The trial of the so-called NATO 3 will go down in history as the first prosecution under Illinois' terrorism statute. We're going to remember it as the first time we heard the I-was-too-stoned-to-throw-this-bomb defense.
On Friday, a jury convicted Brian Church, Jared Chase and Brent Betterly of lesser charges — mob action and possession of an incendiary device — during the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago. Those are serious crimes, and the three are facing serious prison time. The jury didn't let them off lightly.
But defense attorneys were way out of line when they stepped to the microphones, post verdict, to bash Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez for pursuing terrorism charges.
They accused her of "overcharging," of trivializing the crime of terrorism. It was a politically motivated prosecution, they said, designed to justify the enormous taxpayer expense of providing security for the summit.
Terrorists? The attorneys scoffed. The NATO 3 were just immature blowhards, the jury was told. They were drunk and delusional, all talk and no walk.
They missed one protest because Church was waiting for his pot dealer. They wanted to firebomb four buildings but never got around to Googling two of their targets. One bragged about building a "potato launcher" that would have Chicago police "dropping like flies," but never built it. News outlets dubbed them "The NATO 3 Stooges."
During closing arguments, one attorney held up a slingshot that Chase planned to use to fire marbles at President Obama's campaign headquarters in the Loop. "A weapon of mass destruction," defense attorney Thomas Durkin said sarcastically. "Tools of terrorism for sure."
OK, we get it. They're doofuses. That doesn't mean they weren't dangerous.
"Let me ask you: What do you think they were going to do with these devices?" Alvarez demanded after the verdict. That's a very good question.
Church, Chase and Betterly came to Chicago looking for trouble. A lot of people did. Remember that week? Thousands of protesters aired countless grievances — about everything from capitalism to European austerity measures to the Keystone pipeline — against the backdrop of the summit, at which heads of state met to discuss international security issues.
Most of the protesters were peaceful, and city officials went to great lengths to facilitate their right to assemble. But police took lots of abuse from the self-described anarchists, who curiously advocated violence as an antidote to war.
Remember the masked agitators, dressed in black, snaking their way to the front of the parade ranks as the Sunday afternoon protest stepped off? Remember the hourslong standoff between police and demonstrators bent on storming the summit after the veterans' anti-war ceremony? Remember how the officers assigned to keep things safe and orderly turned the other cheek as the marchers chanted "One, two, three! (Expletive) CPD!"?
So, when Chase remarked that gasoline "smells like victory" as he assembled Molotov cocktails in the dark, should police have discounted the danger because he cluelessly requested a lighter so he could see better? No.
When a 20-year-old calls himself an anarchist in such a setting, you don't question whether he's man enough to mean it. If he builds a Molotov cocktail, you'd better assume he'll throw it. If he talks about firebombing a bank or a skyscraper — if he says, "Ready to see a police officer on fire?" — you don't stop to wonder if it's the beer talking, or the testosterone. You take it dead seriously. Police and prosecutors did just that.
So did Circuit Judge Thaddeus Wilson, refusing to dismiss the charges that defense attorneys mocked in his courtroom.
The judge found nothing laughable about the men's antics, and we expect he'll throw the book at them when he sentences them Feb. 28. They belong in prison.
"Have we forgotten about Boston here?" Alvarez said after the verdict, adamantly defending her decision to pursue terrorism charges. "Have we forgotten about homemade bombs in backpacks? We were able to stop people from being hurt, and I would do it again."
We should all rest easier knowing that.