Cops: Protesters wanted to hit Obama HQ, mayor’s home
By Jeremy Gorner, Becky Schlikerman and Rosemary R. SobolTribune reporters
May 19, 2012
Three out-of-state men arrested in a Bridgeport apartment raid days before the NATO summit considered hitting President Obama‘s campaign headquarters, Mayor Rahm Emanuel‘s house and police stations with “incendiary devices,” prosecutors charged in court documents.
The trio — Brian Church, 20, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Jared Chase, 24, of Keene, N.H., and Brent Vincent Betterly, 24, of Oakland Park, Fla. — are charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism, providing material support for terrorism and possession of an explosive or incendiary device.
They were ordered held today on $1.5 million bail each during a bond hearing.
Betterly, with shaggy blonde dreadlocks, appeared in a brown leather jacket and gray T-shirt with a skull on it and the word “MISFIT.” He shook his head while the charges were read and occasionally looked at the ceiling.
Church was wearing an army green flak jacket. He clasped his hands behind his back and showed no reaction.
Chase, dressed in a gray T-shirt with shaved head, also had no visible reaction as prosecutor Matthew Thrun read the allegations.
More than a dozen sheriff’s deputies stood around the defendants during the 10-minute hearing.
A defense attorney said the case amounted to “entrapment” by undercover police officers who encouraged and pushed the defendants into bomb-making. “They are young people who are here to peaceably protest” he said. “This is just propaganda to create a fear in this city.”
The arrests were the result of a month-long investigation into a group suspected of making Molotov cocktails — crude bombs usually created by filling glass bottles with gasoline, according to law enforcement sources and police records obtained by the Tribune.
But the National Lawyers Guild, which is representing the men, said they were simplyNATO protesters who had beer-making equipment when the apartment they were staying at was raided overnight Wednesday.
The men also were in a car that was stopped by police a week ago, leading to a YouTube video of the stop that has prompted protesters to complain Chicago Police were harassing the occupants, said Sarah Gelsomino, a lawyer with the guild.
She called the charges “an attempt to continue this intimidation campaign on activists. Charging these people who are here to peacefully protest against NATO for terrorism, when in reality the police have been terrorizing activists in Chicago, is absolutely outrageous.”
Chase’s uncle, Michael Chase of Westmoreland, N.H., said he was shocked to learn of the charges against his nephew, who he said quit his job as a cook at a Boston restaurant in the fall to join the Occupy movement.
“He can be confrontational,” Chase said of his nephew. “If he’s pressed, he tends to lash out. I really can’t envision him doing this on his own, coming up with an idea to do something that radical.”
Police earlier Friday released from custody — without charging — six of the nine people who were swept up in the late-night Wednesday raid of a Bridgeport apartment building. Several are affiliated with the Occupy movement and had arrived in Chicago in recent weeks from California, North Carolina, Massachusetts and elsewhere.
Details of the investigation remain murky. Police and Cook County prosecutors have declined to publicly discuss or even acknowledge the arrests in the 1000 block of West 32nd Street even as the conduct of officers has come under criticism from those involved in the raid.
Witnesses described police officers armed with battering rams and guns drawn swarming into the building, conducting warrantless searches and refusing to tell them what was going on. However, court records show that Cook County Judge Dennis Porter signed a search warrant Wednesday night.
Adding to the mystery, two other individuals were detained in separate arrests Thursday. A 24-year-old man was arrested at his Northwest Side home for allegedly conspiring to build Molotov cocktails, while a 28-year-old West Side man, who is on probation for a 2011 conviction for the aggravated battery of a police officer, was arrested for allegedly attempting to possess an explosive device, according to sources and police records.
Darrin Annussek, 36, one of those released Friday, said he was handcuffed and shackled for 18 hours in an “interrogation room.”
Hours before the charges were announced, two of the other six men were released from the police station without charges.
One of them, identifying himself as Robert LaMorte, 21, of South Carolina, said he had been in Chicago for less than an hour when he was arrested. He said he was never told what he was being held for and that police simply released him with little comment.
He said he had hitchhiked from New York to Gary and received a ride from a friend to Chicago. He was staying at the Bridgeport apartment with friends who were protesters, he said. He said he was never told what he was held for.
Following his release, LaMorte, 21, said “I’m leaving here first chance I get. I don’t want to deal with any more problems.”
Before the other three men were charged, a group of about 40 supporters held an hours-long vigil outside the police station, sometimes singing in an attempt to cheer up the men inside.
Only about 15 were still outside when Gelsomino came out of the station and told them about the charges. They soon left.
Gelsomino said lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild will represent the men in bond court Saturday, and she encouraged their supporters to attend the hearing.
“The charges are extremely serious and extremely upsetting at this point for us,” Gelsomino said.
Gelsomino told reporters at the station of the connection between the men and the YouTube traffic stop video that some protesters have been talking about for a week during street protests leading up to the Sunday-Monday gather of world leaders.
“All three of these guys, interestingly, were in the car about a week ago that was stopped and harassed by the Chicago Police Department,” Gelsomino said. “They then posted that video online in an attempt to expose that police misconduct. Each of those three are now being charged with these crimes. That’s as much as we know.”
The police department issued the following statement after the complaints about the traffic stop: “During the course of patrol, police officers routinely conduct investigative stops if there is reasonable suspicion to do so. The individuals that were stopped were never handcuffed and were free to go after speaking with the officers.”
Chase lived in a tent for a time after joining Occupy and traveled with other members of the movement to Rhode Island,Washington, D.C.and Miami before arriving in Chicago last month, his uncle said.
“I’m not surprised that he’s in the protest movement because he’s been with it for awhile, but it’s a whole different aspect when you start talking about committing acts of terror using anything, and it’s really not his style,” Michael Chase said. “He’s had brushes with the law in the past and bumping heads with the police and so forth.
“It would not surprise me if during an arrest he was charged with resisting arrest, but it’s shocking to me that he would be charged with planning to commit an act of terror using any kind of device that would create the kind of havoc that a Molotov cocktail (would cause).”
Chase was not politically active before joining Occupy, so his decision to leave his job for the movement came as a surprise, his uncle said.
“He wasn’t involved in any of that stuff before,” his uncle said. “He complained about the economy like everybody else, but certainly he wasn’t active about doing anything about it. I was a little surprised because he obviously had to quit his job to spend time in the tent, so to speak, and I had to give him a hard time because I thought that was the wrong move.”
Michael Chase said his nephew had mentioned Church in recent phone conversations, but not Betterly.
Chase’s Facebook page, verified by his uncle, includes a link to a news story about a May Day protest in Chicago with a photo of protesters blocking the entrance to a bank in theLoop. Chase writes on the page that he is pictured in the photo.
In another post, Chase writes that the building where he was staying in Miami with other Occupy members was raided by the FBI and police. The post says he was the only person put in a police car and ends with, “(expletive) you pigs.”
Tribune reporters William Lee, Ryan Haggerty, Jason Meisner, Annie Sweeney, Todd Lighty and Carlos Sadovi contributed.
- NATO Protesters Charged With Terrorism (myfoxdetroit.com)
- Nato protesters arrested in Chicago raid held on terrorism conspiracy charges – The Guardian (guardian.co.uk)
- Breaking: 3 #Occupy Activists Hit With Terrorism Charges at NATO Protests (thegatewaypundit.com)
- 3 NATO protesters face terror conspiracy charges (kansascity.com)
- Activists Charged With Providing Material Support for Terrorism Ahead of NATO Summit (dissenter.firedoglake.com)
- 3 Charged With Terror Conspiracy Ahead of NATO (abcnews.go.com)
- 3 NATO protesters face terror conspiracy charges (washingtontimes.com)
- Three NATO Protesters Charged With Terrorism; Protesters Say They Were Only Brewing Beer (chicagoist.com)
- Three NATO protesters face terror charges: report (dailystar.com.lb)
- Chicago’s top cop and prosecutor to discuss alleged NATO terrorism plot (suntimes.com)