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The war on dissent
United resistance pushes back against FBI raids and grand jury
Linda Averill
volume:  
volume 31
issue 5
December 2010
imagestuff
Oct. 5, 2010. Detroit protesters with Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice (MECAWI) demand that government harassment of anti-war organizers in the U.S. be immediately halted. Credit: Bryan Pfeifer
Update:War on terror? Nope, it's a war on dissent, as the feds raid anti-war groups' offices and homes and open a grand jury witch hunt. And, since the FS went to press, the government has delivered subpoenas to nine additional Midwest activists - bringing the total to 23. For more information see: Committee to Stop FBI Repression

In the early hours of Sept. 24, gun-toting FBI agents broke into the homes of anti-war activists and socialists in Minneapolis and Chicago, hauling away boxes of personal belongings and movement records. By afternoon, those raided held a press conference and called for support to thwart the government’s newest witchhunt against political dissidents.

Help came quickly. Within the week, protesters marched on FBI offices across the country. In October, 60 demonstrations were held across the country and in November, conferences, forums and protests kept the FBI’s break-ins spotlighted.

“This is an issue that affects everyone,” said Meredith Aby in an interview with this reporter. One of those raided, Aby added, “I’m touched by the fact that people really get it.”

Agents served grand jury subpoenas on 14 people in Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan. But on Oct. 5, rather than testify, they mounted public speakouts!

In an impressive display of solidarity, all 14 refused to participate in the grand jury, where witnesses would be forced to name associates, including opponents of the U.S.-backed regime in Colombia. This could get them killed.

FBI vs. activists. The government has several options: more raids, arrests, subpoenas, or jail time to compel grand jury testimony. A grand jury is a secret inquiry, where prosecutors can badger witnesses with no defense attorney or judge to intervene. The jury, after hearing this biased proceeding, usually decides what prosecutors want.

Meanwhile, the FBI is also harassing other activists, including visits to worksites. (See What to do if the FBI comes knocking.)

Rather than wait and worry, peace activists are organizing to halt the government’s intimidation tactics. More than 60 of Minnesota’s state legislators have signed a letter calling on President Obama and congressional representatives to investigate the FBI’s actions. Coalitions have sprung up in several locations. Call-ins during October flooded the office of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Why these activists? Federal raids have mostly gone after individuals, usually immigrants and foreign-focused charity organizations. In a disturbing escalation, the Sept. 24 broadside targeted a leftist, U.S. group, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO). Warrants served demanded documents showing “the recruitment, indoctrination, and facilitation of other individuals in the U.S. to join Freedom Road Socialist Organization as well as to travel to Colombia and Palestine.”

In pursuing FRSO, allies are dragged into the net, including the Minneapolis Antiwar Coalition, Colombia Action Network, Students for a Democratic Society, Palestinian Solidarity Committee, and Arab American Action Network.

The purpose? To silence anti-war dissent and criticism of regimes that the U.S. funds, such as Colombia and Israel.

Historically, when the Feds take aim at socialists, the goal is to minimize leftist influence on the movements. In one of the most infamous examples of a witch-hunt, the McCarthy Era, the U.S. government targeted socialists and communists in the 1950s, beheading the labor movement of radical leadership and weakening unions for decades.

Aby traces today’s clampdown to the post 9/11 Patriot Act. “You can’t give people a toolbox and then be surprised when they use it,” she said. The Justice Department was further emboldened this summer, when the U.S. Supreme Court widened its definition of aiding terrorism to include free speech. In Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the high court made it a crime to provide humanitarian aid, literature and political advocacy to any groups the U.S. designates as “terrorist.”

In an interview with Mick Kelly, also singled out by the FBI in Minneapolis, Kelly noted that in the 1980s the African National Congress was labeled “terrorist” by the State Department. By the standard established in Holder, the anti-apartheid movement would have been considered suspicious, or criminal.

Solidarity movements to aid liberation struggles in Colombia and Palestine are the same. “Our work is open, public and transparent. We haven’t broken any laws,” said Kelly.

Raids galvanize solidarity. Activists are developing an aggressive national campaign to put heat on the Obama Administration — and to support those who face jail sentences for refusing to testify.

A vital component of this movement is its non-sectarian character. Several socialist and progressive organizations are providing leadership throughout the U.S.

The Freedom Socialist Party is participating in several cities, and with Veterans for Peace, initiated Seattle United Against FBI Repression. FSP National Secretary Doug Barnes stresses that political activism is crucial to stopping the witch-hunt. “We can’t rely on the courts,” said Barnes. “Nor can we allow the government to crush domestic opposition to U.S. imperialism, or the rights of those advocating socialism here.”

Strong support is pouring in from civil liberties, civil rights and progressive community and religious groups, with National Lawyers Guild attorneys providing crucial legal help.

Many of the activists raided are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in Minnesota — and the State AFSCME Council was among the first of several unions and councils to pass resolutions condemning the raids. They recount the harm caused by government attacks on labor in the past: the 1920s, when union halls were raided; the 1950s McCarthy era; and in the 1960s, when the government’s infamous COINTELPRO program killed or jailed leaders of the Black and Native American civil rights movements.

This time, Leftists and progressives are determined to stop the harassment before it escalates. “The mass response surprised them,” said Mick Kelly. “They thought they could shock and awe us — and it didn’t work.”

Sign the national petition to stop FBI spying and contribute to the legal defense at StopFBI.net. Join local actions.

Stop FBI witchhunts and assaults on free speech!

• Halt the grand jury proceedings!

• Return property seized in the raids immediately!

• End the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan & Pakistan, and the occupation of Palestine!

Related story: What to do if the FBI comes knocking

Also see: Obama's surge against civil liberties