After the jury reached its verdict Friday on the NATO 3 trial in Chicago a visibly disappointed State Attorney Anita Alvarez told reporters she would do it all again if given the chance.
“Have we forgotten about Boston? Have we forgotten about homemade bombs in backpacks?” she said. When questioned by an AP reporter if the case represented a “defeat,” Alvarez asked if he would like a molotov cocktail thrown at him – a less than ironic ending to a remarkably unsmooth trial where police informants got beat by their own game.
The three accused men — Brian Church, 22, Jared Chase, 29, and Brent Vince Betterly, 25 — were convicted Friday on two counts of arson and “mob action” but acquitted on all terrorism charges, concluding a trial that lasted three weeks. But the NATO 3 aren't technically in the clear yet; they could still each individually face up to 30 years in jail. Nevertheless, in the eyes of the law, they are no longer deemed terrorists.
The three men were arrested just days before a huge protest scheduled at the NATO summit in Chicago in May of 2012. Throughout the trial, the defense used the tape recordings made by undercover Chicago police officers Nadia Chikko and Mehmet Uygun against the police officers, which provided a striking turnaround from other cases of police entrapment in recent years.
The recordings revealed that not only were the NATO 3 incapable of planning an attack on targets such as President Obama's campaign headquarters – but that the undercover cops had directly orchestrated the “terrorist plot.” The defense further used the recordings to show that the NATO 3 were not dangerous terrorists but harmless “goofs.”
According to DNAinfo.com, the defense attorney for Betterly, Molly Armour, said, “There is a line in the sand, and the jury just drew that line. This war on terror cannot go this far.”
The defense attorney for Chase, Thomas Durkin, said the terrorism charges were motivated by the need for Chicago officials to justify the city's bloated security costs surrounding the highly contested NATO summit. Church's attorney, Michael Deutsch, said, “This was a political prosecution in every sense of the word... When we want to trivialize terrorism and charge protestors with terrorism, then we are threatening all kinds of rights to protest and to speak out.”
State Attorney Alvarez has a history of what some have considered prosecutorial overreach. Right after her election in November of 2008, Alvarez subpoenaed David Protess of the Medill School of Journalism because of an investigation, conducted in his class, revealed thatpolice coercion and intimidation helped lead to the conviction of a black 18-year-old, Andrew McKinney, with no prior record. McKinney was sentenced to life in prison for murdering a security guard.
A crucial takeaway from the Friday verdict on the NATO 3 is this: not everyone can be so easily frightened by the buzzword “terrorism,” which has been used by the government as a political tool to suppress domestic dissent, especially in the years since 9/11. At the same time, the trial reveals the extent to which law enforcement is willing to go to ensnare – or “entrap” – activists on charges of violence who would otherwise be partaking in peaceful, constitutional forms of dissent.
The NATO 3 are hardly alone in this style of persecution. Chelsea Manning, who has been nominated along with Edward Snowden for the Nobel Peace prize for her role in providing the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs to Wikileaks, remains behind bars. So does journalist Barrett Brown who is facing a 100+ year prison sentence for sharing a link to classified material. And Jeremy Hammond, who worked with Anonymous to expose private intelligence contractors like Stratfor, is among the many other Americans currently in jail for political reasons.
While the not guilty verdict may or may not swing the judicial pendulum back in favor of activists in the heightened terrorism scare since 9/11 – and more recently since the Boston marathon bombing – the court's rejection of the terror label for the NATO 3 marks an important step forward to help reshape public opinion and publicly end the War on Terror.