Revolution #215, October 31, 2010
IN THE AGE OF OBAMA, CRIMINALIZING POLITICAL OPPOSITION TO U.S. AGGRESSION
And the FBI Raids on Antiwar Activists
In late September, FBI agents carried out coordinated early morning raids on the office of the Anti-War Committee in Minneapolis and on seven homes in Minneapolis and Chicago. At some homes, the FBI had guns drawn. The raids were aimed at people active in the antiwar movement; the Colombian and Palestinian solidarity movements; and Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO). The home of the executive director of a Chicago social service agency, Arab American Action Network, was raided. The warrants authorizing the raid claimed that the Joint Terrorism Task Force (which includes the FBI) was seeking evidence in an ongoing investigation into "material support of terrorism."
As part of this investigation, 14 activists were subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago. Each signed a letter from their lawyers stating they would NOT testify. The Assistant U.S. Attorney in charge then told the lawyers for the activists that he would withdraw the subpoenas, but he would say nothing more. The government has not backed off. There are a number of options for what the authorities could do next: more raids; indictments and arrests; issue a new round of subpoenas to testify before the grand jury, but this time offer limited immunity to some which comes coupled with the threat of imprisonment if they still refuse to testify. (See "The Grand Jury—The Grand Inquisition.")
Meantime, even more antiwar activists continue to report being harassed by the FBI at their homes and workplaces.
Not a single person was arrested, yet people's homes were ransacked for hours. Their computers, cell phones, passports, address books, email accounts, personal correspondence and papers, photographs, financial records and even some of their children's belongings were seized by the FBI. And now anyone dragged before the grand jury faces the real possibility of being jailed without being convicted of specific criminal charges for the duration of the grand jury (potentially months and even years), simply for exercising their right to not participate in the fishing expedition.
Across the country, people immediately rallied to defend those under attack.
A Decade of Repression Takes a Serious Leap
In the decade since the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the government has dramatically expanded its repressive apparatus. Surveillance reaches stealthily into every aspect of people's lives. Over the past decade, the FBI has questioned thousands of men of Arab descent, surveilled mosques and shut down charities. Protests against the war in Iraq and other U.S. policies have been vamped on by armored robocops who arrest hundreds of peaceable demonstrators at a time, including outside of the Republican and Democratic national conventions. Eight organizers of the 2008 protests at the Republican convention were at one point charged with multiple felonies for organizing protests "in furtherance of terrorism." At an anti-globalization demonstration during a September 2009 summit of world leaders in Pittsburgh, a well-known activist was charged with terrorism-related charges for "tweeting" about police activities. Meanwhile authorities cultivate a snitch mentality through ad campaigns like, "if you see something, say something"—while arresting, imprisoning and hounding those who report or even just videotape crimes carried out by the police or other arms of the government.
But this latest round of raids and grand jury subpoenas represents a major new leap in repression. The attacks on activists in Minneapolis and Chicago (if allowed to stand) mean that people who dissent from the government can be raided, searched and threatened with imprisonment without any due process, for no other reason than having associated with someone that the U.S. government has put on an "international blacklist"—and even in cases where that association is purely political or educational.
Civil rights lawyers have been warning since the passage of the USA Patriot Act in 2001 that those who criticize the government or maintain ties with international political movements could find themselves under investigation for domestic terrorism because the definition of terrorism is so vague and broad that it stretches from traditional non-violent civil disobedience at home to humanitarian projects abroad. (See "A Supremely Bad Supreme Court Decision.")
Bruce Nestor of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) in Minneapolis, one of the lawyers for the subpoenaed activists, said "This is the first time that the authorities have aimed broadly at what might be called 'the mainstream antiwar activists' ... I don't mean to minimize the repression against Arab-American and Muslim groups within the U.S., but this is a direct strike against the antiwar movement." Margaret Ratner Kunstler, on the radio show Law and Disorder, drew out the sweeping implications: "[I]t really represents the tremendous sea change we have in this country in terms of the ability of people to actively oppose this government's policy."
A Violation of Fundamental Rights
This attack is an outrageous violation of fundamental rights supposedly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Go down the list. Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure (i.e. without probable cause that a crime has been committed)? Out the window. There was no such probable cause shown before ransacking people's houses and carting out box after box of their property. One legal observer said that the warrant was such a blank check for the FBI that it might well have read, "take everything." Freedom to associate with others for political purposes? Out the window. The basic premise of the whole investigation is that there was some unspecified association with organizations that the government has put on a list. Activists' contacts and e-lists were seized to look for potential "co-conspirators." And strikingly, the warrants list as evidence to be seized any materials regarding "the recruitment, indoctrination, and facilitation of other individuals in the United States to join FRSO [Freedom Road Socialist Organization] ...." Freedom of speech? Out the window. The 14 activists have pointed out that the government is attacking them for articles and speeches exposing U.S. policies in different parts of the world. Freedom from being forced to give testimony against oneself? Out the window. The grand jury subpoena process can be used to jail people for long stretches for refusing to testify based on their Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves after a judge has granted very limited immunity from prosecution in order to compel them to testify anyway. (See "The Grand Jury—The Grand Inquisition.")
And this is just the short version of what rights are being violated and what it means.
There is an irony that this is all being done by the administration of the "constitutional scholar" President, Barack Obama. But the irony is not that the President "forgot" what he once taught at the University of Chicago. It is that many allowed themselves to believe that the wrappings he came in made him fundamentally different than Bush. These raids show the reality of how this system works—no matter who runs it at any given time. When the political representatives of this imperialist system deem it necessary to use the tools of dictatorship—their political police, courts and prisons, in this case—they will not hesitate to violate the democratic precepts marked down in their Constitution.
Through this case, it is as if the U.S. government is sending a message to the people inside (and outside) the borders of this country: "Look, we are not only going to wage ongoing wars in the Middle East and Central Asia, imposing regimes in the region and backing Israel's massacres and occupations... we not only will carry out assassinations and torture against those who get in our way... we not only will spy on and harass and deport immigrants from these regions who oppose our policies... but we will also raise the stakes very high for anyone within the U.S. itself who dares to dissent and expose our crimes. We have an empire," this message is saying, "and we will be ruthless in our defense of it. And you better go along or you might be next to get a knock on your door!" (For more on how and why the so-called "Global War on Terror" is in actuality a war for empire, see "Bringing Forward Another Way—More on the 'Two Historically Outmodeds,'" by Bob Avakian, Revolution #213, October 10, 2010.)
This message must be rejected.
This Attack Must Meet with Growing Resistance and Be Defeated
The cold truth is this: The ruling class, and Obama, do not let rights supposedly guaranteed by law get in the way of what they perceive to be the interests of imperialism. But this does NOT mean that people should not fight for those rights. Far from it. What it does show is that we must struggle all the harder and without illusions against this repression, exposing both the cruel nature of the policies these raids are enforcing (and the interests behind those policies), and the ways in which these raids are totally illegitimate—a violation not only of fundamental rights and of the fundamental beliefs of many, many people as to what is just, but of the actual laws as written.
In that light, there have been very positive beginning steps in response to these raids. The very day of the raids, and continuing for over a week, people across the country, in some 60 cities came together for emergency protest rallies at FBI offices and federal buildings. In Minneapolis 400-500 people rallied. In Chicago people took to the streets outside the FBI's offices. And there have been other forms of protest besides—ranging from statements circulating on the net to initiatives by clergy and religious people. The San Francisco Labor Council passed a resolution condemning the attack, and a bill has been introduced in the Minnesota state legislature by five lawmakers sounding an alarm about the FBI raids and grand jury investigation.
More is needed and possible. Everyone who has ever been opposed to U.S. policies in different parts of the world should be alarmed by these attacks on antiwar and international solidarity activists and should support people's right to politically organize and defend those people who come under attack for doing so. Anyone who supports U.S. groups and individuals who do humanitarian work abroad—relief projects, human rights workers, journalists, conflict resolution programs—needs to also take a stand against this repression, just as many did in the recent Supreme Court case. (See "A Supremely Bad Supreme Court Decision.")
And revolutionaries and radicals must not only sound the alarm and join in this, but increasingly show how the interests that drive such repression are imperialist interests, and how the state that must, and does, serve those interests is illegitimate. Only in this way is there a chance to not only defeat this attack, but to begin to build a movement that will stand against an atmosphere and legal system that grows more repressive by the day.
Those who challenge and speak out against what the U.S. does here and around the world should know their rights. This is another way the government's attack can boomerang—if many more people aren't bamboozled by the agents of repression and instead exercise their rights. (See "Don't be Bamboozled by Agents of Repression—'Don't Talk,'" Revolution #194, March 7, 2010.)
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