Scare-mongering in Chicago

Eric Ruder and Alan Maass report on a midnight raid against activists by Chicago police--and the supposed "terrorism" case that emerged in the aftermath.

Police arrest a protester in Chicago during a mass anti-NATO marchPolice arrest a protester in Chicago during a mass anti-NATO march

THREE ACTIVISTS who were in Chicago for the demonstrations against the NATO summit were arrested in a midnight raid on May 16 and now face terrorism charges--in a case that civil liberties advocates and antiwar organizations are calling a "frame-up" designed to intimidate those who wish to protest war and austerity.

The three--Brian Church and Brent Vincent Betterly of Florida and Jared Chase of New Hampshire--are charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism, providing material support for terrorism and possession of an explosive or incendiary device. A judge set bail at $1.5 million for each. Two more men were charged with terrorism-related offenses over the weekend, though police are unclear about whether they are trying to connect them to the original three.

Church, Betterly and Chase were staying with other activists in an apartment building in the South Side neighborhood of Bridgeport. Shortly before midnight on May 16, police kicked in the front door, rounded up everyone inside, shackled them and placed bags over their heads before taking them to the Organized Crime Unit.

Darrin Annussek, one of the nine people detained in total and released, told CBS News: "For 18 hours, we were handcuffed to a bench and our legs were shackled together," he said. "Some of our cries for the bathroom were either ignored or met with silence."

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POLICE CLAIM to have recovered materials for making Molotov cocktails, along with a variety of weapons that included, according to breathless accounts in the mainstream media, "ninja throwing stars" and "swords with brass-knuckle handles."

But as in so many other cases in which the authorities claim to have foiled a "terrorist" plot, the evidence is full of holes--unless, that is, it was provided by undercover informants.

Other people detained during the Bridgeport raid say the police were hauling away equipment to make beer. Plus, it turns out that three of the activists staying in the apartment were undercover officers or informants, and two of them--"Mo" and "Gloves"--were arrested among the nine people taken away by police that night. They and four others were released without charge.

As Sarah Gelsomino of the People's Law Office and National Lawyers Guild (NLG) told the Guardian:

We cannot say enough that we believe that these charges are absolutely...trumped-up...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.

Michael Deutsch, also of the NLG and a lawyer for the three, said the arrests were "entrapment to the highest degree" and "a way to stir up prejudice against people exercising their First Amendment rights."

Though this fact didn't figure in most of the mainstream media accounts of the "terrorism" case, the same three activists were in a car that was arbitrarily pulled over by police earlier in the week. The three posted video of the encounter--"in an attempt to expose that police misconduct," Gelsomino said.

One officer can be heard in the video saying, "We'll come look for you, each and every one of you."

An article in the New York Times reported that lawyers for the defendants believe that the undercover agents came up with the supposed plans for "terrorism" and provided the materials.

This fits with a pattern of entrapment honed by the FBI in the era of the "war on terror"--when paid informants, often with the threat of prison time hanging over their heads, entice individuals with the outlines of a terrorist attack, provide the materials and support for the plot, and encourage it to be carried out--right up to the moment the police burst in with arrests.

The Chicago case has another common thread with the recent experiences of political activists--a police raid on the eve of a major demonstration, designed to frighten protesters and scare the public with activists' "shocking" plans for mayhem and violence. As reported earlier this month:

[O]n April 30, the day before May Day protests in New York City, police paid "visits" to the homes of several activists...In one instance, six police officers broke down the door of Occupy activist Zachary Dempster's Brooklyn apartment at 6:15 a.m.--saying they had an arrest warrant for Dempster's roommate on a 6-year-old open-container violation. According to Dempster, police "asked what I was doing [on May Day], and if I knew of any activities, any events."

In Chicago, several activists with Occupy Chicago also had their homes raided by police in similar fashion--leading others who have had a high profile in activism in the city to stay away from their apartments and houses over the course of the week of protests against NATO.

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AS THE United National Antiwar Committee--one of the national organizations involved in protests against the NATO summit--said in a statement:

Since 9/11, the U.S. has been shredding our civil liberties, beginning with the Patriot Act and continuing with the National Defense Authorization Act. The principal targets of such attacks have been Arabs and Muslims who have been detained, interrogated, jailed and deported without due process or probable cause. Such violations of civil rights and civil liberties are routine in the Black and immigrant communities in our country.

In this case, the City of Chicago has used this raid and similar ones that may happen in the run-up to and in the aftermath of the demonstration against NATO to intimidate activists and citizens at large from exercising their rights to organize, assemble and protest. They are also designed to criminalize dissent and cast suspicion on activists among wider layers of the population.

Shadid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, made a similar point in an article about the U.S. House vote in favor of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)--which grants the military, at the discretion of the president, the power to detain U.S. citizens indefinitely:

Not only has Congress given its institutional middle finger to the Constitution, but the Chicago Police Department--which not long ago tortured hundreds of innocent African-American men into false confessions (sound familiar?)--is offering clues about what life under the NDAA might one day look like. Perhaps still reeling from the memory of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the CPD has learned from its mistakes, preempting First Amendment activity by abducting activists...

This weekend's NATO summit has already inspired crackdowns by the city government. Wednesday night's warrantless raid of a Bridgeport apartment complex, and abduction of nine activists, took the militarization of domestic police to a new level. Chicago seems like a banana republic in its casual disregard for basic rights: the detainees were held incommunicado for a night, shackled hand and feet, and denied access to counsel.

The police raids and arrests in Chicago are meant to send a message of intimidation against those who exercise their right to protest and express themselves.