NATO 3 trial begins in Chicago for protesters Brian Church, Jared Chase, Brent Betterly

January 21, 2014 (CHICAGO)

Brian Church, Jared Chase and Brent Vincent Betterly are accused of plotting Molotov cocktail attacks during the event. All three have pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism and providing material support for terrorism. Prosecutors dropped other, lesser charges against the three men earlier this month.

Cook County prosecutors said during their opening statement Tuesday that the three wanted to firebomb various locations, including police stations.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys painted very different pictures of the suspects during opening statements.

They took part in some pre-NATO protests, having traveled from Florida as part of the Occupy movement. They were mad at government, each for his own reasons. Brian Church, Jared Chase, Brent Betterly, each in their 20s, wound up being charged among other things with the state charge of conspiracy to commit terrorism. The question is: what was their intent?

Prosecutors say the men had a plan, bringing tactical vests, knives, a compound bow. They put together four Molotov cocktails and wanted to use them on police, squads and stations-- a symbolic war on authority for the world to see.

Prosecutor Matt Thrun's opening line to the jury on Tuesday was a quote from Brian Church to his friends, "Are you ready to see a police officer on fire?"

Church, Chase and Betterly were arrested in a Bridgeport apartment before the actual NATO summit began.

Two undercover Chicago police officers-- nicknamed "Moe" and "Gloves"-- had infiltrated the group and made secret audio recordings of their conversations. Prosecutors say the tapes will make clear that terrorism in the planning.

Defense lawyers say those recordings will help make their case, that the three men were most interested in getting drunk or stoned, and that they were so often so drunk they couldn't even google the address of the Obama reelection headquarters, which was supposed to have been another of the targets. The defense says the tapes will show lots of immature, drunken bravado, and most significantly, that the undercover cops encouraged, manipulated the three-- and even bought the gas for their Molotov cocktails.

Before the jury, defense attorney Tom Durkin called the defendants "goofs," and said "If these guys are terrorists, we can all sleep well at night."

The trial is expected to last a couple of weeks and center on Illinois' rarely used terrorism laws. Critics say the statutes are unconstitutionally vague.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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