The trial in the case of three Occupy activists known as the “NATO 3,” who face terrorism and other felony conspiracy charges, began in Chicago today.
Brian Church, 22, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Jared Chase, 29, of Keene, New Hampshire, and Brent Betterly, 25, who lived in Massachusetts, were arrested days before a NATO summit in Chicago on May 16, 2012. The state alleged they were plotting 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.” It suggested they were considering targeting President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign headquarters. They had allegedly made Molotov cocktails.
But defense attorneys strongly insisted the three had no intent to commit a criminally violent act and, in fact, it was two undercover police officers who had encouraged the three to consider launching attacks against targets in Chicago during the NATO summit.
During opening arguments, defense attorneys for each of the defendants highlighted a spying operation by the Chicago Police’s intelligence unit. They sent police to community group meetings, marches, bars, punk rock shows, and other public events in search of targets—”anarchists” or “black bloc.”
Nadia Chikko, one of the undercover police who infiltrated Occupy Chicago and helped the Chicago police target the NATO 3 as “Gloves,” listened to conversations for any indication of “planned criminal activity.” She listened for talk of violence and terrorism.
According to defense attorneys, Chikko and another undercover cop, Mohmet Nguyen (“Mo”), took photographs of license plates at gatherings or events with activists. They spent two months conducting surveillance prior to May 2012, when they decided to target the NATO 3.
Thomas Durkin, defense attorney for Chase, said as early as June 2011 the police were infiltrating the activist community.
The justification, Durkin read in court, was the following: “Based on an incident in Toronto attributed to black bloc and violent anarchist infiltrators” around the G20, they would monitor the activist community and uncover any “anarchists” or “black bloc” that may pose a threat to Chicago. [Note: At this point, Chicago was to host both the NATO meeting and the G8. Chicago lost the G8 in March 2012.]
A police surveillance operation spent 15 hours casing a house in April. Police traveled to Milwaukee when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel gave a speech. To Durkin, this was all about finding “black bloc people.”
Sarah Gelsomino, defense attorney for Church, spoke about recordings of the defendants. Both “Mo” and “Gloves” wore wires when targets had been selected. They recorded their conversations, which Gelsomino alleged show they were on a “mission.”
Not only did they persistently ask defendants about what they planned to do, as if they had developed plans for attacks already, but the undercover cops apparently offered Church, who was twenty years-old at the time, beer. For many of the conversations the defendants had with the cops on their plans, they were terribly drunk.
It was “Mo” and “Gloves,” Gelsomino said, that encouraged the “NATO 3″ to be “more militant” and engage in “much more direct action.” The NATO 3 could not even find Obama’s campaign headquarters. They were too drunk to go out and do reconnaissance, she claimed.
Assistant State’s Attorney Matthew Thrun, in contrast, said “Mo” and “Gloves” had been “two good young officers.” They were asked to “help keep the city safe” during the NATO meeting. They found three men from out of town who “wanted to set fire to the ultimate image of law and order”—a police officer. They later allegedly filled four glass bottles with gasoline, which the state believes would have been used against police.
“Are you ready to see a police officer on fire?” Thrun claimed one of the defendants had said. [Note: Police wear flame retardant clothing.]
The three men had brought weapons to the city, including tactical vests and gas masks. They went to meetings so they could get information on the local area and decide what to target. They “disguised themselves as protesters.”
But, who really “disguised themselves as protesters”? It seems like the undercover police that were spying on the entire activist community in Chicago were the ones who put on a disguise. And, through this infiltration, they were targeting the First Amendment activities of citizens in the city.
It was not just the police who were searching for potential troublemakers. The FBI and Secret Service worked with the Chicago police “hand-in-glove,” according to Chicago Police Department Chief Garry McCarthy.
Yet, the federal government is not prosecuting this case. They are not going after individuals who Durkin referred to as “people who never really had a chance.” They aren’t prosecuting people who had been struggling and found that the Occupy movement gave them a purpose in life.
Defense attorneys seem to concede the defendants were drunk and behaved irresponsibly. They said some really foul and obscene things to the undercover police, who were recording them. They were definitely things people probably should never say. However, they ask the state what evidence it has that the three men were ever going to take any violent action.
Plus, why is this a terrorism case? As Gelsomino stated, “This is not a case of terrorism at all. It does not even come close.”
The answer, Durkin believes, has to do with the police department’s budget. Nearly $200 million was to be cut as the city tried to figure out how it was going to pay for the security expenses incurred from hosting the NATO meeting.
The pressure to find some domestic terrorism suspects ahead of the NATO meeting in order to justify the immense amount of resources going into securing Chicago was huge. And, at the direction of superiors, “Mo” and “Gloves” ensured that Chicago would get the boogeymen they wanted days before the NATO meeting so they could show all security expenses were justified.
*Editor’s Note: Officer Nadia Chikko took the stand as a prosecution witness today. She was only part way through her testimony and will return to the stand tomorrow. Look for a report on her testimony after Day 2 of the proceedings.
Photo by Michael Kappel under Creative Commons license