The NATO conference in Chicago went off without much of a hitch over the weekend. Out in the streets, however, there were multiple hitches. Chicago police arrested at least 45 people. At least seven protesters were injured, along with four cops. But through it all, there was a surprising lack of Molotov cocktails being thrown about. Perhaps this was due to the foresight of the Chicago police. Or maybe it was something that would never have happened in the first place. Either way, the cops arrested three people last Wednesday before the protest, charging them with terrorism-related offenses. One of the three, Jared Chase, hails from Keene, N.H. But the other two, Brian Church and Brent Betterly, are homeboys, hailing from Fort Lauderdale and Oakland Park, respectively.
Police claim the fellows were making Molotov cocktails out of empty beer bottles to celebrate the NATO convention the way anarchists of the 19th century would have. But supporters of the three 20-somethings maintain that all those fluids and empty beer bottles were better-explained by an activity far-more-common to 21st century anarchists. Natalie Wahlberg of Occupy Chicago was quoted in the United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper and elsewhere as saying, “The charges are utterly ridiculous. CPD [Chicago police department] doesn’t know the difference between home beer-making supplies and Molotov cocktails.” Back in South Florida, folks who knew Betterly and Church are all expressing utter incredulity at the idea that the two were involved in a bomb plot, as documented for MSNBC by Salty Eggs’ own Tom Francis.
Betterly in particular has something of a reputation as an alcohol-induced hooligan, which both the bomb-tossing and beer-swilling supporters have taken as evidence against and/or for the man. Here in Broward County, he was charged on Oct. 13 with burglary of an unoccupied structure, grand theft, and criminal mischief, after an incident in which he and two other guys allegedly busted into Northeast High School in Pompano Beach after drinking tequila most of the night. Among the other allegedlys: grabbing a few fire extinguishers and spraying them around the place, knocking out a window … the usual sort of stuff that happens when people break into a high school.
The story in the Sun-Sentinel is noteworthy mainly for its authors’ apparent ignorance of seminal horror-punk band The Misfits: “Wearing a green Army flak jacket, Church stood silently with his hands behind his back during a brief appearance Saturday in the Criminal Courts Building. Chase also showed no reaction as prosecutors detailed the charges against him. Betterly, wearing a gray T-shirt with a skull and the word ‘MISFIT’ on it, shook his head and occasionally looked at the ceiling.”
Don’t you love how they make that shirt more about Betterly’s being some sort of strange outsider and less about being a fan of a goofy punk rock band? Me too. I’ve linked the Google-cached version above because the paper later corrected the word to “Misfits,” though still seems unaware of the context. Unlike, say, the Chicago Sun-Times.
But let’s get off the whole Misfits thing, because there’s obviously bigger aspects to this story. Like, for example, who’s right? The initial reaction is to say that the whole beer-brewing alibi is laughable on its face. But when you take into account that these so-called “Black Bloc” groups are riddled with police informants and provocateurs, well, who’s to say what the truth is? The new alibi is that police planted evidence, and the men are being referred to as “the NATO 3.” Many miles to go before these folks are locked away for years. But they will be, eventually. The arc of the moral universe bends toward long prison sentences in terrorism cases, and the law is such that these people could’ve been locked away sans trial anyway. So the fact that they even get a day in court is a happy occasion. … right?