Prosecutors have announced that three people — Jared Chase, Brent Betterly, and Brian Church — were arrested on Wednesday night for plotting a set of violent attacks in Chicago, where thousands of people are staging demonstrations against the NATO summit taking place there Sunday and Monday. Police say the men were planning on attacking President Obama’s campaign headquarters and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house, plus banks and police stations in the city’s downtown, with Molotov cocktails. They’ve been charged with possessing explosives and conspiring to commit terrorism. According to state attorney Anita Alvarez, this is the first time anyone has been charged under Illinois’s anti-terrorism statute. Bond has been set at $1.5 million.
“The individuals we charged are not peaceful protesters, they are domestic terrorists,” said [Alvarez]. “The charges we bring today are not indicative of a protest movement that has been targeted.”
In addition to the Molotov cocktails, a raid on the South Side apartment where the men — all in their twenties and in from out of state — were staying yielded “throwing stars, swords with brass knuckle handles, a hunting bow, a shield with protruding nails, gas masks, an assault rifle and a map with details of escape routes from the city.” Prosecutors say the group intended to purchase more assault rifles and to construct pipe bombs. They described the men as “self-identifying anarchists,” which their lawyers say is inaccurate. Lawyers for the defendants are also saying that the arrests were the result of entrapment on the part of two “informants or undercover law enforcement officials” who, they say, are the ones who made the plans and purchased the materials. The pair — apparently named “Mo” and “Gloves” — were also arrested during the raid, but defense lawyers say they don’t know what happened to them.
These two people were the only ones who committed any illegal activity, said Michael Deutsch, a lawyer with the National Lawyers Guild.
“From what we’ve learned, we believe it is a setup — entrapment to the highest degree — and it is sensationalism by the police and the state to discredit the protesters who have come here to nonviolently protest,” Mr. Deutsch said.
Deutsch also called the situation“propaganda to create a climate of fear” among protesters (and potential protesters.) Bill Vassilakis, an activist who was hosting the trio, told Politico he agreed with that characterization. He described one of the men, Brent Betterly, as “the most stand-up guy that was staying with me. He and the other guys had done nothing but volunteer their time and energy.” Apparently, the 24-year-old does have a history of minor run-ins with the law, having been charged with disorderly intoxication, burglary, theft, and criminal mischief after doing $2000 in damage to a Florida high school. Another, Jared Chase, was described by his aunt as, among other things, “not dumb,” which is why she says she was surprised to hear about the charges: “He always seemed harmless, but who knows?”
Authorities have said the three are part of Black Bloc, a subset of the Occupy movement that has been blamed for violence at other recent demonstrations. Again, their lawyers are disputing that description, saying in court today that the men are simply peaceful Occupy activists. “It’s outrageous for the city to apply terrorism charges when it’s the police who have been terrorizing activists and threatening their right to protest,” said attorney Sarah Gelsomino.