The Indictment of NATO Protesters on Terrorism Charges
Three individuals who came to Chicago in May to protest at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit appeared in court yesterday during a two-minute hearing in Chicago, Illinois. They were indicted on terrorism-related charges by a grand jury and were the first people to be charged under an Illinois state terrorism law passed a few years after the September 11th attacks.
Brian Church, 22, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Jared Chase, 27, of Keene, New Hampshire, and Brent Betterly, 24, who lives in Massachusetts, were each arrested along with six other people in a preemptive raid by Chicago police on an apartment unit in Bridgeport, Chicago, on May 16. They were disappeared and held without charge, along with others that were arrested, until Thursday, May 17. Then, those arrested began to be released. By late Friday, May 18, the three were the only activists in jail and early on Saturday, May 19, it was announced they would be charged with material support for terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism and possession of explosives or explosive or incendiary device.
Allegations of terrorism were expected to be backed up by some evidence yesterday. The lawyers for the three protesters (collectively known as the “NATO 3″) were to be given an official indictment from the grand jury that would further outline why the state had arrested, detained and charged these activists with terrorism-related charges. However, the prosecutors declined to provide a copy of the indictment to the defense, a decision the judge presiding over the hearing called “a little strange.”
The judge could have compelled the prosecutors to hand over the indictment to the defense, but the judge did not make such an order. The judge instead made it clear the prosecutors had to provide the indictment to the defense by July 2, when the three are scheduled to be arraigned.
Not producing an indictment is unusual. However, in a case like this, which has already seen its share of legal irregularities and possible civil liberties violations, it is probably to be expected.
Abuses of authority in this preemptive prosecution already include (but are not limited to): the disappearing of arrestees after the raid; the refusal to show arrestees’ attorneys a search warrant; the detention of arrestees without charge for one day to two days before six were released without charges; the interrogations of the six released without charges that were intended to intimidate and force them to falsely confess or snitch on others in the movement; the refusal to show any evidence against the arrestees charged with terrorism prior to a bond hearing on Saturday and the decision by someone in the department to show police records on the arrestees to the Chicago Tribune so they could be turned into boogeymen ahead of a Saturday bond hearing (just before the NATO summit on Sunday and Monday).
Infiltrators that the National Lawyers Guild and Occupy Chicago say went by the names “Mo” and “Gloves” were also allegedly helping law enforcement. The targeting of these three individuals was likely a part of an FBI operation that was designed to push these three individuals to the brink of committing an act of terrorism (similar to how the FBI used Brandon Darby to go after David McKay and Bradley Crowder ahead of the Republican National Convention in 2008).
Michael Deutsch, lawyer for Church, believes the infiltrators met up with Betterly, Chase, and Church at the May Day demonstration in Chicago. He believes these infiltrators then went about trying to convince the three men to engage in a terror plot against the NATO summit. When they failed, the infiltrators planted materials for the authorities to find when they raided the apartment, making this case “worse than entrapment.”
The Illinois state’s attorney Anita Alvarez, ahead of the bond hearing in May, made several significant allegations against the NATO 3. Alvarez said they were “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—targets that include President Obama’s re-election campaign headquarters, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home and downtown financial institutions.” Alvarez also claimed they 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.” They are accused of making “Molotov cocktails.” But, as of now, no pictures of these items have appeared in the local press in Chicago and none of the lawyers have been shown these “dangerous weapons.” We simply don’t know whether these are “fabricated charges” made up by the infiltrators involved in the case. They may even be weapons that were planted ahead of the raid.
Since the case is being prosecuted under an untested Illinois state terrorism law, it appears the federal government has stepped back from prosecuting these men. This may be a signal that they do not believe they have a case. All they wanted to do was make headlines and justify months of preemptive policing in the run-up to a national special security event in Chicago.
Defense lawyers for the NATO 3 have called the Illinois state terrorism law “vague” and “broad.” Here is the text of what is considered “terrorism” under the law (one might notice that it appears to have been written to explicitly go after environmental activists for “eco-terrorism” activities):
(l) “Terrorist act” or “act of terrorism” means: (1) any act that is intended to cause or create a risk and does cause or create a risk of death or great bodily harm to one or more persons; (2) any act that disables or destroys the usefulness or operation of any communications system; (3) any act or any series of 2 or more acts committed in furtherance of a single intention, scheme, or design that disables or destroys the usefulness or operation of a computer network, computers, computer programs, or data used by any industry, by any class of business, or by 5 or more businesses or by the federal government, State government, any unit of local government, a public utility, a manufacturer of pharmaceuticals, a national defense contractor, or a manufacturer of chemical or biological products used in or in connection with agricultural production; (4) any act that disables or causes substantial damage to or destruction of any structure or facility used in or used in connection with ground, air, or water transportation; the production or distribution of electricity, gas, oil, or other fuel (except for acts that occur inadvertently and as the result of operation of the facility that produces or distributes electricity, gas, oil, or other fuel); the treatment of sewage or the treatment or distribution of water; or controlling the flow of any body of water; (5) any act that causes substantial damage to or destruction of livestock or to crops or a series of 2 or more acts committed in furtherance of a single intention, scheme, or design which, in the aggregate, causes substantial damage to or destruction of livestock or crops; (6) any act that causes substantial damage to or destruction of any hospital or any building or facility used by the federal government, State government, any unit of local government or by a national defense contractor or by a public utility, a manufacturer of pharmaceuticals, a manufacturer of chemical or biological products used in or in connection with agricultural production or the storage or processing of agricultural products or the preparation of agricultural products for food or food products intended for resale or for feed for livestock; (7) any act that causes substantial damage to any building containing 5 or more businesses of any type or to any building in which 10 or more people reside; (8) endangering the food supply; or (9) endangering the water supply. [emphasis added]
Neither one of the individuals charged with terrorism committed any violent acts. The entire case rests on the presumption that they intended to commit such acts. The authorities may have heard a report the three would commit violent acts from the infiltrators that were tasked with helping with the operation that targeted these men. The authorities only have to make it clear that they believed these men intended to commit violence and that they had to take seriously what was said because NATO was coming to town. That is enough to press on with the prosecution of these activists.
The authorities are already making the defendants out to be dangerous men. They appeared in court in shackles, which led one of the lawyers for the men, Thomas Durkin, to react sarcastically: “It all plays as part of the script. Of course they’re going to have to be heavily shackled. How else are you supposed to treat domestic terrorists?…You would you be nuts to let them walk around like regular murderers. I mean, they can’t treat them like murderers.”
It is unknown right now whether the infiltrators were working for the FBI or the Chicago Police Department. The Chicago Sun-Times reported on June 1 that, according to “sources,” “undercover Chicago Police officers infiltrated the group of protesters and watched them allegedly make firebombs.” Infiltrating activist groups sounds like a tactic of the FBI and not something the Chicago police would do. That does not necessarily mean the Chicago police didn’t hire individuals to engage in infiltration. The FBI, Secret Service and Chicago Police Department may have gotten together and decided they wanted to have undercover “cops” on the ground ahead of the summit.
Two other activists face terrorism-related charges but have yet to be indicted. Sebastian Senakiewicz, 24, who resides in Chicago, was charged with a felony offense of “falsely making a terrorist threat.” Mark Neiweem, 28, who also resides in Chicago, was charged with the “felony offense of solicitation for possession of explosives or explosive or incendiary devices.” They were not arrested with the NATO 3, but lawyers say the infiltrators, “Mo” and “Gloves,” tie the cases together.