Did the feds break up a dangerous terror plot in Cleveland—or did they manufacture a threat from a group of impressionable Occupy followers?
The crux of the Cleveland Five’s defense will likely rest on whether Azir’s aggressive role in the crime constituted entrapment – a strategy which Baxter’s defense attorney John Pyle foreshadowed at an early court appearance. ‘They couldn’t blow their noses, let alone blow up a bridge,’ he said of his clients, ‘were it not for what this provocateur did.’ Yet the government has had no problem overcoming the entrapment defense to win convictions in similar cases. The legal definition of entrapment is actually rather narrow: Even though enticing people into committing crimes might seem unjust, that doesn’t make it unlawful. Prosecutors typically argue that defendants’ histories show they were predisposed to commit the crime. And juries frightened by the magnitude of the foiled plots are inclined to bring down the hammer.
In the case of the Cleveland Five, defense attorneys have also signaled their intention to reveal Azir’s extensive criminal history, which could undermine his credibility. Azir has been causing prosecutors plenty of headaches since the arrests. After his identity was outed by the Smoking Gun, the FBI scuttled him into the witness-protection program, reportedly in response to a threat. But living life under federal protection hasn’t kept him out of trouble. In May, Azir – who still faces two outstanding bad-check cases he picked up during his time with Occupy – was arrested in Cuyahoga County for theft. He’s out on $5,000 bail.
“The Plot Against Occupy.” — Sabrina Rubin Erdely, Rolling Stone
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