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Five Things You Need to Know About the ‘NATO 3’

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Last week, Occupy Chicago declared a solidarity march for three men — known as the “NATO 3” — who were apprehended by police during a raid on May 17, two days before NATO summit protests began in earnest. According to Zoe Sigman, police officers broke down the door of her Chicago home and arrested nine people, confiscating what Sigman described as beer-brewing equipment.

Later three of the six were charged with material support for terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism, and possession of explosives or incendiary devices. Police and prosecutors, however, have accused the men of plotting to use Molotov cocktails to firebomb Obama’s campaign headquarters, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house, and financial institutions. If convicted on all accounts, the young men would face up to 85 years in prison.

For occupiers the men are protest martyrs, and represent yet another tragic example of abuse exercised by the government to silence dissidents.

Here are five things you need to know about the NATO 3:

  1. Who They Are: Brian Church, Jared Chase, and Brent Betterly are not Chicago residents. They met while participating in Occupy Miami, although they come from Fort Lauderdale, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, respectively. Like many activists across the country, Church, Chase, and Betterly traveled to Chicago for the NATO summits, and stayed with Sigman. All three are in their mid-20s, and all three are self-described anarchists, but—like many family members of accused criminals—friends and relatives say they aren’t violent people.
  2. So far, No Warrant In Sight. As of Monday, prosecutors had not submitted a copy of the search warrant for the raided apartment. Witnesses said that a warrant produced four hours after the raid was not signed by a judge. So far, there is no confirmation that the police who broke down the apartment door had a legally solid warrant.
  3. They weren’t the only ones arrested and charged with terrorism in conjunction with the NATO summit. On Sunday, two more people were charged with terrorism offenses related to the alleged creation of explosive devices. Chicago locals Sebastian Senakiewicz and Mark Neiweem were held for at least 66 hours — far beyond the 48-hour maximum — after allegedly making verbal threats to detonate bombs. As with the NATO 3, court documents painted Senakiewicz and Neiweem as violent anarchists associated with “black bloc” tactics. But the only apparent connection between the five were two informants, “Mo” and “Gloves,” who defense lawyers say devised the plots themselves and may have planted materials on the defendants.  Speaking of which…
  4. Their lawyers claim entrapment by informants, and fellow activists say the terrorism charges aim to stifle dissent. “We believe these are fabricated charges based on police informants and provocateurs,” National Lawyers’ Guild Attorney Michael Deutsch, who is representing the NATO 3, told assembled reporters at a press gathering outside the courtroom May 19. Deutsch claims his clients rejected the informants’ suggestions to make bombs. When that tactic failed, Deutsch suggested the informants planted the materials seized as evidence in the apartment shortly before the police raid. While “Mo” and “Gloves” were picked up by the police from the apartment that night, they were released immediately. 

    A Mother Jones report last year found that informants have been involved in the vast majority of terrorism cases since 9/11—and that the informants often play highly active role, encouraging targets to turn to violence. Informants have even been known to offer terrorist "suspects" prefabricated terror plots, and providing them with necessary equipment (usually carefully crafted fakes). These alleged plots– pushed along by government sanctioned informants–prove to be powerfully persuasive in a courtroom leading to a disproportionate rate of convictions for terrorism charges. As Rick Perlstein writes in Rolling Stone, this occurs regardless of the role of government agents:

    Not a single "terrorism" indictment has been thrown out for entrapment since 9/11 – not the Liberty City goofballs supposedly planning to blow up the Sears Tower who had no weapons and refused them with offered; not the Newburgh, New York outfit whose numbers included a schizophrenic who saved his own urine in bottles. (Even the judge who sentenced them said "the government made them terrorists.")

    Perlstein continues with an indictment—what he calls selective targeting of certain ideologies by the government. “That is unconstitutional,” he writes, “because law enforcement’s criterion for attention has been revealed as the ideasthe alleged plotters hold – not their observed violent potential.”

    Terrorism charges are calculated to undermine movements, Occupy Chicago Organizer Danielle Villarreal told Campus Progress. “There’s no evidence for it, it's completely false, and everyone who knows any of these people knows that to be the case, but they're going to have that happen [the terrorism charges] as much as possible to scare people, not only people who are already active and who are doing things, but also new people who might come into the movement from understanding that it's not some violent thing. It's separating them from getting active too."

    A week before the arrests, the NATO 3 uploaded a video to the Internet of police officers threatening them with violence at the impending summit. The timing is causing some activists to wonder whether the charges brought to Nato summit protestors is retribution for making the Chicago police department look bad.

  5. We’ve seen this case before. Ever since the bond hearing, activists have drawn inevitable parallels with the Republican National Convention case in 2008.  David McKay and Bradley Crowder, two young men from Texas, were arrested and charged with terrorism ­for making Molotov cocktails and planning to use them on police vehicles. An older activist serving as their mentor, Brandon Darby, had become an FBI informant—and, according to the young men and a documentary about the case, used his impressive community organizing credentials to coax them into violence. McKay and Crowder eventually took plea deals, and dropped their entrapment defenses. Both remain convinced that without Darby’s influence, they would never have made the weapons. 

Between the Molotov cocktails, the terrorism charges, and the involvement of informants, the NATO 3 case is surfacing up memories of the RNC trial—and concerns that convicting people for their ideologies and planning informant-influenced plots might be a sustained pattern.

In order to allow prosecutors time to compile a case against the NATO 3, a judge postponed their preliminary hearing. The National Lawyers’ Guild expects that the case will go to a grand jury next month instead; the high bond ($1.5 million) virtually insures that Church, Chase, and Betterly will spend the intervening time in jail.

Shay O'Reilly is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @shaygabriel.

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