One attorney said in her opening remarks Tuesday undercover police officers were desperate to make an arrest to help justify the security costs that they goaded the men, the Chicago Tribune reported.
"This is not a case of terrorism at all -- it doesn't even come close," said Sarah Gelsomino, representing the alleged ringleader Brian Church, 22 of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "That's why this case is so extremely important. It's a case about who the state can brand a terrorist, which is the most damning and prejudicial accusation of all."
Church, Jared Chase, 28, of Keene, N.H., and Brent Vincent Betterly, 24, of Oakland Park, Fla., were indicted on charges that include conspiracy to commit terrorism, possession of explosives and attempted arson.
Assistant State's Attorney Matthew Thrun opened his comments by quoting one of the more shocking remarks recorded by two undercover Chicago police officers.
"Are you ready to see a police officer on fire?" said Thrun, quoting Church as saying as he was assembling a Molotov cocktail and who was also recorded talking of burning police stations and squad cars.
"That is the iconic image that these defendants wanted on the world stage," Thrun said. "These defendants wanted to set fire to the ultimate symbol of law and order."
Known as the NATO 3, they were arrested soon after allegedly assembling four firebombs with the two undercover cops four days before world leaders gathered in Chicago.
"They intended to commit an act of terror on the world stage in Chicago," he said.
Attorneys for the three described them as sad-sack men who were inspired by the Occupy movement.
Defense attorney Thomas Anthony Durkin, representing Jared Chase, said the investigation was fueled by money, politics and the need to justify the millions of dollars spent on security, the Tribune said.
Durkin also noted the "weapons of mass destruction" prosecutors kept mentioning were four beer bottles, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
"If these guys are terrorists, then we can all sleep at night," Durkin said in his opening statements.