3 May 2013

Defend the NATO 3!


For nearly a year, Brent Betterly, Jared Chase, and Brian Jacob Church have been locked away in Cook County Jail, facing possible 40-year prison stretches on an array of “terrorism” and other trumped-up charges, with bail set at $1.5 million each. Last spring, these Occupy activists traveled from Florida to Chicago in the lead-up to protests against a May 20 summit of the U.S.-dominated NATO imperialist military alliance. The city was under a virtual state of siege orchestrated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, with thousands of National Guardsmen, troops and cops mobilized to shield the summit from over 10,000 protesters. On May 16, Betterly, Chase and Church—now known as the NATO 3—were arrested for a supposed plot to make four Molotov cocktails and hurl them at police stations and other targets. The highly publicized arrests were part of a campaign to brand the protests as violent, in order to chill opposition to the NATO war criminals who have the blood of untold thousands in Afghanistan and elsewhere on their hands.

As the Partisan Defense Committee wrote in a 21 May 2012 protest letter to the Cook County State’s Attorney (printed in WV No. 1003, 25 May 2012), “The arrests of Betterly, Church and Chase have all the earmarks of a classic case of police entrapment and provocation.” The arrests came less than a week after the defendants had posted a video on YouTube of a Chicago cop who had pulled their car over, threatening them: “We’ll come look for you, each and every one of you.”

In January, the NATO 3’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the “terrorism” charges on constitutional grounds. The defense motion paints a chilling picture of how undercover cops known as Mo and Gloves tried every trick in the book to set the activists up:

“Despite a more than two-week continuing effort by the undercover Chicago police officers posing as fellow members of Occupy to entice and encourage the defendants to carry out some criminal act, the defendants never did anything.... It was only in desperation, after two weeks of nothing to show for their undercover infiltration of the defendants, and the untold resources expended to facilitate those efforts, that the police suggested at least some bottles of gasoline [Molotov cocktails] be put together. The defendants never discussed a specific plan of what to do with these bottles, let alone a plan to use them to intimidate or coerce a significant portion of the civilian population. In fact, the bottles were always in possession of the under-cover police who suggested their own provocative ideas for how to use the bottles.”

Just moments after the bottles were filled with gasoline, the undercover cops sent a prearranged signal, and the police then raided the apartment with guns drawn. They proceeded to ransack the place, confiscating computers, cellphones and political literature.

The NATO 3 were not the only activists set up and slapped with felony charges prior to the military summit. Sebastian Senakiewicz and Mark Neiweem were charged with “falsely making a terrorist threat” and “attempted possession of an incendiary device” respectively. Both took non-cooperating plea deals and remain imprisoned. In all, over 100 anti-NATO protesters were arrested, from pacifist liberals to anarchoid activists. Also arrested during the weekend of the May 20 protest were the Tinley Park 5, anti-fascists who have been convicted for helping break up a white-supremacist gathering in a Chicago suburb (see accompanying article).

On March 27, Judge Thaddeus Wilson denied the NATO 3’s defense motion to dismiss, in a court hearing that was clearly designed to intimidate the defendants and everyone who came out on their behalf. Observers noted that while the judge announced his ruling, the defendants were held in a separate room, sealed off by soundproof glass and away from their supporters, with an armed, uniformed cop for each of them. Meanwhile, four armed cops sat in the audience. “It’s what a lot of scholars and people who pay attention to national security call the ‘new normal’,” said Thomas Durkin, a lawyer for Chase. In simple terms, the “new normal” is a creeping police state.

As the NATO 3’s motion pointed out, the Illinois statutory definition of terrorism is so vague and broad that it could include “labor strikes, peaceful occupations and sit-ins, political protests and boycotts.” Ever since the inception of the “war on terror” in 2001, we have warned that while the first targets were mainly immigrants, particularly Muslims and those from the Near East, the ultimate targets would be the labor movement, black people, the left and anyone who would dare to protest the depredations of U.S. imperialism, at home or abroad. And indeed, leftist political activity of many stripes has increasingly become a focal point of “anti-terror” repression.

In 2008, a host of undercover agents wormed their way into the organizing of protests at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, entrapping activists on “terrorism” charges. One agent later infiltrated the Minneapolis branch of the reformist Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO—publishers of Fight Back!). This led in 2010 to FBI raids and grand jury subpoenas against 23 leftists and trade unionists in Chicago and Minneapolis, many of them FRSO supporters, as part of a witchhunting investigation falsely identifying solidarity efforts on behalf of Palestinian and Colombian leftists with “material support to terrorism.” Last November, four Cleveland supporters of the populist Occupy movement received prison terms ranging from six to eleven and a half years for a plot concocted by an FBI informant. Meanwhile police “red squads,” which had largely gone underground in the wake of the social upheavals of the 1960s, have resurfaced in many cities under the guise of investigating “terrorism.”

A dangerous vise is being tightened around political protest in this country. First Amendment rights and other civil liberties are shredded in the name of “homeland security,” while the state’s moles and rats cook up felonious “plots” aimed at luring political dissenters close enough to slap charges on them. This is a concerted, bipartisan effort. The use of anti-terror laws against leftists has accelerated under the Democratic administration of Barack Obama. From San Francisco, Oakland and Portland to Minneapolis, Chicago and Cleveland, it has been Democratic Party mayors who have led the crackdowns and witchhunts aimed at Occupy and other protesters.

The NATO 3 are scheduled for trial on September 16. The PDC, a legal and social defense organization associated with the Marxist Spartacist League, calls on the left and labor movements to join in demanding: Drop all the charges now! The PDC has donated $200 to the legal defense of the NATO 3 and encourages others to do the same. Donations can be made at https://www.wepay.com/donations/nato-5-defense. 

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1023, 3 May 2013)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.