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NATO3’s fate will hang on jury’s take on their words vs. actions: Brown

A protestors sign is reflected his glasses during NATO summit Chicago May 2012.  |  Sun-Times Library

A protestors sign is reflected in his glasses during the NATO summit in Chicago in May 2012. | Sun-Times Library

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Updated: February 23, 2014 6:45AM

Some serious troublemakers came to Chicago for the NATO summit in 2011, we were told, and having been out on the street for the big march, I don’t really doubt it.

But anybody who spent time around the protesters downtown that week would also know there were a lot of wannabes buzzing about as well, attracted by the spotlight while hiding behind their bandanas and Guy Fawkes masks.

Cook County prosecutors on Tuesday set about proving their case that Brian Church, Jared Chase and Brent Betterly were among the worst of the former category — would-be terrorists foiled in their plot to disrupt the summit by firebombing police.

Yet I still need convincing they weren’t just from the worst of the latter bunch — loudmouth “goofs” on a road trip from Florida, as their own attorneys put it, who “came here to do some damage” they were ill-prepared to deliver and got caught up in a police spying program eager to prove its worth.

Criminals? Quite possibly. Terrorists? I’d sure hope we’re reserving that charge — with its loaded connotations — for the situations that most clearly call for it.

Chicago history makes us sensitive to both sides of the equation: the real dangers and lasting harm of “anarchists” with bombs, but also of police spying programs run amok.

The proof will be in the undercover audiotapes that prosecutors plan to begin playing for the jury Wednesday. The tapes were made by two undercover police officers, one male and one female, who went by the nicknames of “Mo” and “Gloves.”

I expect the evidence will show the defendants said everything they are accused of saying, which is a lot, and did everything they are accused of doing, which isn’t much.

Then it will be up to the jury to read between the lines and interpret what was really going on — and whether the defendants truly were conspiring to commit terrorism, as they are accused.

Defense attorneys told jurors Tuesday that if they pay close attention to the tapes and keep everything in context, they’ll see the Florida men were more interested in getting stoned than fomenting revolution and that it was the undercover officers who coaxed them into following through on their threats by making four Molotov cocktails with beer bottles and gasoline.

“Are you ready to see a police officer on fire?”

That’s the statement, allegedly made by the then-20-year-old Church, that is the centerpiece of the prosecution’s case.

It’s not the type of talk that will win Church much sympathy from a jury, but his lawyer, Sarah Gelsomino asked jurors to understand that her client is a “very immature” alcoholic who had no clue about how to carry out the acts he boasted he was planning.

Listening to Church’s bluster and bravado, as described by police officer Nadia “Gloves” Chikko, such as her account of him pretending to tie his shoelaces while casing the Chase Bank so that he could measure the thickness of its windows for blowing them up later, I have a hard time believing anybody took him seriously.

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