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Editorial: Jurors size up Nato’s 3 stooges

(from left) Defense attorneys Thomas DurkMolly Armour Michael Deutsch react NATO 3 verdict lobby Criminal Courts building 26th CaliforniFeb. 7.

(from left) Defense attorneys Thomas Durkin, Molly Armour and Michael Deutsch react to the NATO 3 verdict in the lobby of the Criminal Courts building at 26th and California on Feb. 7. | Ashlee Rezin/for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 10, 2014 6:44AM

Were there no adults in the room?

Finally, they showed up — in the jury room on Friday afternoon, where 12 men and women with considerably more common sense than the Chicago Police or the Cook County state’s attorney found three Beavis and Buttheads guilty of mob action but not terrorism.

Terrorism? That’s a heavy word.

People who want to attack a presidential candidate’s headquarters with a slingshot but don’t know where the building is and, heck, would rather take a nap anyway are not terrorists.

They are pathetic. They might be a little dangerous. They need to grow up.

But they are not al-Qaida or Timothy McVeigh or the Boston Marathon bombers. To even call them the “NATO 3” is a bit much.

They are stoned, drunk and stupid.

Long before this case wound up in front of a jury, it was the job of many other adults to bring a sense of proportion to the matter and make sensible distinctions. But they did not. The Chicago Police and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez almost comically overreached.

Fortunately, a Cook County jury showed better sense. It convicted the three fantasy revolutionaries on trial — Brian Church, 22, Jared Chase, 29, and Brent Betterly, 25 — of two counts of mob action and one count each of possessing an incendiary device to commit arson. But it acquitted them of all terrorism charges.

To understand how this strange prosecution ever happened, it helps to remember the heightened state of anxiety over the possibility of real terrorism before and during the May 2012 NATO summit in Chicago. Security was heavy, with the Chicago Police and others in law enforcement determined to foil any plot.

But the only plotters the police could find to foil were Church, Chase and Betterly, hunkered down in a Bridgeport apartment, talking stupid about setting cops on fire, shooting arrows into Mayor Emanuel’s home, making Molotov cocktails (if they could figure out how and pay for the gasoline) and whipping out that infamous slingshot.

We can almost understand why two undercover officers hanging out with the Three Stooges mistook them for serious terrorist conspirators. The two officers desperately wanted to make a bust. Also, being young themselves, they might not have had a historic appreciation of how easily government tends to overstep and overreact in the face of unpopular dissent. We are thinking here of the Red Scare years of the 1950s, and of the illegal snooping of the Chicago Police Red Squad 20 years later.

But was there nobody at Chicago Police headquarters with a better sense of big and small? And while it would have been tough for Alvarez to resist pressure from the police to file the most serious charges — terrorism — she should have. In a state’s attorney, good judgment matters more than a law degree.

Terrorism is a real, serious and unending threat all over the world. Trivializing that threat by roping in the likes of, ahem, the NATO 3, only makes us less safe by taking our eye off the real thing.

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