It was a solemn, tense scene on May 19 inside the courtroom at the Circuit Court of Cook County, where the group of three activists initially arrested in a late-night raid ahead of the NATO summits in Chicago, and now being referred to simply as the “NATO 3,” heard the charges leveled against them.
NATO 3 has become the moniker for three activists who arrived in Chicago to protest the NATO Summit – Brian Church, 22, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Jared Chase, 27, of Keene, New Hampshire; and Brent Betterly, 24, of Massachusetts.
They now face charges of “conspiring to commit domestic terrorism during the NATO summit” and “plotting to attack President Obama’s Chicago campaign headquarters, the Chicago mayor’s home and police stations.”
The three shared expressionless faces in the courtroom as they received their bail amount at a hearing, a lump sum of $1.5 million in a Southwest side Chicago criminal court.
They were part of a broader police raid, which took place close to midnight on May 17. Nine activists in Chicago for the summit from around the country were arrested by police and kept for up to 48 hours without charge. Six activists were eventually released.
According to CNN, their official charges read as: “material support for terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism, and possession of explosives or incendiary devices. They face up to possibly 85 years in prison if proven guilty on all charges.
“The three men also possessed or built improvised explosive or incendiary devices, a mortar gun, swords, a hunting bow, throwing stars, and knives with brass-knuckle handles,” CNN further explained.
Michael Deutsch, representing the NATO 3 and employed by the National Lawyers Guild and the Peoples’ Law Office, has alleged entrapment and possibly more as the activists charged with terrorism see their first day in court on May 22.
“We believe these are fabricated charges that are based on police informants and provocateurs,” said Deutsch. “This is a common pattern for people protesting. We know there were two police informants who infiltrated the group and we believe they’re the ones who provoked this and they’re the ones who had the illegal activity and the illegal materials. That’s our understanding.”
“Why would police do such a thing?,” Deutsch was asked in a press gathering in the aftermath of the bail hearing.
His response: “To discredit protesters that come to the city and to make it seem like the police are under attack when people are peacefully protesting.” Inside the courtroom, Deutsch said, “This is just propaganda to create a climate of fear. My clients came to peacefully protest.”
Entrapment, legally defined, is “when [a person] is induced or persuaded by law enforcement officers or their agents to commit a crime that he had no previous intent to commit; and the law as a matter of policy forbids conviction in such a case.”
Deutsch also said that there were two police informants that infiltrated the group, and “we believe they’re the ones that provoked this.”
The ACLU of Massachusett’s blog Privacy SOS, in a post on the charges against the NATO Three, brought up several other well-known cases of entrapment.
During the Republican National Convention in 2008, the FBI arrested a man for attempts to make Molotov cocktails during the convention. The blog notes that:“While this smells similar to the RNC 2008 molotov cocktail charges, Chicago police have produced no actual evidence of bomb-making or illegal activity in the case of the NATO 3.”
Eight activists in Cleveland, Ohio involved with Occupy were also arrested for conspiring to blow up a bridge. In that case, an FBI informant talked the plotters into blowing up the bridge, led them to an arms merchant and drove them to the bomb site, reported Rick Perlstein.
How the case of the NATO Three will develop remains to be seen, but civil liberties watchers are keeping a close eye on the case as it develops.