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Mark "Migs" Neiweem shows off his NATO 5 tattoo while dining at the Heartland Cafe in Rogers Park with Rachel Unterman. Although he is on house arrest, he can travel within a certain perimeter of his residence.

Anarchist NATO protester talks trial, terror, tribulations of being a political outsider

by Eliza Larson
Jan 29, 2014

Self-proclaimed anarchist Mark “Migs” Neiweem, 29, walked into the Heartland Café in Rogers Park on a chilly January day for a plate of french fries. The café is just a few blocks from where he is staying, and he knows going to grab a bite there will not violate his parole.

Neiweem (NYE-wame) is currently on house arrest after serving 19 months in prison for his involvement with the 2012 NATO summit protests in Chicago. According to his indictment, Neiweem was charged for attempted possession of explosives or incendiary devices. He allegedly sought materials for a pipe bomb, police said

Munching on a fry, Neiweem talks about the NATO 3 trial of his “comrades” Brian Church, 22, Jared Chase, 25, and Brent Betterly, 25, arrested just a few days before him.

“This should not be a terrorism trial,” Neiweem said. “People of Chicago did not want NATO Summit here. It would have brought no money, no business. It could have caused problems.”

At time of his indictment, Neiweem was already on probation for aggravated battery of a police officer. In addition, he had a misdemeanor conviction for aggravated assault of a police officer in 2009 and for criminal damage to property 2005. He is completing his sentence while staying with a friend in Rogers Park, but his mind is on the trial.

The three NATO protesters face charges of possession of an incendiary device, providing material support for terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism and solicitation to commit arson. Today is the seventh day of the trial at the Cook County Criminal Courthouse. The prosecution alleged the NATO 3 had intended to terrorize the city, materially supported one another in committing terrorism and conspired to commit terrorism.

The Heartland Café, where Neiweem and activist friend, Rachel Unterman, 30, order food, happens to be the same restaurant where undercover Chicago police officers allegedly monitored customers’ conversations as part of an undercover surveillance operation before the NATO summit, Officer Nadia Chikko said in court last week. Chikko, an undercover cop, and her partner had infiltrated the group of protesters to gain intelligence on their plans.

Neiweem and Unterman talk about the trial, rolling their eyes. “It’s dangerous to target people for their political ideologies and then deny that they — the U.S. — have political prisoners,” said Neiweem, whose arms display a colorful arrangement of tattoos, many of which incorporate the circle-A symbol associated with anarchism.

Neiweem said he is concerned for Church, Chase and Betterly mostly because people with anti-establishment views are treated poorly behind prison doors. He said he and his fellow protesters are police targets because of their beliefs

Neiweem was arrested alongside Sebastian “Sabi” Senakiewicz, 25, which makes up the original NATO 5. Senakiewicz was charged with “falsely making a terrorist threat,” according to the indictment, and deported to Poland. Though the charges against Neiweem are not terrorism-related, he said people at the prison still treated him like a terrorist. For example, he said guards beat him.

“I still got the label,” Neiweem said. “It was infuriating.”

Unterman connected with Neiweem while he was in solitary confinement at Pontiac Correctional Center. She said she felt responsible to keep morale up.

“One thing I knew I could do was send books,” Unterman said.

A disciplinary report on Neiweem states he “was found in possession of copious amounts of Anarchist publications, handwritten Anarchist related essays, and signs and symbolisms indicative of Anarchists.” This violates departmental rule 209: “Possessing written material that presents a serious threat to the safety and security of persons or the facility.”

Neiweem said solitary is “used to house the people [police] find undesirable. When I think of terrorists, I think of people who live in fear. And that happens with law enforcement."

Protests throughout Chicago’s history have attracted sometimes-violent police responses, said Neiweem, recalling the 1969 shooting of Black Panther Fred Hampton and the Chicago Seven trial. 

“You can’t beat people to tell them that they’re free … that’s why I believe in anarchism,” he said.

Neiweem is banned from attending the trial, yet he feels connected to them from the social media attention the public is giving to the NATO 3. People have turned to Twitter, Facebook, blogs and more to express their feelings about the court proceedings.

“To me," he said, "Freedom is a responsibility to myself, my neighbor, my community.”