CHICAGO (Reuters) - Three men accused of plotting to attack high-profile targets during the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago were little more than boastful, drunken protesters entrapped by overeager officers, defense attorneys said on Tuesday.
The defendants are accused of planning attacks using assault rifles and fire bombs during the NATO summit held in Chicago in May 2012, targeting Chicago police stations and President Barack Obama’s re-election headquarters, among other locations.
The three men - Brian Jacob Church, 22, Brent Betterly, 25, both of Florida, and Jared Chase, 29, of New Hampshire - face seven criminal counts, including conspiracy to commit terrorism under a 12-year-old Illinois statute invoked for the first time.
The so-called NATO 3 have pleaded not guilty and face up to 175 years in prison if convicted on all counts, under a state anti-terrorism law adopted after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
During opening statements on Tuesday, prosecutors painted the men as anarchists bent on causing mayhem.
“They were ready for war,” Assistant State’s Attorney Matthew Thrun told the jury. “The defendants intended to terrorize our city ... to commit an act of terror on the world stage in Chicago.”
Prosecutors say the men were caught making Molotov cocktails - crude gasoline bombs - which they planned to use during the summit of the military alliance. The event drew thousands of anti-war demonstrators to Chicago and the city set up a heavy police presence.
One proposed target was the home of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, they say. Emanuel was previously a top aide to Obama
The state claims two undercover officers saw the defendants plan an imminent attack on a police station.
Chicago police, along with the FBI and Secret Service, raided their safe house, an apartment on Chicago’s South Side, and recovered pipe bomb instructions, an improvised mortar made from PVC piping, a crossbow, knives, throwing stars, an assault vest and a map of Chicago, in addition to four fire bombs.
But defense attorneys painted a different picture, saying the three young men were more focused on getting drunk than being violent. They said the defendants were egged on by undercover officers.
“They were too drunk to even go out and recon the place,” said Sarah Gelsomino, who represents Church, referring to Obama’s headquarters.
She said her client was “constantly drunk out of his mind” during his interactions with the undercover cops, a novice protester who saw one of the officers as a father figure.
It was the officers, who went by the pseudonyms of Mo and Gloves, who repeatedly steered conversations toward violence, encouraging more militant action, she added.
Defense lawyers say their clients were entrapped and that the charges were trumped up and politically motivated.
Chase’s attorney, Thomas Durkin, said the NATO 3 were being prosecuted on terrorism charges as a justification for the considerable resources the city of Chicago committed to keeping the NATO summit secure.
“We all wasted a lot of money on the war on terror, because if these guys are terrorists, we’ve got nothing to worry about,” Durkin said.
In the days leading up to the trial, presiding Judge Thaddeus Wilson drew protests from NATO 3 supporters and free-speech advocates by placing constraints on trial spectators, requiring members of the public to preregister for courtroom access and to submit to background checks.
Church, Chase and Betterly are each being held on a $1.5 million bail. The trial is expected to last for three weeks in the state court in Chicago.
Reporting by Mary Wisniewski and Adam Kirby; editing by Matthew Lewis