Update: Five to Eight Years for NATO 3
In Chicago last week, the Nato 3 activists including Brian Church (24), Brent Betterly (26), and Jared Chase (29) were acquitted of charges including material support for terrorism and conspiracy to commit terrorism. The defendants were found guilty however of two much lesser mob action charges and one count each for possessing an incendiary device to commit arson, which carries the possibility of four to 30 years in prison. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for February 28.
Is this yet another case of entrap and demonize? The story that follows closely resembles a pattern that we at Defending Dissent have been tracking for decades and outlined here.
Continue reading for the details of this sad story… According to reporters from Truthout, the Chicago Police Department began a temporary 90-day investigation in February 2012 to monitor the upcoming May anti-NATO protests. Undercover agents soon showed up at Occupy Chicago posing as citizen activists using the pseudonyms ‘Mo’ and ‘Nadia’. Pumped up with ‘training’ that had them looking for the ‘violent anarchists’ who were coming to burn down the city, the undercovers began their search.
The Nato 3 were perfect. They were young, gullible, and self-described anarchists from out of town. As their defense attorneys asserted in court, the Nato 3 were likely guilty of harboring ‘delusions of protest grandeur. ’ Pulled over by police on May 12, 2012 one week before the Summit, officers threatened the three young men saying, ‘we’ll be looking for you.’ On May 17, just two days before the Summit was scheduled, that promise was fulfilled. Local and federal police conducted a warrantless midnight raid and pre-emptively arrested 11 activists who were lodging in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood to participate in the protest. The three targeted men who would be dubbed by the media as the Nato 3 were in the apartment.
Among those arrested, two others would turn out to be undercover cops.
Held in solitary confinement since 2012 until today, the Nato 3 originally faced maximum sentences of up to 85 years in prison apiece if convicted. And that was without ever carrying out an attack. Kevin Gosztola, writing for the progressive news blog FireDogLake, covered the story from beginning to end. In a recent interview, he describes scenes from the courtroom in which the terrorism charges were shown to be in the realm of the ridiculous.
Among the absurdities was the prosecution’s argument that the defendant’s slingshot and marbles constituted a genuine threat to the Obama campaign’s 6th floor Chicago headquarters. In his post-verdict commentary, Gosztola noted that prosecutors convinced the judge to give the jury an ‘entrapment instruction’ that enabled them to downplay the role of undercover officers in the construction and possession of Molotov cocktails.
And still the jury threw out the terrorism charges. He further writes: “Fear, innuendo and the existence of the beer bottles managed to be enough to convince the jury to convict the three men of arson charges. They found words from recorded conversations—seemingly disparate, said during different days yet linked together by prosecutors—to be enough to discern some “intent” to commit a crime, and prosecutors did not totally lose the case.
But the facts brought out during trial showed that Officer Mehmet Uygun had been the only one to talk about “terrorizing” Chicago. He is the one who raised the idea of buying gas when he said he had $2 for gas. He cut the bandannas to make the wicks for the Molotov cocktails, and he had control of the Molotov cocktails, hiding them from the “NATO 3″ so they would be found when police raided the apartment. And, on the day of May 16, when the Molotov cocktails were made, it is undercover Officer Nadia Chikko, who first raised the idea of making them.”
It’s a fine line between dumb kids shooting off their mouths and serious political efforts that are choosing property destruction. In any case, the entrapment and demonize tactic is alive and well in our nation’s current arsenal of criminalizing dissent. And the media played its typical role as well. Most newspapers maintain that they keep a bright red line between news coverage and editorial staff. The Chicago Tribune News appears to be keeping this tradition. However, while the news coverage has been balanced, the Tribune’s editorial on the Nato 3 case demonstrated such bias that the progressive community responded with this open letter signed by Defending Dissent and dozens of other organizations and prominent individuals. Please consider submitting your own Letter to the Editor to speak out against Entrap and Demonize law enforcement using their online form.