A Chicago police officer who operated undercover and helped the police department target the “NATO 3,” who face terrorism and other felony conspiracy charges, returned to the stand. It was the second day in the trial. Recordings of conversations the officer had with the defendants and her partner were played throughout the day.
Brian Church, 22, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Jared Chase, 29, of Keene, New Hampshire, and Brent Betterly, 25, who lived in Massachusetts, were arrested on May 16, 2012, days before the NATO summit. The three young men had traveled from Florida to participate in protests.
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 also suggested they were considering targeting President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign headquarters and had allegedly made Molotov cocktails.
But defense attorneys strongly insisted the three had no intent to commit a criminally violent act. The “Molotov cocktails,” one attorney claimed, were a home-brewing beer kit that could have been used to produce “Molotov cocktails.” That was what the state thought made them “terrorists.” And two undercover cops had been involved in encouraging them to make these alleged firebombs.
Nadia Chikko was given a “temporary duty assignment” in February 2012 for a 90-day detail for the upcoming NATO summit with the Chicago Police Department’s intelligence unit. It was a “public safety assignment,” she said. She was to go undercover to “gather intelligence” at coffee shops, protests, meetings, concerts, etc. “If there was criminal activity,” the city could “allocate resources to prevent violence.”
Chikko and her partner, Mohmet Nguyen, researched NATO to see “what kind of protesters” would be coming. They both kept their original names but changed their last names. Their cover story was that they were “first cousins.” They both were in romantic relationships. She said she “had a girlfriend.” And they both were “unemployed” and “searching for jobs.”
For two months prior to being introduced to the three defendants, they would go to public assemblies or gatherings to “see if anyone was talking about criminal activity that was going to happen.” A police surveillance support team helped them infiltrate the activist community in Chicago.
The state’s prosecutor, Jack Blakey, did not ask Chikko about anything specific that happened in the time in March or April before they selected the activists they were going to target because the department perceived them as threats.
On May Day, Chikko and Nguyen went to the May Day Rally in Union Park in Chicago where they were introduced to Mark Neiweem. They came to know him as “Migs.” They went to an after-party at a place called MultiKulti, where Nadia met Church and exchanged phone numbers with him. (Neiweem was arrested after the “NATO 3″ and the state charged him with “felony offense of solicitation for possession of explosives or explosive or incendiary devices.”)
The following day, May 2, Chikko and Nguyen met Church at the White Palace Grill. Church, according to Chikko, was “paranoid.” He told them he was not familiar with the city and wanted to be shown “escape routes.” Chikko said he also talked about his dislike of city officials.
They went to a Chase Bank building in downtown Chicago. Chikko testified that Church bent down to close to the windows to measure the thickness of glass windows. While he did this, he was pretending to tie his shoes. He counted the cameras. He said he had a plan for attacking Chase Bank where he would come out of the alley, change his clothes, cut surveillance cameras and attack the bank to “cause as much damage and destruction as possible.”
The attack would be done during “haunting hours”—between 1 to 3 am.
It was also at this time, according to Chikko, that they heard him talk about hitting four different police stations with four groups of four people. The plan was to have the attacks occur simultaneously. On May 15 or 16, the attack would likely occur.
Church wanted the help of Chikko and Nguyen to look up stations to target. He also said he wanted to purchase assault rifles. According to Chikko, his words something like, “If a copy was going to be pointing an AR at him, he was going to be pointing one back.” Also, he said, “The city doesn’t know what it’s in for and after NATO the city will never be the same.”
On May 3, the two undercover officers met Betterly for the first time when the gathered and talked across the street from the Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic in Chicago. Activists were organizing around the clinics because the city of Chicago was having them shut down.
These first few days were days that neither of Chikko nor Nguyen wore a wire to record meetings. They did not have a court order and Chikko testified that they only began recording conversations from May 4 and onward.
The state determined, from recordings, that, as Chikko put it, there were 55 “pertinent conversations” that are “relevant to the case.” Thirty-one of those conversations have been played in court so far.
Betterly has not been heard on any of the recordings so far, but Chase and Church have appeared in the recorded conversations.
Church sounded exactly like what the defense attorneys representing him claimed in their opening argument—a young person fueled with “bravado” and a big-mouthed “goof.”
In meetings in the Palmisano Park in Chicago, he talks about how he will “fucking shield wall his ass,” referring to how he plans to use a tactic at protests to “de-arrest” people who are being snatched up from police at protests.
“I might light myself on fire just to take a couple with me,” Chase said. Chikko testified he imitated lighting a cigarette and setting himself on fire to kill police officers.
Church also said, “Motherfucker Obama’s not saying anything to these brutal ass police forces.” Nadia recalled that he pointed two fingers in a downward motion when saying this.
“I’m still hoping somebody finds a picture of me fucking hitting that cop at May Day,” Chase said.
This meeting on May 4 featured talk about what could be done but no concrete plans. Nothing clear was decided upon except for what Church said: “The day they do the G8, we need to do something.” They talked about an “attack” in Greek Town in Chicago in solidarity with the people of Greece.
Church suggested at one point, “Being here is like my first major thing that I’ve ever done really.”
This makes the case seem strikingly similar to the case of David McKay at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. McKay had never been that involved in major protests and wanted to do something that would make it possible to leave a mark and have an impact. FBI informant Brandon Darby convinced McKay to construct some firebombs. And McKay believed he had been entrapped after his house was raided and he was arrested and faced serious charges.
On the recordings, Chikko can be heard saying, “Molotovs, cause that’s what we do, smoke cigarettes,” and, “So basically the action is the 15th?” “If you guys wanna go by Obama’s thing together, we’ll roll with you guys if it’s during the day.”
“Did you do that recon work at night?” “You guys should have brought some beers out here.” And, referring to Molotov cocktails, “So you’re gonna make the little glass jar jump off?”
She not only seems to have constantly tried to get Chase and Church to confirm or share more details related to alleged plans, but she also was willing to play to their sensibilities, to help them feel like they were hardcore.
On May 8, at the apartment in Bridgeport in Chicago, where the police later raided and arrested nine activists, including the “NATO 3,” Church showed off weapons that he had – knives, double-bladed swords, brass knuckles and a throwing star.
She told Church, “You can punch somebody with that motherfucker too,” referring to the brass knuckles. “Damn ninja warrior,” she said.
Chase said, while Church was showing off his weapons, “Best thing about a bow and arrow. That shit doesn’t get stopped by a bulletproof vest.”
Moments later, Chikko said, “We got to go play with these before NATO.” Church added, “Go shoot some fuckin’ birds and shit.” Chikko then told Church, “I fuckin’ hate squirrels.”
She said, “You make me feel like a ninja warrior. That’s what’s up.” And, Church replied, “Yeah, I agree. These are some badass weapons.”
Beyond this, the two undercover cops were into creating distrust between them and others that were there to protest at the NATO summit. At the Occupy Headquarters on Cermak Road, Chikko suggested they be careful and they discussed how a person they thought might be a “fuckin’ fed.”
They played up the possibility that Henry Edwards, a Chicago activist, was possibly a fed. To which Church admitted, “He makes me nervous man.” Chikko later asked, “What about your other boys? They are not down, fucking Brent and Henry?”
As became clear in court today, by May 15, Betterly had not been talking to the undercover cops about any alleged plans for the NATO summit.
On May 15, both Chikko and Nguyen attended a “Fuck the Police” march. They wore recording devices. The devices captured shouting, chanting and yelling. Chikko said people were shouting things like, “Fuck the police!” But they did not get to have a conversation with any of the defendants.
A day later the “NATO 3″ would be arrested in a preemptive police raid. Though there had been talk about what could be done to target police stations and Obama’s campaign headquarters, it was far from clear what exactly the activists would do, if they were going to do anything at all.