Three men who came to Chicago to protest the 2012 NATO summit veered from civil disobedience into terrorism when they hatched a plan to throw Molotov cocktails at President Barack Obama's campaign headquarters, police stations and other sites, a prosecutor said Thursday, wrapping up the state's case against them.
They came to Chicago several weeks before NATO - took part in marches and protests - stayed with others in a Bridgeport apartment, met in a nearby park with two other would-be protestors who in reality were undercover cops. They talked about Molotov cocktails, bombings, and how after NATO "this city will never be the same"
Prosecutors say it was serious talk - captured on undercover recordings - of starting riots, attacking police stations.
"They enjoyed talking about setting policemen on fire", said prosecutor Tom Biesty. ''They came here to seize the world stage, they are terrorists and they are guilty,'' Biesty said.
Brian Church, Jared Chase and Brent Vincent Betterly sought to spread fear through violent acts and deserve to be convicted under Illinois' rarely-used terrorism statute.
"Were they bumbling fools or were they cold, calculating terrorists? ... That is the question you have to answer," he told jurors. He added that the evidence showed, "These men are terrorists."
Attorney Michael Deutsch said prosecutors brought the ominous-sounding terrorism charges to make a splash in the media, and that they "trivialized" actual terrorism and "disrespected" terrorism victims by doing so.
Deutsch calls his client a 'wayward, confused young man who wanted to appear macho' even fancied himself as a ninja warrior.
While he talked of riots, Church also said on tape, 'I don't want to do anything stupid,' and 'I'll stay peaceful until they (police) hurt someone.'
Another of the defense attorneys asked the jury, 'is this what the war on terror has come to?'
If convicted of the terrorism charges, each defendant could face decades in prison. Church, 22, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Chase, 29, of Keene, N.H.; and Betterly, 25, of Oakland Park, Fla., also face lesser charges, includingmtarm arson.
Prosecutors say the three men were not bumbling fools and knew what they were doing, which fits well within the definition of the terrorism law. The defense says this case is about prosecutorial overreach. A lot of money was spent on NATO security and this case is a means of justifying that.
Terrorism cases are almost always filed in federal court, and Illinois prosecutors haven't said why they chose to charge the men under the state's statute, which has only been invoked once before.
The other case in which someone was charged under Illinois' terrorism statute involved a man who was accused of plotting to attack his school, Southern Illinois University. Campus police found a note in his abandoned car, which had been impounded, that they believed was a written threat of an attack, but which the man said were rap lyrics he was working on. The man was convicted in 2011 of trying to make a terroristic threat and was sentenced to five years in prison, but the conviction was overturned on appeal.
The Associated Press Contributed to this story.