Undercover cops instigate clashes and conspiracy arrests at NATO summit

"Die-in" outside Boeing's headquarters, Chicago on May 21 (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The demonstrations during NATO’s summit in Chicago were overwhelmingly peaceful, punctuated only by the predictable clashes when overwhelming numbers of hyper-militarized police meet a relative handful of demonstrators who are willing to push back when provoked. Such situations led to the majority of more than 100 arrests reported over a week of protest, most for misdemeanors or infractions. More than a dozen people face more serious charges including felony assaults on police as a result of these incidents, and three remain jailed on high bail.

Additionally, the use of undercover informants who supplied verbal encouragement, alcohol, access to equipment and expertise is alleged to be the common link behind at least five pre-emptive arrests on conspiracy and explosives charges of young men protesting NATO. The five also remain behind bars on bail ranging from $500,000 to $1.5 million.

Arrests began with the Catholic Workers’ May 14 protest at the Obama campaign headquarters, where eight people were arrested for trespass. Three were released that evening. Four others entered guilty pleas the next day and were sentenced to time served plus court costs. Chris Spicer pleaded not guilty and refused to post $100 bond. In court nine days later, Spicer posted bond and will return for bench trial on July 11.

Following a script familiar to the one that played out in 2008 leading up to the Republican National Convention in Minnesota, police raided the homes of activists on the eve of the event, rounded up suspects, and accused a few of plotting imminent terrorist attacks. The media picked up the prosecutor’s handy meme of incendiary “Black Bloc” anarchists bent on destruction, with the predictable effect of distracting attention from the wide-ranging criticism of NATO and discouraging attendance at weekend marches billed as family-friendly.

Late at night on Wednesday, May 16, police broke down the door to enter a six-unit apartment building in the Bridgeport section of the city. Guns drawn, they ransacked four apartments in their search for suspects and evidence. One resident was tackled in his kitchen and others were handcuffed for hours while police searched.

“Pre-emptive raids like this are a hallmark of National Special Security Events,” said Sarah Gelsomino of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and Chicago’s People’s Law Office, one of the team of lawyers dedicated to representing summit arrestees.

Another hallmark is the use of informants to foment the alleged violent plots. Eleven people were taken into custody in the apartments. But during processing, two people were separated from the others and mysteriously never seen again.

Those arrested had been in custody for most of the day before police even acknowledged to attorneys that they were being held or where. Six were released by Friday, May 18 without charges, but police still hold three men from out of town who had been staying at the apartments. Brian Church, Jared Chase and Brent Betterly are charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism, providing material support for terrorism, and possession of an explosive incendiary device.

Bail was set at $1.5 million each, and the men remain jailed. Their next hearing is set for June 12. Betterly’s bond on an unrelated outstanding criminal charge in Florida has been revoked.

The three men had been stopped by police the previous week, soon after arriving in Chicago. In a scene recorded on a cell phone and posted online, the police are heard threatening NATO protesters after the men they had stopped identified with Occupy Chicago.

Defense attorney Michael Deutsch called the case against the three “a Chicago police set-up… entrapment to the highest degree… this is a way to stir up prejudice against the people who are exercising their First Amendment rights.”

On Thursday, police made two more arrests for explosives plots against NATO and Chicago’s mayor. When the arrests and charges against Sebastian Senakiewicz and Mark Neiweem were announced on Sunday, police said they were separate schemes, unrelated to the Bridgeport raids. However, evidence soon emerged that the same suspected undercover infiltrators – “Mo” and “Gloves” – were probably the missing arrestees from the Bridgeport raid who had encouraged and facilitated the actions of all five now charged with planning violence.

Neiweem is charged with solicitation and attempted possession of an incendiary device, and his bail set at $500,000.  Senakiewicz faces charges of false terrorist threats, with bail at $750,000. Both have June 13 court dates.  Senakiewicz’s attorney Melinda Power told the press that anything her client had to say about explosives was probably drunken bluster.

The planned and spontaneous marches on Friday and Saturday involved thousands and were heavily policed, resulting in several more arrests including Samuel Blantz, who pulled down part of a NATO banner during Friday’s march.  Blantz, an Occupy activist from Missouri, initially evaded police but was arrested and charged with criminal damage to property and aggravated battery on a police officer. He was jailed for ten days before bond was posted on $10,000 bail.  In another incident broadcast live Saturday night on CNN, a police van accelerated as it drove through a crowd of demonstrators, injuring and hospitalizing one man.

On Sunday, the major coalition march against NATO was also heavily policed. The estimated 15,000 marchers ended up several blocks away from where the military alliance leaders were meeting. Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan led a moving closing ceremony. One by one, almost 40 men and women took the stage to denounce NATO and the U.S.-led wars and then return their military medals, throwing them away in the direction of the summit.

From the stage, organizers encouraged people to depart to the west, past the gauntlet of police and away from the summit. In the crowd, others shouted encouragement to go east, towards NATO and the police line. Perhaps 500 people advanced in that direction towards the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Cermak Road.

Tension rose in the intersection along the divide between police and protesters. The parade permit expired at 5 p.m. Police by then had closed ranks and had the intersection mostly “kettled”, or surrounded with narrowing exit paths along the sidewalk. Very soon, police wielding shields and long truncheons began pushing forward from the east to clear people from the street. Some swung their batons, striking any marchers who tried to advance.

Many in the crowd, some wearing masks, pushed back, trapping others in between with no safe way out. Skirmishes erupted and the few sticks and stones that flew from the crowd were quickly overwhelmed by the swinging clubs and stomping boots of advancing lines of police. Police plucked some perceived leaders or instigators from the crowd while appearing to target others for assault. Street medics on the scene treated at least ten people who were bashed and bloodied, suffering cuts, concussions, and broken teeth and bones. Police reported four injuries in their ranks.

The NLG reported that up to 60 people were arrested Sunday, and collected at least that many reports of police brutality. At least 20 people were detained and released overnight to the welcome of a few dozen supporters vigiling outside the jail. Most of those arrested were cited for violating city ordinances and either paid a fine or were given June court dates, and some were released without charges. About 20 were charged with misdemeanors.

Four other men were held on bail after weekend arrests following clashes with police. Christopher French is charged with felony battery of a cop and remains jailed on $250,000 bail.

Raziel Azuara was arrested for allegedly throwing a paint-filled light bulb at police, and Yonte Harris allegedly got into a scuffle with an officer on a bicycle. Both are charged with aggravated battery to a police officer and are being held on $150,000 and $200,000 bond, respectively.

Stephen Salsmal was jailed on $40,000 bail for felony battery of a cop, and was bonded out May 31.

On Monday, about 500 people joined Occupy Chicago to march on war profiteer Boeing Corporation’s Chicago office. Anticipating the protest, Boeing had closed the office for the day. The march moved on to Obama’s campaign headquarters where two more arrests occurred.

More information about the protests and arrests will be reported in the next print issue of the Nuclear Resister newsletter. Click here to subscribe or request a sample copy by emailing your address to nukeresister@igc.org