The “NATO 3″ were sentenced by a judge today for mob action and possession of an incendiary device with intent to commit arson offenses. They each were given prison sentences, but they were much shorter than what prosecutors from the state of Illinois wanted.
Brian Jacob Church, Brent Betterly and Jared Chase, came to Chicago for protests at the NATO summit at the end of April in 2012. They were targeted by undercover police and arrested for their alleged involvement in making Molotov cocktails late in the evening on May 16, 2012. They were labeled terrorists by the State’s Attorney Office in a criminal complaint that was a fantasy of radical terror.
On February 7, after a rather lengthy trial,a jury found the three men not guilty of all state terrorism charges including material support for terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism and possession and manufacturing of an incendiary device with the intent to commit terrorism. They were found not guilty of possessing an incendiary device with the intention to commit arson and not guilty of solicitation of arson. It was a huge victory for defense attorneys in the case.
The three men were found guilty of possessing an incendiary device to commit arson, a charge that carries a sentence of up to 30 years in prison. They also were found guilty of possessing an incendiary device with the knowledge that it would be used to commit arson and found guilty of lesser mob action charges, which jurors were able to select if they did not want to find the “NATO 3″ guilty of terrorism.
The judge sentenced Church to 30 days in prison for mob action and five years in prison for the possession of an incendiary device charge. He sentenced Betterly to 30 days in prison for mob action and six years in prison for the possession of an incendiary device charge. He sentenced Chase to 30 days in prison for mob action and eight years in prison for the possession of an incendiary device charge.
“NATO 3″ More Dangerous Than People Who Committed “Murder-For-Hire”
During sentencing, it was quite clear that the State’s Attorney of Cook County Anita Alvarez and others in her office were deeply upset that they had lost. And, to possibly salvage the case, they asked Judge Thaddeus Wilson to sentence each of the men to 14 years in prison.
Prosecutors argued in their sentencing memo that what the men had done was more dangerous than criminals who committed “murder-for-hire.” They also invoked the Boston Marathon bombing.
Assistant State’s Attorney Jack Blakey built upon his record of feverish statements in this case by referencing a “separate set of defendants,” who on April 15, 2013, used a “crock pot with marbles” and killed people including a child. They, too, had a bag of weapons that were used against the police. A police officer lost his life. These defendants also hijacked a car and attacked a police officer. This is what prosecutors believed the men would have done “if they had gotten their way.” And, if it were not for the “great police work,” the argument was that the city would have been hit with an attack similar to the Boston bombing.
This infuriated defense attorney Thomas Durkin, who represented Chase. He called them out for having the “audacity” to “compare this to Boston.” He “didn’t think for a minute” they would be “ignorant enough to compare this to Boston” and suggested prosecutors were like the Spanish Inquisition.
“Have We Forgotten About Homemade Bombs in Backpacks?”
But State’s Attorney of Cook County, Anita Alvarez, had invoked this real and actual terrorism attack after the state lost its terrorism case in February. “You know what? My job is public safety, and that’s exactly what we did. Have we forgotten about Boston? Have we forgotten about homemade bombs in backpacks?” She also asked a reporter for the Associated Press later if he wanted a Molotov cocktail thrown through his window.
Durkin explained that the prosecutors made him embarrassed to be from Chicago. He was “embarrassed to be in a world where facts get turned upside down for political purposes.” The prosecutors “still didn’t get the message no matter what the jury said.” They didn’t realize “the world has been laughing at them.”
Church made a brief statement in court and mentioned a letter he wrote to the judge. He had spent a few hours trying to figure out exactly what he wanted to say. He said he was not a perfect person. He like any other person made mistakes, but those who are wise learn from their mistakes.”
“I want to go home where I have a job, a family, a home to go to, a place to stay,” he said to the judge. He also felt compelled to add, “I do love my country,” and to be compared to “such an atrocity”—the Boston bombing—”hurts. It rips my heart apart.”
Judge Asked to “Ratify” This “Failed Prosecution”
A defense attorney for Church, Michael Deutsch, argued that the prosecutors wanted to convince the judge to “ratify overcharging” them. They wanted him to put a kind of stamp of approval on “terrorism charges that never should have been brought in the first place” by giving each of them 14 years in prison.
Deutsch further argued that there was no penological purpose in sentencing Church to any more time in prison. Church (along with the other two defendants) had been in prison all alone in each of their cells for over 700 days. He had time to mature and learn that what he did should not have been done. Anyone coming to Chicago now to commit property damage or any violent criminal act at a major protest would know that they would get charged with terrorism by the state and be put in the Cook County jail if they tried to do something like that. So, what was the purpose?
“Is it retribution?” Deutsch asked. Is it for revenge? Or, he added, “Some way to justify what the State’s Attorney’s Office did?”
Blakey claimed that there was “more than a risk of recidivism” in this case and they were a “disaster waiting to happen.” He continued to use fear to persuade the judge saying the judge needed to use the force of law to the fullest extent possible so Chicago would not look back and ask if he could have done more.
Prosecutors Use Genetic Neurodegenerative Disorder Diagnosis Against Chase
Perhaps, most vile was how he argued that Chase, who suffers from Huntington’s disease and is likely to die within the next ten years, is “more dangerous” because he has this rare genetic neurodegenerative disorder.
A doctor who conducted a neurological exam testified in court that Chase has been developing symptoms for at least the past five years. It is hereditary. It makes it hard to control behavior. It is in some ways responsible for his outbursts in prison, where he has thrown his food tray or squirted urine and feces at correctional officers.
This is who undercover police officers targeted and manipulated into playing probably the most active role in the construction of Molotov cocktails. Rather than show compassion, Blakey despicably said that if he was out of prison there would be nothing to “prevent him from filling [a] bottle with something else.” There would be “more than urine and feces at his disposal” when he was no longer in jail.
Prosecutors Say Betterly is No “Father of the Year”
The slimy character assassination continued with Blakey saying Betterly was no “Father of the Year.” He said Betterly would not “trust a UC to get in his way” the next time. So, the judge needed to give everyone in Chicago an opportunity for something different, “something different than what Boston suffered.”
Betterly had a son seven years ago. He delivered an impassioned statement in court where he sought to “refute assertions made about the person” prosecutors have suggested he happens to be. He talked about his “little boy” giving him a “sense of purpose in the world” and how he is “haunted” by his own failure. “His daddy is no monster,” he said.
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The statement also articulated his political beliefs, responding to the way the prosecution had used anarchist in a way that was interchangeable with terrorist. He said he never planned any conspiracy that would have perpetuated the same cycle of fear and violence which he has opposed. He expressed a clear commitment to social justice and also stated that he had come to the city to protest and “join in solidarity with those who have experienced terror at the hands of NATO.”
Judge Agrees With Defense That This Case Was Not About Terrorism
When the judge announced his sentence, he opened, “A lot has been said about this case so to start I think it is important to say what this case wasn’t. It was not a case about anarchists. It was not a case about the 99% versus the 1%. It was not a case about criminalizing protest. It was not a case about fear mongering. It was not a case about the First Amendment. It was not a case about police entrapment.”
“It was not a case about terrorism,” he added.
Judge Wilson said the police officers should be “commended.” He said “peaceful protest is not synonymous with rioting,” and “as a society, in the face of threats, we don’t wait for a building or property to be damaged.”
“We don’t wait until runners are impaled by sharpanel as they cross the finish line,” and we “don’t wait for a police on fire,” he declared.
Seeing a Molotov cocktail—”That is terror.” It “might not be terrorism but it is terrorizing.” And Americans will not stand for the throwing of Molotov cocktails at police on the streets.
Never Missing a Moment to Crank Up the Fear
It was Durkin’s contention in court that the “NATO 3″ were being punished for going to trial. The prosecutors pushed for a “heavier sentence because they dared to challenge authority.” Certainly, the prosecutors wanted these men to be terrorists so they could use funds left over from the NATO summit toward the prosecution.
The prosecutors never missed a moment to crank up the fear. They threw around all sorts of innuendo and insinuations and then, during the closing argument, outright called the “NATO 3″ terrorists and the jury was not persuaded by any of it. After about an hour of deliberation, Durkin said, they were moving on to what to do with the other charges they had available to convict them. They recognized the evidence at issue was not evidence of terrorism.
What About the Chicago Police Department’s Spying on Activist Groups?
Now, what did come out in the courtroom that deserves more attention were details of infiltration and spying on activist groups ahead of the NATO summit. Like a modern-day Red Squad, the Chicago Police Department had an intelligence unit (which used to be named the counterterrorism unit) go out in search of any individuals, who were intent to commit criminal activity at the NATO summit.
The state of Illinois and the judge would have the public believe that it had nothing to do with targeting anarchists. But the unit had to focus their attention somewhere. They had some idea of who they believed would commit violence having viewed videos of the G20 in Toronto. They were on the lookout for “black bloc” or anarchists and went to concerts where bands that had anarchist fans were playing. They went hunting on Division Street, a main thoroughfare in the city, for signs of anarchist activity. They were at peaceful meetings organized by the Occupy movement where they took notes and they even ended up at the Heartland Cafe, known as a restaurant for hippies and leftists but probably not where anarchists meet to plan attacks on city property.
Alvarez overlooked the ramifications of this spying and surveillance after the sentencing. She said, “Police were doing their job. Chicago had never hosted NATO before. It was new to all of us. And they did their best to make sure that there wasn’t going to be violence.”
She was very pleased with the judge’s sentencing verdict. “It should send a message that we’re not going to sit back and wait for someone to get hurt. You know, and that’s the point about Boston. I think everybody would actually loved to have stopped. So we’re not waiting for someone to get hit with a Molotov cocktail.
“We’re not going to wait for a building to be destroyed. Why should we?” she added.
The state’s narrative ignored how present the undercover cops were in essentially goading and trying to get the men to incriminate themselves. How dangerous would these men have been if they were left alone?
“Are You Ready to See a Cop on Fire?” – Prosecutors’ Favorite Incendiary Buzz Phrase
One of the most jarring, reprehensible and authoritarian parts of the trial was this consistent repeating of this phrase Church allegedly said, “Are you ready to see a cop on fire?” Many different variations of this were expressed, each time with the intent of creating a great dramatic effect in the minds of the judge, the press and the public. The only problem is whether Church ever actually uttered this incendiary buzz phrase.
Two undercover police officers that targeted the “NATO 3,” Officer Mehmet Uygun and Officer Nadia Chikko, met with Church on May 2. A surveillance team photographed him approaching the White Palace Grill where they met up and then, according to the two officers, he proceeded to take them downtown to show them how he would like to attack a Chase Bank branch building. But this is where the surveillance stopped. The officers were also not wearing wires yet. So, nobody else heard Church say, “Are you ready to see a cop on fire?”
What did get picked up on a recording was Uygun saying they were going to be up and out of the city of Chicago after they “terrorize[d] this mother fucker.”
“The Boy Who Cries Wolf Must Somehow Produce the Animal”
Civil liberties lawyer, author and director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Project on Political Surveillance, Frank Donner, wrote in his book, Protectors of Privilege, about the political surveillance operations of the Chicago police in the 1960s and 1970s.
Donner could have been writing about this case:
Because their exalted “mission” to protect internal security contrasts so sharply with the dreary reality of their duties, intelligence personnel in the late sixties, almost as an occupational necessity, fantasized, Walter Mitty-style, about uncovering a subversive plot: in the nick of time they nip it in the bud and seize the plotters (already defined in the police mind by images of bestiality and terror) along with their weapons and explosives. They then testify in a dramatic trial, resulting in long prison sentences, and earn the undying gratitude of the nation, not to speak of promotions, publicity and awards. The happy ending of an arrest makes the dream complete, but even short of that, the fantasy of radical terror is consoling in itself because it vindicates the premise of threatened revolutionary violence that is, after all, the primary justification for the huge expenditure, the files, the days, months and years of boring surveillance, the bursting albums of police photographs, the informer networks and the minatory propaganda. The boy who cries wolf must somehow produce the animal if he is not to forfeit his credibility—and lose a promotion.
The State’s Attorney’s Office of Cook County in Illinois cried wolf about the “NATO 3″ being terrorists. They could not produce the animal and were embarrassed by accounts in the press. Yet, sadly, in the prosecutors’ zeal to save face, three men are going to do more time in prison when whatever crimes and mistakes they committed have probably been punished enough already. They’ll do more time because their confirmation bias—their belief in the fantasy they created around the “NATO 3″—took priority over whatever care they should have for the human beings they were prosecuting.