Muammar Qaddafi's Chicago Connection
How the feds used the Libyan dictator to bring down the infamous El Rukns gang from the city's South Side.
For many, the consensus was that Fort wanted to find a way to procure, or con, money from Qaddafi. But the El Rukns gave the feds fodder by having contact with a country on the enemy list. The 1987 terrorism trial proved to be highly sensationalist.
Metal detectors and a state police dog greeted entrants at the door. Some jurors said they received threatening phone calls and alternates had to step in. In and out of court, the El Rukns sported red fezzes, cornrows, fur coats and white flowing robes. "This case concerns organized crime, with a twist of terrorism," the prosecutor said in closing statement.
The jury found all six defendants guilty.
The government effectively destroyed the El Rukns as an organization. But their ardency led to prosecutorial misconduct and the overturning of some of the El Rukn drug cases. Two witnesses were given preferential treatment and tested positive for drugs while in custody in 1989. Today the El Rukns still claim a couple of hundred loyal members, but they have aged and aren't involved in criminal activity. They also don't have any power on the streets.
The biggest lessons come from the War on Terror banner under which we now live.
United States v. Jeff Fort et al. laid groundwork for the government to link street gangs to radical Islam and terrorism, even more so after Sept. 11. Two decades after the El Rukns trial, another South Side Chicago man, charged with plotting to work with al-Qaida operatives to blow up the Sears Tower, ended up with a similar fate to Jeff Fort's. In fact, prosecutors evoked Fort's name during the trial, comparing Narseal Batiste to the convicted Fort.
Like the El Rukns, Batiste fell into an FBI trap. This time a man claiming to be an al-Qaida operative from Yemen who met with the bankrupt Batiste was actually a paid informant. Although Batiste wasn't in a gang, his boasting fit a certain profile for which the feds searched. This nerdy kid-turned-community organizer ended up in the crosshairs of a federal government wanting to allay the nation's fears of homegrown, radical terrorism.
Batiste and his ragtag followers became known as the Liberty City Seven. After two mistrials, five of them were convicted in Miami of conspiring to provide material support to al-Qaida and conspiracy to wage war against the U.S.
In both cases, Fort and Batiste got duped in the name of homeland security. In our post-9/11 world, I wouldn't be surprised if similar cases emerge.