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‘NATO 3’ suspects ‘not violent’

KevYoung Occupy Miami activist who protests 'Fort Peace'. Phofor Chicago Sun-Times by Carlos Miller.

Kevin Young, Occupy Miami activist who protests at "Fort Peace". Photo for the Chicago Sun-Times by Carlos Miller.

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Updated: July 1, 2012 12:53PM

MIAMI — The last place where their friends in the Occupy Miami movement saw Jared Chase and Brent Vincent Betterly was at an apartment building that authorities here condemned last week, five days before the young men became two of Chicago’s “NATO 3” terror suspects.

Chase, Betterly and others in a small splinter group of activists flocked to the dirty, graffiti-marked apartment block in this city’s poor Overtown neighborhood in early February, after police ended a 108-day-old Occupy encampment next to the county government building in downtown Miami.

They dubbed their new settlement “Fort Peace” and lived rent-free thanks to landlord Rodrigo Duque, a 33-year-old Colombian immigrant who insisted everybody call him “Senor Paz” — Spanish for “Mister Peace.”

Cook County authorities say Chase, 27, Betterly, 24, and a third man, 22-year-old Brian Church, met in Fort Lauderdale. The three — now being held on $1.5 million bond each — drove to Chicago last month and planned to firebomb President Obama’s campaign headquarters and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s North Side home in addition to Chicago police stations and squad cars, authorities charge.

Prosecutors say Church asked fellow protesters if they had ever seen “a cop on fire.” And Chase, a New Hampshire native, posted on his Facebook page while living in Florida: “Miami has the most crooked cops in the country. We should execute them before they do something we’ll regret,” according to Manchester Union Leader.

Church was little known here by activists but if Chase and Betterly ever contemplated the sort of violent action they allegedly planned for Chicago’s NATO Summit, their old Fort Peace roommates and other Occupy Miami protesters insist they heard no such talk before the men departed.

“They have good heads,” said Chris Escobar, who said he had last talked with Chase and Betterly before they went to participate in May Day protests in Washington, D.C. “They’re not violent people.”

Kevin Young, an Occupy Miami activist who visited Fort Peace on Sunday afternoon, described the two as “serious about the movement.”

“They wanted more organization and they wanted to effect change,” Young said. “That’s not at all to say they were for using violence. Jared especially seemed to be open to an electoral-like approach.”

With his serious, quiet demeanor and short-cropped hair, Chase’s appearance did not jibe with the more-unkempt look of Betterly and many of the younger Occupy participants.

“For the longest time, I thought Jared was a cop,” Young said.

Chase and Betterly were part of the original Occupy Miami encampment that began downtown here in mid-October and ended with a police raid on the night of Jan. 31. Although activists say there was drug use and incidents of violence between protesters, they recall no major confrontations with police until their eviction.

A few hours before the eviction, Chase told a local television station that he and his fellow protesters do not condone “violence and things like that.”

“We do not like that stuff in our camp,” he told Miami’s WPLG-TV.

Chase was among a few protesters arrested on the night of Jan. 31 when the “Peace City” camp was broken up. Some reunited Sunday afternoon at a vinyl-record store in the Little Haiti neighborhood for a book release party and what was billed as “a discussion of anarchist economics.”

Activist Muhammed Malik scoffed at the notion that the three men charged Saturday in Chicago became violent “Black Bloc” activists while in Miami.

“If you say ‘Black Bloc’ to somebody in Miami, they’re more likely to think you’re talking about a dance club in the Design District than anything political,” he said.

Malik and others say authorities merely want to chill free speech.

Many of the more experienced Occupy Miami protesters have sought to distance themselves from those who landed at Fort Peace, alleging rampant drug use.

Friends said Chase was present on March 13 when authorities raided Fort Peace. They allege that Miami police and federal agents conducted the raid without cause, stepped on Chase and other residents and asked an Egyptian-born activist if he was Muslim and if he loved the United States.

Fort Peace must disband by Wednesday, according to a letter that Occupy Miami residents and rent-paying tenants received Sunday. But it is Miami’s building department officials, rather than the police, who are forcing the social experiment to close by declaring the building unsafe for habitation.

Escobar, one of the Fort Peace activists, stood in the building’s asphalt courtyard Sunday afternoon clutching Days of War, Nights of Love, a collection of anarchist essays. He mused that he and his roommates might get together again for a June protest against Florida’s standardized school testing system.

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