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Chicago Police Hold Occupy Activists on State Terrorism Charges With Dubious Evidence

- Common Dreams staff

The City of Chicago has filed charges against three Occupy activists, Jared Chase, Brent Beterly, and Brian Jacob Church, including possession of explosives or incendiary devices, material support for terrorism, and conspiracy.

IMG_9823Chicago police during anti-NATO protests. (photo: Mikasi)

While police say the suspects had Molotov cocktail-making equipment, the National Lawyers Guild says they only had beer-making equipment and cell phones.

Police conducted a raid without a warrant at a home in the Bridgeport neighborhood in Chicago and arrested the three along with six other activists.

WBEZ Chicago reports that the Cook County Circuit Court judge has ordered a $1.5 million bond for each of three activists.

The three defendants were stopped last week and surrounded last week outside a Chicago CVS and questioned by police officers on what they were doing in Chicago. They recorded a video, as noted by Kevin Gosztola for Firedoglake, of the encounter and posted an edited version to Youtube. (See below.)

“The National Lawyers Guild deplores the charges against Occupy activists in the strongest degree,” said Sarah Gelsomino with the NLG and the People’s Law Office. “It’s outrageous for the city to apply terrorism charges when it’s the police who have been terrorizing activists and threatening their right to protest.”

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Gary Younge in Chicago and Matt Williams in New York reporting for The Guardian:
Three Nato protesters planned Obama campaign HQ attack, prosecutors say
Defence attorneys maintain men fell victim to police entrapment scheme involving purchase of Molotov cocktail equipment

Three Nato protesters arrested in a late night raid on Wednesday have each been held on a $1.5m bond over alleged terrorism-related offences.

Police claim the charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism, providing material support for terrorism and possession of an explosive or incendiary device, are the result of a month-long investigation into a group they believe was making Molotov cocktails.

In court on Saturday, prosecutors said the trio had planned to attack targets including President Barack Obama's campaign HQ and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel's home in a plot coinciding with the Nato summit being staged in the city.

But defence attorneys countered that the petrol bombs had been brought by undercover officers, and that their clients were victims of a police entrapment.

It is believed that the three defendants came to Chicago late last month to take part in May Day protests.

They had already been pulled over by police last week and asked about their protest plans in a stop they posted on YouTube.

Attorneys representing the men say the charges are fabricated and aimed at intimidating activists. "We cannot say enough that we believe that these charges are absolutely … very trumped up charges," said Sarah Gelsomino of the Peoples Law Office. "Clearly in an attempt to continue this intimidation campaign on activists. Charging these people who are here to peacefully protest against Nato for terrorism, when in reality the police have been terrorising activists in Chicago, is absolutely outrageous.

"All three of these guys, interestingly, were in the car about a week ago that was stopped and harassed by the Chicago police department," Gelsomino said. "They then posted that video online in an attempt to expose that police misconduct. Each of those three are now being charged with these crimes. That's as much as we know."

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Release from Chicago Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild:

For Immediate Release: May 19, 2012

National Lawyers Guild Decries Terrorism Charges Against Occupy Activists protesting NATO Summit
Preemptive raids and conspiracy charges are common characteristics of National Special Security Events

Chicago, IL — After holding NATO protesters for up to 48 hours, and releasing 6 out of 9 arrestees without any charges, the City of Chicago filed state charges last night against 3 Occupy activists from Florida, including possession of explosives or incendiary devices, material support for terrorism, and conspiracy. On Wednesday night at approximately 11:30pm, police raided a house in the Bridgeport neighborhood, detained several people in multiple apartments, and arrested 9 activists. Police broke down doors with guns drawn and searched residences without a warrant or consent.

“The National Lawyers Guild deplores the charges against Occupy activists in the strongest degree,” said Sarah Gelsomino with the NLG and the People’s Law Office. “It’s outrageous for the city to apply terrorism charges when it’s the police who have been terrorizing activists and threatening their right to protest.”

NLG attorneys are questioning why it took the city 48 hours, the limit on holding arrestees without a court hearing, to impose such serious charges. Although some accusations of Molotov cocktails have been made by police, they have provided no evidence of criminal intent or wrongdoing on the part of the activists. On Thursday, when asked about the raid at a press conference, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy knew so little about the alleged terrorism investigation that he said he would have to gather further information before commenting.

The 3 activists charged are Jared Chase, Brent Beterly, and Brian Jacob Church. Last week, all three defendants were surrounded by several police squad cars outside of a CVS, detained for no apparent reason and asked questions about why they were in Chicago and what they planned to do during the NATO summit. One of the defendants recorded the encounter and posted an edited version on YouTube. When Superintendent McCarthy questioned the validity of the footage in the media, the entire video was quickly posted.

More than 20 people have been arrested so far in the lead up to the NATO summit, which begins tomorrow. At least 3 arrestees in addition to the ones charged tonight are still in custody. “Preemptive raids meant to intimidate and stifle dissent are all too common during National Special Security Events, such as the NATO summit,” said Gelsomino.

NLG attorneys will be representing the 3 defendants in their criminal cases and will be at their bond hearing tomorrow at 12pm at 2600 South California Ave.