No matter what you think about the war in Afghanistan or the United States’ and NATO’s efforts around the world to combat terrorism where it breeds, Americans agree the Constitution permits peaceful protests of such efforts. Yet, attorneys for some anti-NATO activists say their clients have been arrested for being terrorists themselves, all because of their political beliefs. Worse, their attorneys say, they were victims of police entrapment.
Those are some serious charges. But are they accurate?
Police in Chicago, site of a NATO summit this week where members are discussing the alliance’s future in Afghanistan, have arrested three men who authorities say traveled to the city to protest the event by filling beer bottles with gasoline and using them to disrupt the meeting.
“While the Molotov cocktails were being poured, (defendant Brian Church) discussed the NATO summit, the protests and how the Molotov cocktails would be used for violence and intimidating acts of destruction,” Assistant State’s Attorney Matthew Thrun said in a court document. “At one point, Church asked if others had ever seen a ‘cop on fire’ and discussed throwing one of the Molotov cocktails into the 9th District police station.”
An intimidation campaign? By whom?
Prosecutors said the men, who were arrested last week, planned to attack Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s home, President Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters and “certain downtown financial institutions.”
Prosecutors went onto say the men belong to the “Black Bloc” – a group of self-described anarchists who like to wreak havoc at otherwise peaceful protests.
Sarah Gelsomino, an attorney from theNational Lawyers Guild, which is representing the three men, says their arrests are part of “an intimidation campaign on activists.”
Gelsomino says the men were set up by government informants. A Twitter post from the Occupy Chicago movement complained of “bogus terrorism charges” against nonviolent protesters, the Chicago Tribunereported.
“What we believe is that this is a way to stir up prejudice against people exercising their First Amendment rights,” added Michael Deutsch, an attorney for the men, the paper reported.
“This is an example of how police use tactics to create hysteria, spread fear and intimidation,” said Kris Hermes, a spokesman for the Chicago chapter of theNational Lawyers Guild.
TheMiami Heraldreported that Hermes said so far police and prosecutors had yet to supply any evidence of any kind, including a copy of the warrant used to search the defendants’ dwelling and make the arrests. He said police were biased against his clients’ political beliefs.
Hermes told the paper the men might not actually be anarchists, but regardless, “having political beliefs in the United States is still legal, and doesn’t automatically mean that they’re guilty of crimes or that they are inherently violent.”
Some reports have said the men weren’t engaged in terrorism at all, and that they were involved in making beer, not Molotov cocktails, as police have charged.
Not ‘peaceful protesters’
Yet, other details are beginning to emerge about the arrest, as well as the men who were picked up by cops.
According to the Chicago Tribune, which pored over court documents pertaining to the arrest, Chicago Police and federal agents had been watching the trio for a month. They moved in as the NATO summit neared and authorities began to believe the men posed an “imminent threat,” police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said. The police proffer said the men were preparing to load the bombs into their car.
“The individuals that we have charged in this investigation are not peaceful protesters. They are domestic terrorists who came to Chicago with an anarchist agenda to harm our police officers, intimidate our citizens and to attack their politically motivated targets,” said Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
The men are all being held on $1.5 million apiece. They are: Brian Church, 22, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Jared Chase, 27, of Keene, New Hampshire; and Brent Betterly, 24, who told police he resides in Massachusetts.
Sources for this article include: