HUNTLEY – Orville Brettman has a story.
It’s a chapter that stayed secret for years, sealed in testimony he delivered before a Cook County grand jury in July 1975.
Four decades after he shared his past, the 70-year-old Huntley man resurfaced as a Republican contender running for a District 6 seat on the McHenry County Board.
His campaign literature argues he’s a “Real Republican” in a race against two “RINOs” – a political acronym meaning “Republican in name only.”
Brettman calls himself the “RINO hunter,” but such aggressive tactics have been a part of his life for decades.
Brettman’s biography is rife with burglaries, bombs, surveillance and ties to a violent right-wing extremist group that engaged in terrorist-style raids against left-wing groups in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The Northwest Herald examined clippings from newspapers in the 1970s to explore the genesis of Brettman’s politics.
Here’s a glimpse of that story.
THE GRAND JURY
They called themselves “The Legion of Justice.”
Their aim was to “gather intelligence on communist infiltrators within the government and organizations whose purpose was the overthrow of either our political or our economic system.”
In July 1975, Orville Brettman told a Cook County grand jury he took part in illegal activities with the Legion – a right-wing paramilitary group.
In exchange for his testimony, a criminal court judge granted Brettman immunity, and the transcripts of the grand jury proceedings were sealed. Years later, the transcripts of that testimony found their way into the exhibits of a related court case.
The Chicago Tribune published a story headlined “Carpentersville president tied to right-wing extremists” in 1979. Brettman had been elected two years earlier as the president of Carpentersville, where he served from 1977 to 1980.
The story offered details about Brettman’s involvement with the Legion of Justice and the grand jury that dissected his past.
The grand jury was assembled to learn if the Chicago Police Department helped in the planning of burglaries of left-wing groups in cooperation with the Legion of Justice.
In an interview with reporters, Brettman denied he was a member of the Legion of Justice and that he participated in any burglaries.
However, almost 60 pages of “rambling, yet candid” grand jury testimony revealed Brettman admitted to the grand jury he was a member of the Legion of Justice until 1971.
Brettman also admitted he took part in several burglaries and thefts, including:
• A November 1969 break-in and burglary at the Young Socialist Alliance office in Chicago, where he stole propaganda films produced in North Vietnam and allegedly used to brainwash captured American airmen.
• A 1971 burglary of Communist Party headquarters in Chicago, where the Legion of Justice ordered members to take the files of party contributors.
• A robbery at the long-shuttered Guild Book Store on Chicago’s Halsted Street, where the store specialized in leftist and communist literature.
Brettman resigned from the Legion of Justice in 1971. That’s when he joined the Carpentersville Police Department.
With an immunity grant to protect him, Brettman avoided prosecution.
The Daily Courier News in Elgin spent six months investigating Brettman’s involvement with the Legion of Justice and published his grand jury testimony on Jan. 6, 1979.
Brettman explained the Legion of Justice’s purpose: “…to oppose the activity of international communism within the confines of the United States of America.”
He explained how the Legion of Justice gathered intelligence:
“… the use of surveillance of their personnel; by [a] series of surreptitious entering into the headquarters and occasionally by forcible entry upon the premises, occasionally.”
Brettman told the grand jury about an Elgin church the Legion of Justice bombed.
“It was destroyed with the use of explosives and this was done at the behest of S. Thomas Sutton,” Brettman said. The late S. Thomas Sutton was the right-wing Chicago attorney who headed the Legion of Justice. “He had knowledge that there was a group working there, the Elgin Peace Group, they called themselves. Also, the Black Panther Party was storing weapons in the basement of the church.”
The history of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Elgin mentioned a bombing incident that happened in the early 1970s, when the church lent its facilities to peace groups and draft counseling during the Vietnam War. The bomb caused minor damage, and no one was injured.
“Disclosure nine years later placed the responsibility for the bombing on a right-wing extremist group operating out of neighboring communities,” the church history said.
Although Brettman described the use of explosives, he told the grand jury the Legion of Justice “had very few weapons.”
“We had certainly no feelings like we needed weapons,” Brettman said. “And the people who gathered intelligence were never armed, and there was no reason for us to be armed.”
In November 1979, the Washington Post published a story called "Tripping Up a S. African Gunrunner."
The piece chronicled the arrest and trial of Richard Beck, a gunrunner who sold handguns, rifles and semi-automatic weapons to South African whites in 1978 — 13 years before the end of Apartheid, a political system of racial segregation,
Lured to a federal law enforcement ambush in Chicago, Beck was charged with running a gun smuggling operation. He landed in jail with a bond of $500,000.
Brettman, then the president of Carpentersville, bailed Beck out of jail.
The South African ended up in Carpentersville, where he took up residence in Brettman’s suburban home.
The Washington newspaper offered a few more insights into Brettman’s past:
“Brettman is a former member of the Legion of Justice, a right-wing group which committed burglaries and planted explosives in the name of patriotism and sometimes at the direction of the Chicago police,” the story said. “For Brettman’s wedding present, he told a grand jury several years ago, his fellow Legionnaires presented him with a break-in of Communist Party headquarters and the theft of the party’s lists of contributors.”
Frank Donner's 1990 book, "Protectors of Privilege: Red Squads and Police Repression in Urban America," offers more insight into the mysterious Legion of Justice:
“... in 1969 and 1970 the legion, in collusion with the red squad, engaged in a series of terrorist-style raids against left-wing groups.”
‘I CAN’T HELP BUT CHUCKLE’
The Northwest Herald could not reach Brettman to comment on his story.
On the web, where Brettman shares homemade campaign literature targeting his opponents on Facebook, the candidate downplays his political past.
The District 6 candidate published a page on his website titled “Lies, Damn Lies, Innuendos.” There, he lays out his version of the grand jury proceedings and what they mean to him.
“Long story short,” the pages says, “even after all these years I can’t help but chuckle. The score was Spies and Cops: 1; Communists: 0.”
In bold letters, Brettman highlighted certain facts in his story:
“No charges or indictments of any kind ... No Fines ... No Convictions ...”
In 1975, the grand jury prodded Brettman on whether he knew some of the things he participated in were illegal, such as a break-in at the Young Socialist Alliance in Chicago.
“I knew to enter an office in that manner violated the statutes,” Brettman said. “Yes, sir...”
At times, Brettman wondered how long it would take before the authorities caught up to the Legion of Justice.
“I often wondered how we could get away with some of these things,” said Brettman, a Vietnam veteran. “I wondered, but we were very careful. I mean several of us had military experience that was part luck, part training. That’s my belief.”