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Were NATO 3 terrorists or drunken ‘goofs’? Trial gets underway

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 23, 2014 6:30AM

When three out-of-town activists now known as the NATO3 descended upon the city, Cook County prosecutors said they were eager to make international headlines with a malevolent plan that included setting Chicago Police officers on fire.

But what authorities described as terrorism was more “bravado” and “idle chatter” of big mouthed “goofs” who were plied with alcohol by undercover cops desperate for an arrest before the 2012 NATO Summit, defense attorneys said at the opening of the men’s trial Tuesday.

“We’re not talking about al-Qaeda. ...We’re talking about three American men who didn’t pose a threat to anyone,” said Brian Church’s attorney Sarah Gelsomino.

Prosecutors said Church, 22, Brent Betterly, 25, and Jared Chase, 29, had a stockpile of weapons and made four crude Molotov cocktails under the watchful eyes of the undercover cops who thwarted their plans that spring in a Bridgeport apartment.

“They were ready for war,” assistant state’s attorney Matthew Thrun said of the trio. “These defendants wanted to commit an act of terror on the world stage in Chicago.”

Church had a slight smirk on his face when Chicago Police Officer Nadia Chikko took the stand to describe how he told her about his plans to destroy a downtown Chase bank and recruit a group of people to bomb four police districts simultaneously.

While Chikko worked undercover she said Church told her he had already scoped out the main police headquarters and the 9th District station and sought her help to find two more facilities to target.

And when he bent down in front of the bank, Chikko said Church let her in on a little secret: “He said he was trying to pretend to tie his shoes but was measuring the thickness of the glass windows.”

The officer said she and her partner were recruited to infiltrate the protesters’ activities in February 2012. Chikko, who testified in uniform, admitted she didn’t know much about NATO or the Guy Fawkes masks the activists wore, and she had to do research on the Internet.

The trial will resume with Chikko on the stand Wednesday when prosecutors plan to play an audio recording in which Church, Betterly and Chase are allegedly heard making the firebombs.

Earlier, Betterly attorney Lillian McCartin told jurors that all the recordings prove is that the men were more interested in bodily fluids and beer than violence.

Chase’s attorney Thomas Durkin also pointed that the “weapons of mass destruction” prosecutors kept harping on were nothing but four Dogfish Ale bottles.

“If these guys are terrorists, then we can all sleep at night,” Durkin said in his opening statements.

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