The Case of the NATO 3: 'Divide and Conquer’ New Face of Old Tactics

Apr 15, 2014

The Case of the NATO 3: ‘Divide and Conquer’
New Face of Old Tactics

Police Crimes and Political Suppression of the Occupy Movement



The NATO 3, Brian Jacob Church, Jared Chase, and Brent Betterly, are three political prisoners held by the Chicago Police Department following the international NATO Summit protests in 2012. On April 25th, they will be brought before Circuit Court Judge Thaddeus Wilson, to be sentenced for a felony charge each of intent to commit arson. Wilson’s courtroom will no doubt be filled with representatives of the state’s attorney’s office and corporate journalists waiting to hear the judge’s decision. The sentencing date will be one of the final elements of the ongoing victimization of the NATO 3 by the Chicago Police, who have falsely charged and prosecuted these three activists. The case of the NATO 3 is important for the struggle against police violence in the city of Chicago, because it shows how the police enforce political suppression as well as racist violence in black and brown communities. In regards to political suppression, the case played a major role in undermining momentum behind the Occupy movement, especially in Chicago. Moreover, the lies told about Betterly, Church, and Chase, have been vulgarly exploited by police officials and politicians, to justify massive financial payouts for the police, as well as the expansion of surveillance technology in the Chicagoland area.

The frame-up of the NATO 3 was the final product of a systematic Chicago Police surveillance operation, deployed in the lead up to the 2012 NATO Summit. The operation was designed to create the shocking appearance of a so-called terrorist threat to be televised on the nightly news. Of course, such stories told by the police and the State’s Attorney’s Office are not just untrue lies, they are symbolic weapons used by the state to support the unjust incarceration of political activists. The truth is that the case serves as an example of the general tendency of power to internally divide social movements through categories of normativity and abnormality, coupled with the subsequent exclusion of those who become devalued as political abnormals.

Following the very public violence used against the original Occupy encampments in November of 2011, the repression accomplished during the NATO Summit was much more covert and symbolically intelligent. State power created an artificial, two-sided difference within a movement with a diversity of political causes and opinions. The rigid binary established was between good protestors, who are peaceful, law-abiding, and generally in the majority versus bad protestors, those who are named by power as dangerous and who thus must be violently silenced. This divisionary binary, a shared vocabulary of truth produced by police infiltrators, political figures, corporate media, and liberal non-profit institutions provided the social narrative used by Anita Alvarez, Gerry McCarthy and other representatives of power to throw the NATO 3 in cages. In what follows we will attempt to describe the creation of this split between the good/bad protestor, as well as how and why it was used to criminalize the Brent Betterly, Brian Jacob Church and Jared Chase.

The Good/Bad Protestor:

The internal division of communities against one another is an age-old tactic of social control. Divisions are accomplished by producing a sense of difference and marginalizing those recognized as the other, the one who differs from the normal ‘socially acceptable’ side of the division. Protest movements against war and economic oppression are constantly attacked by false divisions between socially acceptable protestors and those who are labeled as dangerous abnormal protestors and who must be punished by the police for their abnormality. Such a binary between the good and the bad is a symbolic division with no basis in real life, instead, it is a false perception created by representatives of the police and other branches of the government and the corporate media. Nonetheless, this false perception justifies the persecution of activists by police powers, and thus has very serious consequences.

Different power-relations throughout American society involve the use of similar symbolic divisions to authorize the actions of power. In the war on terror, military officials and CIA interrogators distinguish between the good Muslims and the bad Muslim extremists who deserve to be held without trial. In the oppression of migrants, border police and their political apologists distinguish between the good immigrant economic producers and the criminal immigrants requiring detention and deportation. Right wing politicians judge welfare recipients along similar lines to justify the cutting of aid programs for the poor, arguing that there are decent welfare users just trying to become good workers again in contrast to the bad welfare users who are cheating the system and must be disciplined. In each example of oppressive power in contemporary society, a version of binary division and marginalization is carried-out to one degree or another. The process routinely protects the racist conditions of white-supremacist capitalist society, something that can also be seen from the examples cited above, which all above the internal division of oppressed black and brown communities.

Historically speaking, campaigns of political repression waged by the police have repeatedly utilized this general process of power to suppress movements. Perhaps one of the most horrific examples of this fact was the war carried out against black and brown activists in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s by the FBI and various police departments across the United States. This campaign known as COINTELPRO  (counter-intelligence program) involved assinations, surveillance, and frame-ups, a process by which police spy on individual activists and make up false information about their actions and politics in order to arrest them as criminals. Police authorities argued that they were arresting the dangerous fringe activists who had committed violent crimes. In actuality, the police were setting-up organizers on false charges and then subsequently denouncing them as violent based on their own accusations.

To exploit the protests against the NATO Summit, the police and politicians used the divide and marginalize process against Occupy and other anti-NATO protestors. Defendants Church, Betterly and Chase received the most severe treatment. These three activists were falsely judged to be violent threats to the social order, because they were labeled as the “bad protestors” guilty of corrupting the political purity of the decent “good protestors”. In other words, division and exclusion, a process common to power in all its forms, was used here in the midsts of the NATO Summit protests. The result was the political imprisonment of these three activists, as well as several others. The case of the NATO 3 must be understood as an outcome of this divide and conquer process.

But what purpose did this tactic serve? What reason would the police have to victimize protestors so harshly and unfairly?

The Price of Political Repression

Although their testimony formed the bulk of the States’ case against the NATO 3, Chicago Police Officers Nadia Chikko and Mohmet Nyugen were merely two of the police officers involved in a broad multi-agency surveillance program mobilized by the police to spy on protestors organizing demonstrations against the upcoming NATO Summit. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a military alliance of the major western colonial powers, created following the outcome of World War Two and the start of the Cold War. It has changed over the years, but since its beginnings it has represented the militarism of the international state system, an institution of global warfare in the 21st century. Security officials in charge of protecting annual summit gatherings of groups like NATO, must plan far in advance to make the event a glamorous spectacle of military power, rather than a meeting of mass-murderers. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police superintendent Gerry McCarthy started planning as early as September 2011, when it was announced that both the NATO Summit and the G8 Summit would be hosted by the city. As even the article linked above shows, as early as the very announcement, the major elements of the split between bad and good protestors was more or less already in place and serving to legitimize the need for police surveillance.

Being a good host city isn’t cheap; a problem that was not lost on Emanuel and McCarthy. Spending on Summit security meant heavy costs to pay for police wages. But for that very reason, hosting the summit became a financial object of desire for police officials and city politicians. If these power-brokers could engineer a public spectacle to allow for the cost expenditures on police, the summit could be an opportunity for police officers to win big bonuses and for the mayor to win favor with rank and file police, even as he made moves to cut the police budget overall. In addition to the one-time payout of police wages, administrators could justify purchasing and installing a host of new surveillance technologies, gaining new riot gear and computer technology to spy on regular citizens.

In the eyes of McCarthy, Emanuel, and Alvarez, the international event did not represent globalized militarism; it represented the opportunity to accumulate surveillance infrastructure and cold hard cash for the Chicago police department and its staff. Policing the summit was a big payday for these public employees, a victory in the neoliberal labor politics between a major metropolitan police force and the political ruling class.

In total, the Chicago police department gained over 14 million dollars in overtime wages from that weekend alone. As the Guardian reported in the lead up to the Summit, the city was able to justify purchasing millions of dollars in riot control technology, including two LRAD’s (Long Range Acoustic Devices), as well as,

“$1m of new equipment […] including more than 11,000 new face shields which fit onto helmets and “riot gear” to protect horses. […] in March $757,657 was spent on 8,513 “retro-fit kits” to be fitted to police helmets. In February 673 of the same kits, which include a face shield and ear and neck protectors, were purchased for $56,632.”

Police forces organized an integrated meta-surveillance site hidden at an undisclosed location in the Chicago suburbs whereat law enforcement agencies collaborated by sharing the information gathered by each agency as well as on the ground audio and video observation of protests and police movements. University of Chicago Law professor Bernard Harcourt commented at the time, “this police state serves, in reality, as our new welfare state. The security mania represents our truly unique way of stimulating the economy, of employing piece labor, of creating government jobs and subsidized contracts.”

How exactly was this neoliberal security welfare justified?

The frame-up of the NATO 3 and the myth of the bad versus good protestor justified the police payday by erroneously arresting and charging activists for outlandishly false charges. The detainment of so-called terrorists suddenly made the entire flow of money into the pockets of police a legitimate budgetary expense. There is no need to consider this speculation, because the internal police documents of the surveillance operation uncovered by defense attorneys show the police department acknowledging this to be the basic reason for the undercover infiltration. The First Amendment Worksheet, a filing authorizing the police to spy on otherwise first amendment protected activities, describes the purpose for spying on such activities as the proper allocation of resources within the police department for the Summit protests; a manufactured level of imagined danger was required.

A Story of Police Surveillance

According to the testimony of Nyugen and Chikko, they were both recruited to participate in an investigation monitoring different groups organizing against the NATO Summit and economic austerity in the city. The secret police spies of 15 permanently assigned field officers was designated Field Intelligence team 7150 that, according to defense pre-trial motion filings, “infiltrated […] organizations under false pretenses in order to gain deeper access to these organizations and individuals. Other members of the FIT 7150 Team regularly conducted undercover surveillance at meetings, demonstrations, and common activist hangouts.”

The CPD intelligence team was just one facet of the surveillance program. Other agencies known to have been involved include the FBI, the Illinois State Police, the Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service. For example, FBI officers were present at the raid of the Bridgeport apartment in which the NATO 3 were arrested and multiple FBI agents have been named in discovery documents as potential witnesses for the prosecution’s case.

The list of political groups spied on during the police department’s surveillance dragnet is extensive, to say the least. A diverse array of organizations, events and spaces were targeted and infiltrated. According to court documents, the intelligence team constructed systematic analysis of activists in these different groups, using a flow chart to document their accumulated information. Multiple locations were spied on by a handful of different officers who filed reports on individuals observed in these spaces, writing down license plates of vehicles as well recording the content of conversations.

Beyond these individual acts of surveillance, the 7150 team engaged in sustained infiltration of a number of specific political groups. For several months starting in March 2012, patients of local public mental health care facilities, with the support of the Mental Health Movement and members of Occupy Chicago, were fighting the closing of these facilities by the neoliberal city government. Patients had originally occupied the healthcare facility and were violently arrested. Officers Nyugen and Chikko were not only present at this occupation but also were arrested with the group of patients and supporters. After this initial wave of arrests, patients established an encampment across from the closing healthcare center and Nyugen and Chikko embedded themselves in this prolonged and public occupation. It was through this infiltration of the Woodlawn encampment that the two agents immersed themselves within Occupy Chicago.

Another Chicago police offer who identified himself as Danny Edwards is known to have infiltrated the group Chicago Action Medical, volunteer paramedics who offer medical treatment to injured protestors. Based on the degree of involvement from other agencies, there were probably several more undercover police officers from multiple law enforcement agencies all spying on the Occupy movement and anyone else planning to protest the NATO Summit. According to the police testimony of Chikko and Nyugen, these surveillance operations began as early as February of 2012 (and had most likely been going on for much longer). From February to April, during these months of surveillance, Chase, Betterly, and Church were not even in Chicago.

According the Chicago Police Department’s version of events, they first became aware of the friends who would come to be known as the NATO 3, on May 1st during a May Day protest march. Considering the extent of the surveillance up until this date, it is highly likely that the three had already been selected by the time they arrived in Chicago. After the march, officer Nadia Chikko was introduced to Brian Church and exchanged contact information.

After this initial exposure, Chikko and Nyugen set-up a handful of meetings with Church and Chase throughout the month of May. On May 4th, the intelligence team attained a warrant to wear recording devices to these meetings. From what was heard in open court, the undercover officers attempted to pressure these two to make incriminating statements that could be recorded and edited together to create the false appearance of an impossible conspiracy. The officers themselves used the binary language of division to coax statements out of the defendants. Repeatedly, Nyugen and Chikko could be heard on the recordings arguing that there are normal protestors who obey the law during protest actions and militant protestors who are more committed to their political ideals and thus should separate themselves from other protestors.

For instance, court notes produced by the NATO 3 Defense Committee describe the overarching conversational themes of the police agents as devoted to promoting the dual illusion. Chikko’s, “testimony and the audio recordings clearly show the ways the undercovers consistently pushed the defendants to turn their rambling conversations into plans to commit illegal acts. They also consistently talked big about themselves to make themselves sound experienced, militant and “down.”” There are instances within the recordings of Nyugen and Chikko repeatedly denouncing other activists within Occupy Chicago for not being radical enough, for not fulfilling the requirements of the social division.

From May 1st to May 16th, the officers performed for their audio recorders, emphasizing again and again the reality of this division and the need for Church and Chase to declare themselves to be on the same side of the power-relation as the secret police. Every recorded meeting between the police and one of the NATO 3 was a production process in the symbolic creation of difference within the movement. In the trial, it was these recorded attempts at production that served to justify the exclusion of the NATO 3 from the otherwise safe and patriotic act of protest.

But even focusing on the recorded meetings themselves obscures the degree to which the Chicago Police Department has relied on complete fictions about the defendant’s activities. For example, defendant Brent Betterly was only present for two days of the 16-day surveillance process and on only one day was he even recorded making statements. In the opening of her cross-examination, Officer Chikko admitted to never having even observed the defendants actually commit a single illegal act in the process of their alleged “criminal” conspiracy. However the charging documents accuse the three of constructing an elaborate conspiracy that began even before they arrived in Chicago. The entire case for this supposed conspiracy was a collection of empty statements and partial objects haphazardly strewn together by desperate assistant states attorneys.

On May 16th, the officers suggested that Chase, Church, and Betterly join them in the construction of three devices the officers referred to as Molotov Cocktails. The police collected glass bottles from around the house where the three defendants were staying, paid to fill a canister of gasoline, poured about a quarter of gasoline into three beer bottles, and stuffed swabs of a torn bandana into each bottle. After this was done, officer Nyugen planted the alleged explosive devices inside the apartment. He then contacted his supervisor to get a no-knock warrant on the Bridgeport apartment because of the devices the police themselves had proposed and created. A few hours later, tactical police units dressed in all-black and carrying automatic weapons exploded into the apartment and detained nine people without charges.

On March 19th, the State’s Attorney’s Office released a bail proffer seeped in an already established discourse of power. Prosecutors described the defendants as, “self-proclaimed anarchists, and members of the “Black Bloc” group, who traveled together from Florida to the Chicago area in preparation for committing terrorist acts of violence and destruction.” Anita Alvarez held a self-congratulatory press conference again relying on the binary symbolic order already in operation:

“These are not peaceful protestors, they are domestic terrorists who came to Chicago with an Anarchist agenda […] as you all know, there are tens of thousands of individuals here in Chicago now who are in our great city and exercising their right to protest and having their voices heard and we support that right […] these men were here to hurt people and carry out an agenda that all of our law enforcement and all of Chicago rejects and repudiates.”

After nearly two years at the maximum-security unit of Cook County Jail, the three defendants were brought before the court and twelve jurors to decide their fate in the eyes of the law. During opening statements, Assistant State’s Attorney Matthew Thrun carried forward the systematic binary of social exclusion. Thrun lauded the abstract majority of the Occupy movement as composed of, “mostly just good citizens involved in protest activities,” whereas Chase, Church, and Betterly, were, “disguised amongst the protestors […] preparing to do battle with police in the street.” Thus, the social division revealed its ultimate purpose: the legitimization of violent political and social exclusion.

On April 25th, Judge Wilson will hand down his sentence and determine the future of these three victims of police violence. They need support from everyone who stands against such acts of political suppression and the broad tactics of police in oppressing popular movements. Please attend their sentencing date to show that you stand with them, write them letters, and consider donating to their defense fund. If the people do not unite against frame-ups and surveillance of activists today, then state power will continue to undermine our struggles for justice and liberation, dividing movements against themselves and violently targeting those selected for criminalization and imprisonment. For more information about the case and how you can support the NATO 3, please visit the NATO 3 Defense Committee website.