In a qualitative escalation, the government of President Barack Obama has for the first time used the “war on terror” against socialists in the United States. On September 24, the FBI conducted a series of coordinated early-morning raids at homes and offices in Minneapolis, Chicago, Michigan and North Carolina.
The political police seized computers, passports, books, documents, cell phones, photos, financial records, diaries, maps and other materials. In one case, children’s artwork was confiscated.
The warrants were issued under a 1996 statute signed into law by former president Bill Clinton that makes it a crime for US citizens to provide “material assistance” to any organisation designated by the government as “terrorist”.
The raids centred on members of the Freedom Road Socialist Organisation (Fightback).
The warrant for one of those targeted, Michael Kelly, authorised seizure of materials related to “Kelly’s travel to and from and presence and activities in Minnesota, and other foreign [sic] countries to which Kelly has traveled as part of his work in FRSO; Kelly’s ability to pay for his own travel from the United States to Palestine, Colombia and travel within the United States from 2000 until present, including all materials related to Kelly’s personal finances and finances of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (‘FRSO’)...”
The list also included material related to, “Kelly’s potential co-conspirators, including any address books, lists, notes, photographs, videos, or letters for Kelly’s personal contacts in the United States and abroad”.
Also to be seized was material related to “the recruitment, indoctrination, and facilitation of other individuals in the United States to join FRSO, including materials related to the identity and location of recruiters, facilitators, and recruits, the means by which the recruits were recruited to join FRSO, the means by which the recruitment was financed and arranged”.
Information was sought on “the recruitment, indoctrination, and facilitation of other individuals in the United States to travel to Colombia, Palestine and any other foreign location in support of FTOs [Foreign Terrorist Organisations] including, but not limited to FARC [the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces], PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] and Hezbollah, including materials related to the identity and location of recruiters, facilitators, and recruits of these FTOs, the means by which individuals were recruited to travel to Colombia, Palestine and other foreign location in support of FTOs, and the means by which the recruitment was financed and arranged”.
To be searched for anything related to the “FARC, PFLP, Hezbollah and other FTOs which the FRSO and Kelly have supported, attempted to support or conspired to support; Kelly’s use of email addresses … and telephone numbers, Facebook, MySpace, or other social networking websites.”
When one of those targeted didn’t open their door fast enough to suit the FBI thugs, they smashed the door down so violently it flew across the room and broke an aquarium.
The designation of any group as “terrorist” by the State Department is completely arbitrary, made without public explanation and without any recourse by any US citizen.
In the past, the African National Congress, the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Irish Sinn Fein were so designated, and then un-designated when that suited the US regime.
Muslim groups in the US have been convicted of raising funds for needy people in Palestine and Lebanon, supposedly because Hezbollah or Hamas distributed goods through their charities. Long prison sentences were imposed.
“Providing material assistance” is also a completely arbitrary term and can be interpreted in any way the government wants. The nine robed reactionaries of the US Supreme Court recently ruled that merely talking to designated groups is providing material support, in a case where pacifists wanted to persuade such groups to adopt non-violence.
Those whose homes were raided have been active in many groups, including the Twin Cities [Minneapolis and St. Paul] Antiwar Committee, whose offices were also raided.
This committee took part in a national antiwar conference in July, attended by 800 activists, which formed the United National Antiwar Committee and called for anti-war protests next spring.
Some of those targeted helped organise demonstrations at the Republican national convention in 2008 in Minneapolis, and were among many arrested in a police riot against the demonstrators. Charges were later dropped, but these new attacks give the authorities another bite at the apple.
By targeting socialists, the Obama administration hopes to intimidate wider circles. Tom Burke, one of those whose home was raided, said on September 24: “The goal of these raids is to harass and try to intimidate the movement against US wars and occupations, and those who oppose US support for repressive regimes.
“They are designed to suppress dissent and free speech, to divide the anti-war movement, and pave the way for more US military intervention in the Middle East and Latin America.”
Many of those whose homes were raided were also served subpoenas to appear before a grand jury in Chicago on various dates in October. Grand juries are usually composed of “more respectable” people than regular juries, and are notorious for rubber-stamping the prosecution, in this case the US Justice Department.
The FBI does not carry out such raids without thinking through the next steps. Thus the situation is quite ominous.
Now is the time for urgent action if this witch hunt is to be beaten back. So far, the response has been good. Many socialist groups have immediately denounced the attack on FRSO (Fightback), whatever their differences with it.
These include Solidarity, Socialist Action, Freedom Socialist Party, Party for Liberation and Socialism, Workers World, another FRSO group not part of the one under attack, and the International Socialist Organisation.
The major anti-war groups have also joined in, including ANSWER, the United National Antiwar Committee, International Action Network and United for Peace and Justice. Also the Palestine Solidarity Group, the New Students for a Democratic Society and the Colombia Action Network.
This list is just a beginning and must expand to include the major civil rights and civil liberties organisations and all democratic-minded groups and individuals.
Ad hoc demonstrations have been held at FBI and other government offices in many cities. If and when charges are filed, we must all go into high gear.
I would urge groups in Australia and around the world to also raise their voices in protest in messages and demonstrations at US embassies.
An injury to one is an injury to all!
See Socialist Alliance statement of solidarity with activists raided by FBI