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NATO 3 go to trial: Violent plotters or entrapped agitators?

Brent Vincent Betterly (left) Jared Chase Brian Church  |  Chicago Police photos

Brent Vincent Betterly (left), Jared Chase and Brian Church | Chicago Police photos

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Updated: February 8, 2014 6:07AM

In the days leading up to the 2012 NATO summit, Cook County prosecutors said Brent Betterly made a Facebook prediction that he might “catch some charges” during the protests against the international gathering in Chicago.

The long-haired man from Oakland Park, Fla., never made it to the massive demonstrations, but he and his two out-of-town friends did get in trouble with the law.

Betterly, Jared Chase and Brian Church were arrested before the conference that spring and slapped with an 11-count indictment, which included little-used state terrorism charges for an alleged plot to attack Chicago Police officers and damage Barack Obama’s downtown campaign headquarters and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Ravenswood home.

The undercover male and female cop who said they watched the young political activists build Molotov cocktails in a Bridgeport apartment are expected to testify against the jailed trio after a weeklong jury selection gets underway Tuesday in the men’s upcoming trial at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.

While a team led by high ranking prosecutor Jack Blakey will likely paint the group, known as the NATO 3, as violent schemers, defense attorneys are ready to demonstrate that Betterly, 25, Chase, 29, and Church, 22, were entrapped by law enforcement officials and falsely depicted as extremely dangerous.

“It takes little understanding to see . . . how politically beneficial such an investigation and . . . trial serve the purposes of the political elites whose judgment in the extraordinary use of public funds under the guise of ‘security’ might otherwise be questioned,” Chase’s attorneys Thomas Durkin and Joshua Herman wrote in court filings.

The larger public was never under any threat, and the initial claims that the men wanted to firebomb the president and mayor’s properties were exaggerated, said Sarah Gelsomino, an attorney for Church, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Chase, who was recently diagnosed with neurodegenerative Huntington’s Disease, allegedly said he and Church just wanted to break the windows of Obama’s campaign headquarters and that they had slingshots to get the job done.

In reference to the mayor’s home, Church bragged about his proficiency in archery and said that he only wanted attach a note at the tip of the arrow he had hoped fling into the residence, updated court documents said.

“If this is what terrorism is, then we’re all safe,” Gelsomino told the Sun-Times last week. “If anything, this is a vandalism case at best . . . . Their [alleged] ideas were silly.”

But prosecutors said notes recovered on how to build a pipe bomb, eager proposals to hurt police and weapons like “Chinese throwing stars,” a mortar gun and brass knuckles are far from child’s play.

Chase, of Keene, N.H., gloated about the bow and arrows and swords he had stored in his guitar case, and Church, who asked the female undercover cop if she was ready to “see a police officer on fire,” said he wanted to buy assault rifles and damage patrol cars by slashing their tires, breaking their windows and tagging the vehicles, court documents said.

The officers — who the Occupy Chicago crowd knew as “Mo” and “Gloves” — said they also were shown a large wooden shield with half-inch screws a few protesters had hid and hoped to use when they confronted police.

Betterly, Church, and Chase also offered tips on creating the most effective explosives, the undercover officers said.

But Gelsomino argues that there would be no Molotov cocktails without the “involvement or instigation” of the police, including the undercover officer who went with Chase and purchased the gasoline for the weapons on May 16, 2012.

“They [undercover officers] were more than just being there. They were in control,” Gelsomino said.

Prosecutors said the NATO 3 activists didn’t need any goading.

Church and Betterly were itching to create havoc even before stepping foot in the city, according to their alleged exchange on Facebook.

Church said he wanted to be on the “front lines” and Betterly was hopeful the protests would get “ugly,” according to court documents.

More telling, prosecutors said, was Betterly’s Facebook conversation with a female friend: “Riot. U Can’t apologize after throwing a Molotov cocktail.”

Betterly, Church, and Chase have remained in the Cook County Jail on $1.5 million bail. They were originally charged with of providing material support for terrorism; conspiracy to commit terrorism; possession of an incendiary device; conspiracy to commit arson; solicitation to commit arson; attempted arson and unlawful possession of a weapon.

Since then, two arson charges and two counts of unlawful possession of a weapon were dropped by prosecutors.

Opening statements in the men’s trial before Judge Thaddeus Wilson are scheduled for Jan. 21.


Twitter: @rummanahussain

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