Ahead of Verdict in ‘NATO 3’ Trial, A Look at the History of Police Repression in Chicago
Civil liberties lawyer, author and director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Project on Political Surveillance, Frank Donner, wrote in his book, Protectors of Privilege, about the political surveillance operation of the Chicago police in the 1960s and 1970s:
Because their exalted “mission” to protect internal security contrasts so sharply with the dreary reality of their duties, intelligence personnel in the late sixties, almost as an occupational necessity, fantasized, Walter Mitty-style, about uncovering a subversive plot: in the nick of time they nip it in the bud and seize the plotters (already defined in the police mind by images of bestiality and terror) along with their weapons and explosives. They then testify in a dramatic trial, resulting in long prison sentences, and earn the undying gratitude of the nation, not to speak of promotions, publicity and awards. The happy ending of an arrest makes the dream complete, but even short of that, the fantasy of radical terror is consoling in itself because it vindicates the premise of threatened revolutionary violence that is, after all, the primary justification for the huge expenditure, the files, the days, months and years of boring surveillance, the bursting albums of police photographs, the informer networks and the minatory propaganda. The boy who cries wolf must somehow produce the animal if he is not to forfeit his credibility—and lose a promotion.
The case of the “NATO 3” is such a “fantasy of radical terror.” The arrests of the three men came as the city of Chicago was expending huge resources for security at the NATO meeting in May 2012. And, if the jury convicts the three men of terrorism and other felony conspiracy charges tomorrow, Illinois state prosecutors will have vindicated the “premise of threatened revolutionary violence,” which drove the Chicago Police Department’s intelligence unit to send surveillance officers to spy on the activist community in the months before the summit.
“Identifying” Individuals, Groups or Organization That Intend to Disrupt
For those unaware of the details, Brian Jacob Church, Brent Betterly and Jared Chase traveled from Florida to Chicago for protests that were planned against the NATO summit, which was held on May 19 and 20 in 2012. They had previously been part of Occupy encampments 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 demonstrations around the summit, particularly a large demonstration on May 18.
The state alleges the three young men took beer bottles and filled them with each with gasoline, a quarter of the way, and filled them with cloths to make Molotov cocktails to throw at police. However, according to Uygun’s testimony, Betterly sat on the steps and never said anything while they were being made on the porch of a Chicago apartment. Church was on the other side of the porch and not involved in the making of the Molotov cocktails. Chase was pouring gas and went to purchase gasoline at a station with Uygun.
Historically, this trial and police operation, which led to the arrest of the “NATO 3,” fits in to the history of police repression in Chicago. Political surveillance was a tool of control employed by police decades ago and, in fact, up until the “subversive unit” or red squad dissolved in September 1975, the Chicago Police Department was an example to police departments all over the nation.
The mission the “subversive section” had was, as Donner described in his book, “to identify and possibly prosecute ‘individuals, groups and organizations who advocate the disruption of the democratic process and government through the use of violence and criminal activity.'”
According to Donner, “Police Superintendent James Rochford defended surveillance as legitimate attempt to ‘keep the peace and protect the public from violence and disorder.’ The approved targets, he insisted, were either revolutionary, terrorist or marked by a history of violence and disruption.”
Similarly, Chikko insisted in her testimony in court, “There have been in the past times where anarchists have infiltrated peaceful protestors or peaceful protestor meetings.” When they went to punk rock shows, cafes, meetings or any other locations, they were “seeing if there was any criminal activity being talked about, discussed or planned.” Uygun testified that police conducting what the department refers to as a “public safety mission” were only looking for people intent to commit violence, not anarchists.
Decades ago, Chicago police used this sort of language as a pretext to target Businessmen for the Public Interest, World council of Churches, League of Women Voters, the Save the Children Federation, Parent-Teacher Association, and university campuses and churches. They targeted the National Lawyers Guild and the People’s Law Office of Chicago.
Using the NATO Meeting’s Designation as a National Special Security Event as Pretext for Spying
The fact that the NATO meeting was a national special security event (and that the G8 meeting was going to be held in Chicago too until it was moved to Camp David by President Barack Obama) gave police the pretext necessary to go spy on people at the Heartland Cafe, Permanent Records Store, The Spaceship, a music venue, and Occupy Chicago’s headquarters.
On March 20, 2012, Uygun was deployed with a team to 1714 W. Division Street in to gather potentially actionable intelligence on groups who might pose a threat to property during the summit. A report with Uygun’s name on it mentioned that graffiti had been noted. The graffiti was waves facing westbound and it was described as “possibly anarchist.”
At 1739 W. Division Street, Uygun apparently observed “owl-shaped graffiti,” a symbol with the words “Stay Aware.” The Wicker Park fitness center and apartments were above this symbol. Smaller graffiti said, “Tax the Rich,” “End the War,” and “Fuck Rahm.” There was a small red “A” with a circle around it nearby, an “anarchist” symbol.
The same “anarchist” symbol was spotted at 1735 W. Division. Above the storefront was an apartment with a flag that had a skull and cross bones. Uygun took note of this and the fact that a second apartment had “nothing of suspicion.”
When asked if he was looking for anything suspicious that was “anarchist,” Uygun responded, “I was just following the waves on the wall.” They drove down the street looking for “more waves” and noting things of interest. And a foot patrol was even deployed on the street for over an hour to search for “criminal activity” but nothing was found.
The City Ordered Face Shields for Police Because They Were Afraid of Feces & Urine
Both Chikko and Uygun maintained the city was not targeting anybody, particularly “anarchists,” but then why did the Chicago Tribune in February 2012 report, “Authorities are drawing up contingency plans for possibilities that range from downtown streets choked with demonstrators to elusive bands of anarchists who could show up to tangle with police”? Why was it reported by the Chicago Sun-Times that during a march on May 18 cops posed “as grungy protesters” and “fed information back” to a “command post”?
Thousands of face shields were ordered for police. Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields hysterically suggested, “Rioters known to attend NATO and G-8 meetings have been known to throw bags of urine and bags of feces at police. Chicago Police officers need a shield that can adapt to what is being thrown at them.”
During the summit, it was alleged by Kris Hermes of the National Lawyer Guild that police and the FBI went around to homes of known organizers. They swarmed these homes with squad cars. They showed pictures of people and were asking questions about the protests. In addition to what Hermes shares, there were other reports of real estate managers apparently being visited. They were being told this space was on a list of “suspected anarchist spaces,” as if it was a crime to be an “anarchist.” (But the officers maintain nobody was targeting “anarchists.”
Worse Than Entrapment: Police Could Not Even Get the “NATO 3” to Carry Out a Plan
Fear of “anarchists” or “black bloc” committing revolutionary violence or “terrorism” drove the mission of the two undercover officers that targeted the “NATO 3.”
These men were, to police, the very sort of out-of-towners they warned businesses and residents would come to Chicago. They wore the clothing of “Black Bloc” protesters to conceal their identity. Chase and Church talked openly about weapons and expressed their views, jokingly, about what they might like to see happen to police during the NATO summit. It was easy to get them to talk, however, they were not very good at planning any sort of conspiracy.
On May 16, aware the men had conducted no significant reconnaissance of any areas for suggested attacks, Chikko raised the idea of making Molotovs, not Church, Chase or Betterly. Uygun said he had $2 for buying gas right before Chase went with him to a BP gas station. Chikko brought up bottles saying, “You guys got bottles?” She also asked if they should “make some” again. Uygun cut up the strips of bandanna used as wicks in the Molotovs. And, when gas was poured into the bottles, the officers could not get Church to walk from the other side of the porch and come over to be involved in the act.
Did they ever possess the explosives? Uygun put them in his backpack right away after they were made. He then hid them in a white garbage can in the bathroom to be found by police during a preemptive raid later that night when nine people, including the “NATO 3” were arrested.
Similarly, during the week of the 1968 Democratic Party Convention, Donner recounted how Chicago police officer Patrick Maurice Dailey, on street patrol “found a notebook in Lincoln Park belonging to a member of a religious collective called Heavenly Blue Lodge.” It was a collective that “consisted of two couples” living together.
After making appropriate changes in his appearance and taking another name, he used his notebook find as a cover for ingratiating himself into their group. Eager to set up an arrest, he talked to the four about blowing up department stores in Chicago’s Loop, but received no encouraging response. Dailey not only badgered them to produce a bomb recipe but, as he later admitted in court testimony, rented an apartment where the ingredients were stored and combined.
Donner added, “The record of the court trial of the four defendants includes these curious revelations excerpted from Dailey’s undercover reports.”
He said, “We will pick up the cotton and the empty bottles but I don’t have any money.” So I [Dailey] gave him ten dollars…
I [Dailey] picked up two pints of nitric acid and two pints of sulphuric acid and about forty or fifty bottle stoppers…As they were walking out of the building they were arrested. The officer then placed me in custody with them.
The Chicago Police Department only found these three men through their political surveillance operation conducted under the pretext of figuring out where to allocate resources for manpower or personnel during the summit. They decided these men were probably “anarchists,” “Black Bloc,” “criminals,” or “terrorists” before they had ever committed any sort of crime. Prosecutors fabricated this case out of whatever they could find from the digital footprint they left on social media, said to undercover officers wearing wires, weapons (knives, sword, bow and arrow, throwing star, etc), which they legally possessed, and a large recycled wood sign that has screws sticking out of it and says, “Austerity Ain’t Gonna Happen,” with the “A” in “ain’t” drawn like an “anarchist symbol.” And, also, the car they were driving once breached the “geofence” around President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign headquarters so, instead of believing they were looking for parking to go to where Occupy Chicago was based, they decided this meant they were searching for “terrorist targets.”
Chicago has a history of this kind of hysteria around alleged or suspected subversives or agitators in the city. The police never admit that what they did went too far.
When considering the words from recorded conversations being used against the “NATO 3,” it is comparable to how Yippie leader Jerry Rubin was targeted by undercover officer Robert Pierson and prosecuted for “pointing at a picture of a policeman with a nightstick” and saying, “Look at that fat pig. We should isolate one or two pigs and kill them.” This statement was taken as an “actual threat” of incitement and relied upon as a principal basis for advancing state charges against Rubin.
Additionally, according to Donner:
On January 3, 1981, the Chicago Police Department, in a document filed in federal court, admitted that the red squad had kept files for surveillance-related purposes on seventy-seven civic, religious, antiwar, civil rights and political organizations, ranging from the Chicago Parent-Teacher Association to an assortment of church groups, raising to at least eight hundred the total number of such files. (Some files, such as those labeled “Miscellaneous,” “Anti-pollution,” and “Anti-police,” recorded more than one target entry.) Moreover, individual dossiers were recorded in thousands of files and on tens of thousands of index cards. At the same time, the department insisted that it had “not committed any politically-motivated spying on harassment, neither before nor since 1975.,” and that the Chicago red squad engaged in great part in “appropriate police activities” and was “responsible for combatting criminal activities.”
Uygun told the court that he went through a three-day field force operations police course on “crowd control.” It was developed by the Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Domestic Preparedness. They learned about Kent State in 1970, Los Angeles in 1992, the World Trade Organization protests in 1999, an International Monetary Fund protest in Washington, DC, in 2000, a G8 Summit in 2004 and even how people were unruly in Boston while celebrating the American League Championship which the Red Sox won.
The officers learned about weapons of mass destruction, Molotovs, incendiary devices, fireworks, rockets, improved riot control devices, catapults, etc. What from this course may have fueled the idea there would be numerous radical violent protesters coming to protest? How many officers took the course?
Most of what is known about the political surveillance operation prior to the NATO summit has come out through the “NATO 3” trial. It is unknown how the Department of Homeland Security’s regional fusion center may have assisted police. It is unknown what extent the FBI was helping police with surveillance. It is unknown if the NSA was feeding any sort of data from people in and around the NATO meeting to police. It is unknown how many groups or organizations exactly were spied upon by police. It is unknown if any dossiers were made on any people they suspected of being potential troublemakers.
What is clear, however, is that the city of Chicago and its police force hyped up the threat posed by “Black Bloc” and were wrong. Other than violent rhetoric from members and some throwing of materials (which police handled), no major destruction or uncontrollable violence took place.
But, now, in order to affirm their fantasies of radical terror, the state of Illinois is hoping this will be the day they finally convict the “NATO 3” of terrorism because, if they succeed, everything they do for security around major political meetings or so-called national special security events, including repression of activists, will be vindicated.