Following a weekend that saw nearly 100 arrests of protesters at the NATO summit in Chicago, we speak with National Lawyers Guild attorney Sarah Gelsomino, who represents one of the five activists charged with terror-related crimes. Two are accused of attempted possession of explosives or incendiary devices, and three more are accused of conspiracy to commit terrorism, material support for terrorism and possession of explosives. Gelsomino says the so-called “NATO Three” were set up by government informants who planted the explosives. “Our clients who are facing the most serious charges of terrorism are actually in solitary confinement right now, we just learned,” Gelsomino says. “A very top priority this week is to get them out of that extremely punitive and extremely dangerous condition that they’re in right now.”
Sarah Gelsomino, attorney with the People’s Law Office and the National Lawyers Guild. She is representing one of the protesters facing terrorism charges from the NATO summit.
Stay in the loop
Never miss the news and analysis you care about.
Amy Goodman: We turn to the protesters detained during the NATO summit. According to the Chicago Police Department, nearly a hundred people were arrested over the course of the week. Five of them stand accused of terrorism-related offenses. Two men were arrested over the weekend for allegedly engaging in threatening behavior before the NATO summit. Sebastian Senakiewicz was charged with falsely making a terrorist threat, and Mark Neiweem was accused of attempted possession of explosives or incendiary devices.
Before the weekend began, three activists were arrested on terror charges for an alleged plot to attack President Obama’s campaign headquarters and other sites around Chicago during the NATO summit. Jared Chase, Brent Betterly and Brian Jacob Church are accused of conspiracy to commit terrorism, material support for terrorism and possession of explosives. Police say they recovered materials for making Molotov cocktails in a raid last week. But attorneys for the so-called “NATO Three” say they were set up by government informants who planted the explosives. Supporters also say police seized equipment that was used for brewing homemade beer.
Michael Deutsch, an attorney for the protesters with the National Lawyers Guild, accused Chicago police of entrapment.
Michael Deutsch: Obviously, we don’t have access to all the information that the state has. But what we do know is, is that there were police—undercover police officers that ingratiated themselves with people who come from out of town. And from our information, these so-called incendiary devices and the plans to attack police stations, attack the mayor’s office, is all coming from the mind of the police informants and are not coming from our clients, who are nonviolent protesters. They are not anarchists. They don’t belong to a Black Bloc organization. They’re involved with nonviolent protest. And what we believe is, is that this is a way to stir up prejudice against the people who are exercising their First Amendment rights.
Amy Goodman: To discuss the implications of these charges, we’re going to Chicago to speak with Sarah Gelsomino, an attorney with the People’s Law Office and the National Lawyers Guild. She’s representing one of the protesters facing terror charges from the summit.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Sarah.
Sarah Gelsomino: Thank you, Amy.
Amy Goodman: Talk about exactly what happened.
Sarah Gelsomino: Well, last Wednesday night at around 11:30 at night, the Chicago police executed a midnight raid on a house in the Bridgeport area in the Near South Side in Chicago, and they entered three different—excuse me, four apartment buildings in that house. In one of those apartments, they arrested nine people. In the other three, they, without warrant or consent, detained the individuals who lived in those building—in those apartments, interrogated them about their political beliefs and about their knowledge of the people who lived in that apartment where they arrested the nine people and searched their apartments. They also entered that fourth apartment, again without showing a warrant and without any consent. And there is where they eventually arrested the nine people. They arrested two additional people down the street. Six of those people have since been released without charges. As you know, the NATO Three are facing very serious terrorism threats—or terrorism charges. And the other two are who we now believe to be police informants.
Amy Goodman: And how do you know that they’re police informants?
Sarah Gelsomino: You know, we haven’t received any information, really at any point since Wednesday night, when this raid happened, from the city of Chicago or the Chicago Police Department. All that we know about the allegations in this case come from the proffer, which was read in court on Saturday by the state’s attorneys prosecuting this case.
But through our own investigation, we have been able to uncover evidence of these two informants. And interestingly, as I said, they were arrested in that apartment building on Wednesday night. They were held for a short period of time with the other individuals who were arrested in that building, but upon transfer from one station to another, they were pulled out. Other people who were arrested said that the police said, “Those people aren’t—they’re not in the computer. Get them out of here.” And the police took them out of custody, and they haven’t been seen since.
Amy Goodman: Can you talk about the car that was stopped on Wednesday night with the group of people that were let go then? They actually then posted the video and the audio of their arrests online, and then their house was raided, and they ultimately were charged with terror-related offenses.
Sarah Gelsomino: Right. These three individuals who are facing these charges were stopped the previous week by the Chicago Police Department without—again, without any justification whatsoever, a legal justification, for that stop. They were pulled over by the Chicago Police Department, surrounded by numerous police cars and multiple police officers, and were interrogated for hours about all kinds of things.
And I met with them, actually, after that video was released on the internet, and they said to us that as soon as they identified themselves as being associated with the Occupy movement—they came up from Occupy in Florida to join with Occupy here in Chicago to protest NATO this week. They said as soon as the police learned that information, they became extremely harassing and threatening. And as you may have heard in that YouTube video, the police did in fact threaten those three—those people in that car, talked about in 19—
Amy Goodman: On what grounds?
Sarah Gelsomino: Well, they talked about smashing skulls in 1968, and then they said, “We’ll be out there this weekend, and we’ll be coming to look for you.”
Amy Goodman: And talk about—
Sarah Gelsomino: It’s interesting that those are the individuals who are now facing these charges.
Amy Goodman: And so, what happened when they raided their place? Talk about the beer-making equipment.
Sarah Gelsomino: Sure. You know, what happened was, we at the National Lawyers Guild have been—have a legal support hotline, so we’ve been available 24 hours a day to get phone calls from people on the street about what’s happening, you know, where the police have been present, what kind of police misconduct has been happening, where people are arrested.
So we received word of this midnight raid. And as soon as we received that word, we began to look for our clients. And we tried every echelon of the city of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department, as their lawyers, looking for our clients in police custody, and we could get nowhere. We called every police station. We called the superintendent’s office. We called the corporation counsel’s office, which is the city attorney’s office. And they would not tell us that they had our clients in custody. They would not tell us that our clients had ever been arrested. And they would not confirm to us that there was a raid. So we, through our own investigation, were searching and searching and finally found these individuals at 4:00 p.m. the day after they had been taken away and held in secret for the day.
In the course of that time, we interviewed other people who were present for the raid, who observed it, and we learned some of the items that were confiscated by the police department included beer-making equipment. The individuals who live in that house are home brewers. It’s a hobby that they have. And so, at least we know some of what has been confiscated by the police department is this home brewing equipment.
But, Amy, we have not seen any search warrant in this case. We have not seen any affidavit of probable cause. And we certainly have not seen any inventory of anything that was confiscated. So we are still really in the dark about what the state is claiming that the police department has to support these really sensationalized allegations.
Amy Goodman: I want to turn to a comment Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy made last week about the police department’s preparations for the NATO protests.
Superintendent Garry McCarthy: We’ve taken the added steps to train the entire department, to at least a minimal level, to have knowledge of the crowd control procedures that everybody else is getting trained up to a higher level for. Only about a third of the department is going to be used for this event. Those officers are being trained to levels that have been called exceeding the national standards by the people who do this across the country. And the fact is, there’s a three-tiered level that we’re looking at. We are not only going to be ready, we’re going to be more ready than any other city in the country, as per the people who do that training have told us.
Amy Goodman: That’s Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy on the program Chicago Tonight. Sarah Gelsomino, your response?
Sarah Gelsomino: You know, regardless of the training that the Chicago Police Department had—and I don’t doubt they’ve received training—what we saw happen on the streets of Chicago after the main permitted protest here on Sunday night was atrocious and absolutely unconscionable behavior by the police department. At the end of that protest, the police department rolled out massive amounts of police officers in riot gear—and not just the Chicago Police Department. We know at least—I had one legal observer who was on the street report to me that he saw at least five full buses of the Illinois State Police officers in riot gear pouring out at the end of that march. And they set themselves up in a way on the street to—in a way that did not permit easy egress from that position, from that place at the end of the march, shutting down half of the street, Cermak, and then positioning themselves so that whoever wanted to leave that march had to run a gauntlet single file through police officers in riot gear. And as you can see on the videos that have been shown around the country, the police ended up that night unleashing absolutely uncontrolled, indiscriminate violence against the individuals at the front of that march, with billy—wielding billy clubs that caused—we know of at least 70 very serious injuries, and we anticipate hearing about many, many more as the days go forward.
Amy Goodman: You know, Democracy Now! was there on the streets of the protests. There was this very solemn ceremony of U.S. vets of Iraq and Afghanistan—
Sarah Gelsomino: Right.
Amy Goodman: —hurling their service and war medals at the gate of the NATO summit to return them to the generals. And as they were doing this, everyone was very quiet, thousands of people, as one by one these vets came up and explained why they were giving back their medals. The riot police were moving in, in formation, quietly lining up around the vets. And the vets were asking the police, “Why are you doing this? This is a peaceful rally,” as they—as more and more of them on horseback and in helmets came. But they could not head off these formations. Then they were able to move on, the veterans, but the police moved very quickly in on the others in the crowd. And as we walked with the veterans, a young man came running up to us, three of them. One of them had his teeth bashed in, his two front teeth. We broadcast what he had to say yesterday. Sarah Gelsomino, where are your clients now, and what are your plans?
Sarah Gelsomino: Our clients—well, we have many clients, unfortunately, from this week of protests. We know of over a hundred arrests that happened throughout this week, and the National Lawyers Guild stands ready to represent all of them.
Our clients who are facing the most serious charges of terrorism are actually in solitary confinement right now, we just learned. So we have—a very top priority this week is to get them out of that extremely punitive and extremely dangerous condition that they’re in right now. They’ve essentially been in solitary now since they were picked up on Wednesday night. And we appear in court for the NATO Three this morning and for the other two tomorrow.
As for our other clients, our top priority is to make sure everyone’s safe, that all the injuries are documented. And we will continue on to represent people in the criminal charges that they’re facing. Most people are facing now misdemeanor charges. We have a—some people were released without custody after that melee Sunday night, and—but most people, as I said, have walked out with either ordinance violations, like city tickets, or misdemeanor charges. And so, at this point, we need to move forward with that criminal representation.
Amy Goodman: And the number of people you estimate were arrested in this last week, Sarah?
Sarah Gelsomino: Well, over a hundred, we can say for sure we’ve had reported arrested to us. On Sunday night, over 60 people were arrested.
Amy Goodman: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Sarah Gelsomino, an attorney—
Sarah Gelsomino: Thank you, Amy.
Amy Goodman: —with the People’s Law Office and the National Lawyers Guild, representing one of the protesters facing the terrorism charges from the NATO summit, as well as many other people who were arrested. On Monday, on Memorial Day, we’ll be playing a special from the streets of Chicago, bringing you this very solemn ceremony of the veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan one by one hurling their medals at the NATO gates. We played some of that yesterday, but we will also play more of the full ceremony, which included a reconciliation ceremony between members of Afghans for Peace, three Afghan women, and the soldiers who fought in Afghanistan and in Iraq. So tune in Monday for that.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we’ll go to Frankfurt, Germany, to speak with Paul Watson. He’s just been released on bail after Costa Rica demanded that Germany extradite him for charges on a 10-year-old case around his intervening with illegal shark finning in the seas off Costa Rica. We’ll be back in a moment.