Three NATO Summit protesters charged with plotting terrorist acts in Chicago reportedly planned to attack President Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home and firebomb a number of police stations, according to authorities.
The trio was arrested Wednesday in a nighttime raid in the Bridgeport neighborhood on the South Side. They're accused of trying to make Molotov cocktails ahead of the two-day NATO summit that starts Sunday.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Chicago police infiltrated the group and watched the men make Molotov cocktails. One defendant, The paper reports, allegedly said “the city doesn’t know what it’s in for” and “after NATO, the city will never be the same,” prosecutors alleged in court documents.
“We have people watching them do it,” one law enforcement source told The Sun-Times.
Defense attorneys told a judge on Saturday that undercover police are the ones who brought the Molotov cocktails, and that their clients were entrapped.
Bond of $1.5 million was set for each defendant. They have been charged with providing material support for terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism and possession of explosives.
Their attorney, Sarah Gelsomino, said the men are "absolutely in shock and have no idea where these charges are coming from."
They were scheduled to be in court later Saturday for a bond hearing on charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism, possession of an explosive or incendiary device and providing material support for terrorism.
“They are domestic terrorists,” said Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. “These men were here to hurt people.”
Six others arrested Wednesday in the South Side raid were released Friday without being charged.
Among the items seized by federal authorities was beer-making equipment, Gelsomino said. But prosecutors said the raid recovered firebombs, a mortar gun, swords, a cross-bow, a throwing star, ninja knives, knives with brass-knuckle handles and written plans for the assembly of pipe bombs.
Police in Chicago said the men, whom supporters are calling the "NATO3" said they believe the men allegedly planned to attack four police stations with Molotov cocktails — as a diversion to slow response to higher-profile attacks.
“This represents a victory — not a failure — in preventing something from happening,” Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said.
Prosecutors claim that the three men planned to recruit 16 people to conduct the attacks. Church wanted an assault rifle so that if a police officer pointed a gun at him he could “point one back," according to The Sun-Times
Church asked if fellow protesters if they had ever seen “a cop on fire” and suggested throwing a firebomb at the the Deering District police station at 3120 S. Halsted in the Bridgeport neighborhood, prosecutors said.
Chicago police Lt. Kenneth Stoppa declined to elaborate on the case beyond confirming the charges against the three who were still in custody.
Police identified the men being held as Brian Church, 20, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Jared Chase, 24, of Keene, N.H.; and Brent Vincent Betterly, 24. A police spokesman gave Betterly's hometown as Oakland Park, Mass., but no such town exists. There is an Oakland Park, Fla., that is near Fort Lauderdale.
The three came to Chicago in late April to take part in May Day protests, said activist Bill Vassilakis, who said he let them stay in his apartment.
He said Betterly was an industrial electrician and had volunteered to help wire service at The Plant, a former meatpacking facility that has been turned into a food incubator with the city's backing.
Vassilakis said he thought the charges were unwarranted.
"All I can say about that is, if you knew Brent, you would find that to be the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard. He was the most stand-up guy that was staying with me. He and the other guys had done nothing but volunteer their time and energy," he said."
Authorities in Oakland Park, Fla., said Betterly and two other young men walked into a public high school last fall after a night of tequila drinking and took a swim in the pool, according to a report in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
They stole fire extinguishers from three school buses, discharged one and smashed a cafeteria window with another. The vandalism caused about $2,000 in damage, the newspaper said.
Betterly was charged with burglary, theft and criminal mischief.
Security has been high throughout Chicago in preparation for the summit, where delegations from about 60 countries will discuss the war in Afghanistan and European missile defense.
Elsewhere, Chicago was mostly quiet. Downtown streets were largely empty, though that is not unusual for a weekend. Security guards stood watch outside many downtown buildings. In places, the guards almost outnumbered pedestrians.
Outside the Chicago Board of Trade, a frequent target of Occupy protesters, a lone protester wore a sign about wasteful military spending.
Closer to the summit site, commuter rail service was halted for a short time so police could investigate a suspicious package on a train running beneath the convention center where diplomats will be meeting. Investigators determined there was no threat.
Among the pre-NATO protests planned for Saturday was a march on the home of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The bigger show will be on Sunday, the start of the two-day NATO summit, when thousands of protesters are expected to march 2½ miles from a band shell on Lake Michigan to the McCormick Place convention center, where delegates will be meeting.
On Friday, police on bicycles and foot tailed activists through the streets but ignored taunts and went out of their way to make as few arrests as possible. Protesters made a lot of noise and tried to evade police, but otherwise were relatively uneventful.
In all, police said there was a single arrest on a charge of aggravated battery of a police officer. Another man was briefly taken into custody, but he was released a short time later after being questioned by police, a department spokesman said.
Michael Olstewski, a recent music school graduate who came to Chicago from Atlanta, was one of hundreds of protesters who took to the streets Friday for a spontaneous march. He said he would not rule out provoking police to arrest him later "if I feel it's strategic and a powerful statement."
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