Brent Betterly of Oakland Park, one of three men associated with Occupy Fort Lauderdale who were arrested in Chicago on terrorism charges in 2012 on their way to a NATO protest, is being let out of state prison in Illinois this Thursday, his supporters have said. They are raising money for him to resume a normal life.
Supporters contend that charges against Betterly — and his friends Brian Church of Fort Lauderdale and Jared Chase of New Hampshire — were trumped up to deter protesters. Defense attorneys said the charges were politically motivated, but police and prosecutors contended that the men were dangerous and violent.
In July 2012, as delegates from the North American Treaty Organization were set to meet in Chicago, police, fearing dissent from protesters, had undercover officers on the lookout for potential rabble-rousers. Police would later admit they trolled coffee shops and punk-rock shows looking for anarchists. The country had just experienced nationwide social protests in the form of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Such protests were an outcry against the widening gap between the rich "1 percent" and the rest of the world. Police forces were meeting these protests with undercover forces and militarized responses.
According to police, Betterly, Chase, and Church were found to possess four Molotov cocktails and intended to use them to firebomb police stations, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's home, and President Barack Obama's headquarters.The three were initially charged with 11 counts, including conspiracy to commit terrorism, possession of explosives, and attempted arson.
But a website — Free the NATO 3 (as Betterly, Chase, and Church came to be called) — describes it differently and says the trio were idealistic and inept and were caught up in the scheme only because undercover police instigated it:
On May 16, 2012, Chicago cops raided an apartment in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago in an all too common attempt to scare people away from the imminent protests against the NATO summit. With guns drawn, the cops arrested 11 people in or around the apartment and quickly disappeared them into the bowels of the extensive network of detention facilities in Cook County, Illinois.
After awhile, a few things started becoming clear: two of the arrested “activists” were actually undercover Chicago cops who had targeted the real activists for arrest, six of them were illegally held and released at the last possible minute before court action could be taken to force their release, and three had been slapped with trumped up, politically motivated terrorism charges for allegedly creating Molotov cocktails.
The site says the two undercover cops "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.” While doing so, they pushed the defendants for information about other people, planned protests, and other events. They also invited themselves over to hang out with the defendants in the apartment they were staying at, offering to bring beer with them."
According to the Chicago Tribune, the men and the undercover officers ultimately built crude explosive devices with with four empty beer bottles, some gasoline, and a cut-up bandanna from one of the officers. The defense argued that Betterly, Chase, and Church were incompetent goofballs who were sometimes stoned or drinking.
However, according to the Tribune, Church was caught on a recording asking, “Ready to see a police officer on fire?”
During a trial last year, jurors acquitted all three men of terrorism charges but convicted them on lesser counts of misdemeanor mob action and felony possession of an incendiary device to commit arson.
Church was sentenced to five years, Chase was sentenced to eight years, and Betterly was sentenced to six years.
Jacob Church was reportedly released to a halfway house in Chicago last November.
Supporters have set up a fundraising page for Betterly to establish a new life after prison.
Jared Chase is still in custody; he has reportedly decided to live life as a woman and is now known as Maya Chase.
Organizers of related social media accounts did not respond to requests for comment from New Times.
Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.