Editor: See accompanying article below.
By Rocky Neptun
The sweeping assaults across the nation on peaceful anti-war activists Sept. 24th represent an ominous divergence for an administration which was elected to change the heavy-handed policies of the Bush regime. Like something straight out of the Ashcroft playbook, FBI agents, in cooperation with local authorities, raided homes and offices in Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota. Government thugs also showed up at the doors of progressives and human rights activists in North Carolina and San Jose, California.
Five homes and the office of the Minnesota Anti-War Committee were ransacked in Minneapolis, while two houses in Chicago were searched. About a dozen activists in all were served subpoenas to testify before a federal grand jury.
Steff Yorek, described in a phone interview with me, the storm trooper type operation which terrorized her daughter as they rumbled through her house in Minneapolis. Yorek, an active member in the peace community, who was also an organizer of the 2008 Republican National Convention protests in St. Paul, labeled the raids “an attack on the anti-war movement”
Tom Burke, a Chicago organizer of the Columbian Action Network, a national group of students, unionists and human rights monitors, who oppose U.S. intervention in Columbia, and was handed a subpoena, told me over the phone “the government hopes to use the grand jury to frame activists.” Burke, who is a founding member of the National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera, a Columbian professor who is being held and some say tortured in the Florence, Colorado Supermax prison, said “the goal of these raids is to harass and try to intimidate the movement against U.S. wars and occupations, and those who oppose U.S. support for repressive regimes.”
Activists from many groups were targeted, including the staid Students for a Democratic Society, the Twin-Cities Anti-War Committee, the Palestine Solidarity group and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. Incredibly, implausibly, the FBI announced the grand jury was going to investigate the activists “for possible terrorist charges.” In the old days, during the McCarthy political witch hunts, they would have been called “communists.”
Has Obama Lost Control of the FBI?
There is some speculation among former agents that Obama in his brief stint has never managed to assume control of the nation’s federal police forces, including the FBI and Homeland Security, and that Attorney General Eric Holder and Cabinet member Janet Napolitano are simply race and gendered figureheads. Rumor has it the real control rests in the career bureaucrats and field commanders and they give Obama just enough maneuvering room to play the role of President.
With only a few hours notice, over a hundred and fifty progressives gathered at the Walker Church in Minneapolis and called the raids “an attack on our movement for social justice as a whole.” The peace community’s meeting, which can be viewed on a 24 minute video at the Twin Cities Indymedia website, asked the nation to refuse to believe “a notorious untruthful government.” They pointed out the FBI’s own Inspector General criticized the FBI for lying to the Justice Department about raids and surveillance of peace groups after 9/11.
Deb Mitchney, of the Minneapolis Welfare Rights Committee, speaking to the gathering called the federal harassment “outrageous” and said “we are doing nothing wrong, merely speaking out against what our government is doing.” Her voice raising, quivering, she asked why local activists were being targeted as criminals “when we are simply opposing the criminal and terrorist acts of our government in other nations.” She announced that the FBI “will not silence us.”
Sue Mortinson, of Women Against Military Madness, called the raids and subpoenas “a travesty of justice” and called on Obama to stop “this persecution.” In an interview, she said “these people are not criminals…war is the crime.”
Meanwhile, in Chicago, the FBI spent 12 hours searching the home of Joe Isobaker, 51, of the University of Illinois, and his wife, Stephanie Weiner, a local teacher, in an attempt to intimidate them. Seizing over 40 boxes of materials, they pilfered everything the pair owned but food, clothing and furniture. By the time agents left, close to 40 friends and supporters ringed their home in solidarity. The peace couple said the government targeted them because they’ve been outspoken against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and U.S. funding of conflicts abroad. Both Isobaker and Weiner said they would not be silenced by the raid.
Another group pursued in Chicago was the Arab American Action Network, a nonprofit which, according to its website, strives to strengthen the Arab community in the Chicago area by building its capacity to be an active agent for positive social change.”
Hammered during the Republican National Convention meeting in 2008 with pre-emptive detentions and brutal police tactics, the Minneapolis and St. Paul progressive and radical groups have coalesced into a tight knit community “which watches one another’s back” and has vowed to support those targeted by the FBI’s unconstitutional and deceitful grand jury process. They issued a statement within a few hours of the raids, saying “an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”
All of the human rights supporters targeted maintain they have done nothing wrong and say they will refuse “to be pulled into conversations with the FBI about their political views or organizing against war and occupation. They call for other people of conscience to write Obama and Attorney General Holder asking that “repression against anti-war and international solidarity activists stop.” Also, they demand the return of all confiscated personal items such as computers, telephones and documents and “end the grand jury proceedings against anti-war activists.”
The only way to protect our 1st Amendment rights is, of course, to use them. If we allow this attack upon dissent in America’s heartland to go un-protested, then people of conscience, our beloved end of war community, everywhere, will face further government intimidation and repression, until our peace testimony will be silenced forever. We cannot let that happen.
Inspector General Criticism Doesn’t Faze FBI Raids on Midwestern Anti-war Activists
By Coleen Rowley / MichaelMoore.com / September 26, 2010
The war on dissent, rather than terrorism, continued full steam with FBI SWAT teams breaking down doors at 7 am Friday (Sept 24) morning and raiding the homes of several anti-war leaders and activists in Minneapolis, Chicago and possibly a couple other Midwest cities. Members of the FBI’s “Joint Terrorism Task Force” spent a few hours at each Minneapolis residence, seizing personal photographs and papers, computers and cell phones as well as serving Federal Grand Jury subpoenas on the various activists.
Obviously the scathing review of post 9-11 FBI “terrorism investigations” targeting various peace and social justice groups completed by the Department of Justice Inspector General (IG) and just issued four days ago gave no pause to the FBI to reflect before continuing to do more of the same. Nor did accompanying media revelations about the FBI having improperly conducted surveillances of an antiwar rally in Pittsburgh; the Catholic Worker peace magazine; a Quaker activist, the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh, of members of the environmental group Greenpeace and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and of a small student group of anti-war activists in Iowa City, Iowa who were targeted for 9 months in 2008.
National news stories revealed that in one of the investigations, FBI Director Robert Mueller inadvertently providing a fabricated justification for the surveillance of an antiwar rally. From The Boston Globe’s article “Red-Baiting, Circa 2002 – 2006”:
The Justice Department’s Inspector General report released this week pulled few punches in admonishing the FBI for targeting anti-war groups and advocacy organizations with no apparent justification, and for placing non-violent activists in those groups on terrorist watch lists. The report chastised the bureau for having a “weak” rationale for some of its investigations; investigating where there was “little indication of any possible federal crimes”; and extending “the duration of investigations involving advocacy groups or their members without adequate basis.” The agency was also taken to task for improperly retaining information about the targeted groups in its files and for classifying investigations of peace groups “under its ‘Acts of Terrorism’ classification.”
These are serious abuses. Using anti-terrorism laws to target domestic protest organizations is redolent of the actions of the Justice Department against law-abiding protesters during World War I and the Vietnam War — actions that are rightly remembered as disgraceful.
FBI Director Robert Mueller was misled by subordinates into telling Congress, falsely, that surveillance of a peaceful 2002 anti-war rally was “an outgrowth of an FBI investigation.” In fact, it was the product of an agent receiving a “make-work” assignment on a “slow day.”
But perhaps what is more important here than a “let’s make work on a slow day” is the perverse career incentives that serve to pressure FBI counter-terrorism agents to produce “stats” (statistics). An agent gains “stats” for serving subpoenas, national security letters for records, executing search warrants, contacting confidential sources, etc., whether or not any relevant evidence is obtained via this “work” and whether or not it leads to prosecution or preventing a crime. It is a well known fact that nearly 1,000 people were rounded up and detained (mostly in New York City) immediately after 9-11. None of those detained were ever identified as “terrorists” but that’s when these career enhancing “stats” began to be awarded for each detention, arrest, subpoena, search warrant, etc.
The IG, however, has only reviewed FBI “terrorism” investigations thus far from 2002 to 2006. What happened in Iowa City in 2008 shows the FBI did not cease its improper investigations after 2006. Documents obtained through FOIA showed the FBI and its local law enforcement partners targeted students and anti-war activists in Iowa City, following them to parks, food co-ops, libraries, bars and restaurants, etc., over a 9 month period with little factual justification other than the allegation that the group was plotting to protest the Republican National Convention. The FBI even managed to secretly search the anti-war members’ personal trash.
It would therefore seem that someone should quickly contact the IG and ask for review of those cases since 2006. Additionally “whistleblower complaints” can be made concerning fraud, waste, abuse and illegality by citizens to the Office of Special Counsel.
Friday’s raids in Minneapolis occurred after the prior Attorney General Guidelines were erased that used to require a level of factual justification before domestic groups could be spied on. Additionally, the Patriot Act and an earlier 1996 law broadly prohibiting “material support to terrorism” were allowed to stand even though these laws make speech advocating human rights a terrorist crime. The final problem is the law enforcement mindset first seen back in 2003 from a spokesman for the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center (CATIC) who was forced to defend his agency’s unjustified targeting of anti-war protesters without any factual evidence. CATIC Spokesman Van Winkle, apparently without thinking too hard, reasoned that evidence wasn’t needed to issue warnings on war protesters. “You can make an easy kind of a link that, if you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that’s being fought against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that (protest),” said Van Winkle, “You can almost argue that a protest against (the “war on terror”) is a terrorist act.”