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‘NATO 3’ Trial: Prosecutors Present Facebook Messages With Little Evidence Related to Alleged Offenses

In the trial of the “NATO 3,” Illinois state prosecutors presented messages that had been sent by defendants in late April and May, before they were arrested in a police raid on May 16, 2012, days before a NATO summit was scheduled in Chicago. The messages are apparently important to prosecutors, however, it was unclear what they could help the prosecutors prove.

The “NATO 3″—Brian Jacob Church, Brent Betterly and Jared Chase—each face terrorism and other felony conspiracy charges. They traveled from Florida to Chicago for protests that were planned against the NATO summit. They had organized with Occupy groups in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Two undercover cops from the Chicago police department’s intelligence unit, Officer Nadia Chikko and Officer Mehmet Uygun, became protesters and infiltrated the activist community that was preparing for protests around the summit, particularly May 18, when a large demonstration was planned.

The undercover cops were with them when they took beer bottles, filled them with an unknown amount of gasoline and then put cloths in each of them to make what prosecutors have said were Molotov cocktails.

Prosecutors argued the messages went to the motive, intent and “absence of mistake” on the part of the “NATO 3” to plot attacks. They “discuss actions in furtherance of the conspiracy.”

What were some of the messages sent?

On April 19, Church said something about getting on the “front lines.” Betterly said, “Chicago, NATO protests are going to get ugly,” and that he was heading there next week. Church messaged Betterly to tell him he had a car and a gas can but was “not very good at bumming free gas.”

An individual named Bobby LaMorte said to Betterly, “Let’s just hope the cops are a little ballsier,” after he was told by Betterly that organizers expected “close to 10,000 protesters.” Betterly responded, “Dude, the National Guard is gonna be there.” LaMorte sent him a smiley face and Betterly added, “We’re definitely going to get our riot.”

LaMorte apparently traded his gas mask when he was in the woods somewhere. He could not remember why. “Lol, if you can’t remember it must have been the drugs,” Betterly told him. LaMorte said, “Probably.”

When would they come back from Chicago? Betterly informed LaMorte, “I don’t know. After the summit I guess.” And would they stay at an Occupy camp or in the woods while in Chicago? They did not know.

This same day Betterly discussed with someone in his family how things did not have to remain the way they are “as long as people continue to resist.” He mentioned being in Washington, DC, with thousands of people where a four hour standoff with cops had occurred. They were on 15th & 16th, “two blocks from White House and home of some very infamous lobbyists.” He found DC to be “not very tolerant of the First Amendment.”

Days later, April 24, Betterly talked about going to Chicago for a “riot.” The National Guard and Chicago police would be there. “I’ll probably end up a fugitive.” He wanted to “make a Captain America shield in Chicago.”

“Yeah here to fuck some shit up for the NATO summit,” he told someone named Gary Quick. Quick messaged him at one point, “Yeah there gonna be like 10,000 people at this protest Chicago PD called in the National Guard.” And Betterly replied, “Gonna be riots in the street. Can’t wait.”

Betterly mentioned he had been staying with some people in Occupy Chicago but they were kicked out for something someone had done. It seemed like Church was responsible. Betterly said, “Jacob seems to love tripping on cough medicine.”

Messages from Church were entered into evidence and read to the jury as well. He said that it was important for “younger generations to learn to fight back” and recognize “how long the fight is going to be.” But then, in a conversation he had, it is clear he was under the impression that the United States government had gas chambers and were gassing and burning children.

“I could get arrested. I could get beaten, could get shot and then killed. Then they’d be really beat because I’d be coming back with a motherfuckin vengeance lolol,” Church said in one message. And, in a conversation with Chase, “Why do they target medics?”  Chase said, “That’s against the Geneva Convention.”

Church then suggested, “Because regimes always target those helping others especially when they are going up against them.”

According to Church, the National Guard was going to be there to protect them from getting near the “little rulers of the world meeting.” There would be LRADs. Even though he was told by someone who had been supporting him financially to put his energy into finding a job instead of going to protest in Chicago, he ignored the advice.

On April 28, he sent this message, “You don’t know how I do it. Chicago PD is not gonna know what hit them. This is what I’ve been talking about for too long.”

“Molotovs” did come up a few times. In fact, prosecutors had a couple news stories entered into evidence, which had been posted by defendants on their Facebooks. They showed they were paying attention to instances in San Francisco and Portland where Molotov cocktail-like explosives were used.

But, what does any of this prove?

Betterly discussed the video of Chicago police stopping them in early May. According to attorney for Church, Sarah Gelsomino, “They were driving in a car and were pulled over without any kind of justification or reason by the Chicago police department. They were surrounded by police and they were questioned for a very long period of time about what they were doing in Chicago, why they were here to protest, what their political affiliations were, how they identified politically—All kinds of absolutely outrageous questions that certainly do not indicate any kind of illegal behavior because it is not constitutional simply to accuse them of a crime because of a political belief.”

Betterly was infuriated. He sent a Facebook message saying he had the cops’ faces “etched” in his brain. He joked that this showed the police were afraid of protesters too.

The tough talk is supposed to show that they would have committed the crimes, which they charged with committing. It is about using the language of their daily conversation to present characters that come off as repulsive to the jury.

The messages where explosives or taking on the police, perhaps violently, do not come off as serious at all. They are juvenile and laden with “lol” or “lmao” or “lmfao.” It seems to be funny how far they might go to show police they are tough protesters willing to confront the police state.

Then, there are some serious messages. They genuinely believed that the protests at the NATO summit were going to turn into a riot. They thought the combo of National Guard and Chicago police might have something to do with it because tens of thousands of protesters would be there. Together, they thought some kind of shit was gonna go down. But what exactly?

None of the messages specifically indicate that they were going to be the ones to start the riot. “We’re gonna get our riot.” That is not the statement of a person planning to start the riot. That indicates a belief that the riot is likely to happen and they will enjoy it because of the thrill from being in the midst of protest activity where police and protesters are fighting each other.

Thus, it would appear the extent of the state’s case is that they committed multiple thought crimes and undercover police were there to show they may have acted on those thoughts because there are recordings of them making Molotovs with undercover police.

The prosecutors had wanted to introduce multiple messages from Betterly that mentioned his criminal history in Florida. The defense asked the judge to grant redactions so the jury did not consider this when deciding if he committed the offenses, which he is charged with committing. But the prosecutors wanted to leave a few lines of conversation in there that referenced redacted portions to give off an impression.

One prosecutor admitted that the defense, prosecution and judge would all know what one of the statements meant but the jury wouldn’t. So, why take it out?

The judge granted multiple redactions to Betterly’s defense.

The proceedings today continue with undercover officer Uygun taking the stand. The prosecution will ask him questions and go through some of the recordings made with his wire device.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."