Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The NATO 3 farce



    When the NATO protests were going on in Chicago, in May, 2012, I thought they were, for the most part, pointless street theater by young people looking to inject a little drama into their lives by splashing around in ours. They weren't particularly worked up about NATO per se, not about Western nations banding together in a defensive organization—that's what NATO supposedly is—so much as complaining generally about living in a 21st century Western capitalist society. The protest seemed an unfocused Mardi Gras, the prom for the Occupy Chicago movement, then still camped at at LaSalle and Jackson, demanding, well, something. Attention. Thus the protests splintered off into all sorts of tangental issues, like the people who lay down in the street off Michigan Avenue and covered themselves with chocolate syrup to decry, if I recall correctly, some kind of coal tar pollution somewhere in Canada.
     As with Richard J. Daley in 1968, the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanual, made the situation worse through his heavy-handedness, trying to push through City Council all sorts of new regulations that would hamstring protesters and saddle them with huge fines. They seemed a match set, the big talking protesters hot for attention, and the cautious mayor, afraid of grungy kids getting their messy fingerprints all over his shiny World Class City.
      So the marchers marched, the cops watched, the world yawned and the meetings transpired more or less without major incident.
      Just when the whole thing is beginning to recede into memory, comes the official prosecution of the "NATO 3," a trio of Floridian mopes arrested after boasting to undercover Chicago policemen about shooting arrows and slingshots, for making molotov cocktails under the cops' close supervision.
     As my colleague Mark Brown has crisply pointed out in a series of columns, even fanned by vigorous police cheerleading, the weak mopery of the defendants hardly approaches the level of crime, never mind terrorism. 
     But just as Occupy Chicago served a purpose, almost despite itself: to hold a mirror to the inequities in our society, and draw attention to aspects we comfortable lumpenproletariat choose to ignore, so these supposed terrorist cases have value, too. They give pause to the thinking citizen, highlighting a continuing danger to our freedoms: overzealous policing. Notice the ponds where the government is  always fishing for terrorists -- in protest groups, in mosques, in coffee shops (laughably targeting the granola and patchouli oil anachronism of the Heartland Cafe, as Mark also chronicles). You have to wonder, if the feds started infiltrating church groups and paramilitary organizations, how easy would it be to goad a few soft-minded fools to tip-toe up to illegal acts and then be arrested. My bet: pretty easy.
      None of these people on trial are Lex Luthor, none did any harm, despite their big talk, and while a sentient government would have slapped them on the wrist and turned them loose long ago, we do not have that government, and thus they face decades in prison. Frankly, the prosecution is a good thing, because it reminds us that those protests, despite their ludicrous street-theater aspects, did have a point, lurking under all the hyperventilating hyperbole. Power corrupts. The Chicago cops are trying to rationalize all the effort they put into skulking around hotbeds of 1960s activism by bagging this trio. Is there anybody following this case who is sincerely hoping these guys are taken off the street? Anybody who thinks three prison spaces should be used for them, and not for more dangerous actual criminals? Last time I looked, bad intentions were not a crime. If they were, we'd all be in prison at one point or another.

12 comments:

  1. And if the Chicago police department really thought the NATO3 were a legitimate threat and STILL chose those particular officers to address it, we are all in very serious trouble.

    -- MrJM

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  2. You are spot on about the prosecutions, Neil, except that you should note that the protests ended with an unprovoked and violent police attack (I was a witness).

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    1. I think that attack was a reward the police gave themselves for being generally restrained the whole week.

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  3. Bad intentions aren't a crime. Unless you're Rod Blagojevic.

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    1. I agree. Patrick Fitzgerald went off half-cocked on that one. But got him anyway. Being stupid isn't a crime, unless you're being tried for something -- just as smoking isn't a crime, unless you're getting a divorce.

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  4. Neil Didn't you write a column back when they got arrested about how it would all turn out to be entrapment? I mean, the only 3 guys who planned molotov cocktails happen to be the 3 guys the cops infiltrate! Where were all of the other bomb-throwers? My favorite irony: they were shacked up in Bridgeport, which now has a significant yout' counterculture population, something unthinkable in Daley the First's day.

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  5. After every major protest in Chicago, the prosecutors here always manages to find someone to indict for inciting violence or even worse.
    Don't forget all the enjoyment of the Chicago 7 Trial.
    One of the worst trials in US history. A bunch of defendants that were actually happy to be indicted as it gave them more publicity & a totally insane federal judge, Julius 'The Just" Hoffman!

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  6. On May 20 approximately five thousand people peacefully assembled in Grant Park and marched to Michigan and Cermack - closest any civilian was allowed to approaching the NATO Summit - without incident. The crowd then stayed and listened for over an hour as a dozen veterans, including injured Occupy protester Scott Olson, spoke of their war experience and then "returned" their medals in the direction of the world and military leaders of so-called "Free World"

    The saga of the "three mopes from Florida" is a sideshow.
    See how effectively it has derailed the earnest efforts of thousands who marched for PEACE!

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  7. I haven't been in the courtroom but the defendants certainly come off as mopes in the coverage I've read. I guess the counter-argument is that most "real" terrorists are mopes, too. Look at Richard Reid, the so-called "shoe-bomber" and the reason we all have to take our shoes off at the airport. He was as big a mope as ever lived and he almost brought down a plane. Likewise the London bombers. We're conditioned to imagine that terrorists are criminal geniuses. The fact that they're mostly idiots doesn't mean they aren't dangerous. Did you see "Four Lions"? http://www.fourlionsthemovie.com/

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    1. Right Kim, but the shoe bomber was trying to ignite his shoes -- he had a plan he was executing. What was these three guys' plan and would they have done anything without hte cops? That's the difference.

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    2. I don't know. You could argue the same thing about the so-called "Wrigleyville bomber" Sami Hassoun, or about Adel Daoud, who supposedly plotted to blow up two downtown bars. Chances are that none of them could organize a piss-up in a brewery without the help of someone more competent. But all the feds have to show in those cases is that the defendants took material steps to advance the conspiracy. I guess the argument is that the government has to get to these people before a real terrorist does, and that more generally they have to prove the defendants had real malicious intent before they bring them down. Also that it serves as a deterrent to anyone else who has been radicalized online and wants to engage in violence. It doesn't take much to hurt a bunch of people.

      I'm not saying state's attorneys have met their burden in this case, which sounds like a farce. But I rode the bus to the NATO protests from New York with a bunch of Occupy New York protestors who seemed peaceful and sensible enough, until I saw one teenager I'd dismissed on the bus as a harmless goof light some kind of firework right in the heat of the fiercest confrontation with the police. There were violent people in that crowd, and I don't doubt that some of them would have thrown molotov cocktails or provided them to others to throw if they thought they'd have got away with it. The clashes at Michigan and Cermak could easily have ended in death or serious injury. It was no joke.

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  8. We need to house our homeless vets and such before we can worry about refugees.

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