and to attack their politically motivated targets…The information and evidence recovered in this investigation clearly demonstrates that these defendants were equipped and prepared to carry out violent acts to disrupt the NATO summit.
The proactive investigative efforts of our officers in coordination with the Cook County State’s Attorney Office and our federal partners deterred the malicious planning and execution of these individual’s strategies.
The FBI and Secret Service were involved in the raid. They first began to follow the activists at a May 1 demonstration in Chicago. It is also believed that they were monitoring them at the Occupy Chicago headquarters on Cermak Road on the south side of Chicago.
The charges, Deutsch alleged, were made to “discredit protesters” that had come to the city. They were issued to make it seem like the “police are under attack when people are peacefully protesting.” The terrorism charges were “strategic” and all a part of making “people’s eyes blank over and think” the men posed a threat.
Each of the men appeared in a video that went viral and showed Chicago police harassing them. As NLG attorney Sarah Gelsomino described for the press late last night:
They were driving in a car and were pulled over without any kind of justification or reason by the Chicago police department. They were surrounded by police and they were questioned for a very long period of time about what they were doing in Chicago, why they were here to protest, what their political affiliations were, how they identified politically—All kinds of absolutely outrageous questions that certainly do not indicate any kind of illegal behavior because it is not constitutional simply to accuse them of a crime because of a political belief.
Later in the afternoon, Occupy Chicago led a march in solidarity with the NATO 3 in downtown Chicago. Around 2 am in the morning on Saturday, when it was announced the three men were being charged with terrorism, Occupy Chicago declared, “Police are retaliating by charging these men with serious terrorism charges because they posted the video and it spread.”
The three activists were arrested in the raid along with six other activists, who were disappeared by police. They were taken by unmarked vehicles to the Organized Crime Division on Wednesday night. After a day of interrogations where the police tried to force arrestees to falsely confess or snitch on members of the movement, four were released on May 17. Then two more were released late in the night on May 18. All six of the arrestees released were held without charge for twenty-four to forty-eight hours.
At 2 am, it was announced the three would not be released as Occupy activists hoped. They would face terrorism charges.
“We are not terrorists,” Occupy Chicago reacted. Chicago police and others involved in the targeting of these activists “welcomed the real terrorists to our city this weekend and because we protest them they do shit like this.”
*Note: I am based in Chicago and on the ground following this story and other stories of police repression during the NATO summit closely. There will be more on this raid tomorrow morning. Right now, these are the main facts that came out of the bond hearing.
For previous coverage of the preemptive raid and targeting of Occupy activists here to protest the NATO summit, go here.
And from colleague Steve Horn, who I am on the ground here working with – This is Michael Deutsch, attorney for one of the three men, speaking to the press: