Midwest peast activists resist FBI witch hunt tactics

Across the nation, more than a thousand people are poised to jump into action if – more likely when – 23 anti-war and international solidarity activists are subpoenaed or indicted on “material support for terrorism” charges related to their non-violent work. On September 24, 2010, the FBI executed a highly coordinated attack on activists in Chicago, Minneapolis and Grand Rapids, MI involved in the Minneapolis Anti-War Committee, the Palestine Solidarity Group, the Colombia Action Network, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. Early in the morning, more than 70 FBI agents swept into homes and seized activists’ political and personal papers, financial records, computers, passports and other documents (even children’s drawings).

In Minneapolis, the FBI raided the office of the Anti-War Committee, seizing documents and computers. Most of the activists raided that day were also subpoenaed to a grand jury in Chicago, with several other subpoenas being served within a few days.

The raids and subpoenas were coordinated with the help of an FBI infiltrator who went by the name “Karen Sullivan.” “Karen” had infiltrated the AWC months before the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, MN and had worked her way into the inner ranks of the organization. She took on prominent roles, including speaking on behalf of the AWC at various events, facilitating meetings, even going on a trip to Israel with two other AWC members. The AWC later found out that “Karen” had helped sabotage that trip by alerting the authorities about it and turning her office key over to the FBI for the raid. Over the years, “Karen” had woven a vague but poignant story of her life to earn others’ trust, even posing as a member of a couple with a person who went by “Daniela Cardenas” who she had met at a political event attended by other AWC members.

In the wake of the raids, 23 people have been subpoenaed and have refused to testify before a grand jury, standing in solidarity with each other and their comrades abroad. These activists recognize that the grand jury is a witch-hunt that poses a threat to their movements, their comrades in countries such as Colombia and Palestine, their communities here in the United States, and themselves. They all invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and did not testify. People who have refused to testify before grand juries have often faced jail time for civil contempt of court. Judges can jail witnesses for the life of the grand jury – up to 18 months.

A grand jury is a panel that hears evidence from a prosecutor and decides whether or not to charge someone with a crime. People can be jailed for contempt of court if they do not answer the questions. The jurors are handpicked by prosecutors with no screen for bias. All evidence is presented in a cloak of secrecy with no judge present, the transcript sealed, and the public barred from the room. Prosecutors have no responsibility to present evidence that favors those being investigated, which almost invariably helps them get the indictments they want. Grand jury witnesses can’t bring a lawyer with them.

Judges often give witnesses one of two kinds of immunity in order to prevent them from pleading the Fifth and force them to testify. Use immunity is the better of the two since it prevents the witness from being prosecuted based on what anyone testifies about, whereas transactional immunity only prevents what the witness says about themselves to be used for prosecution (i.e., other people’s testimony can still be used to prosecute them). Historically, many people have refused to testify even after being granted immunity since it is clearly a way of pitting activists against each other and making them feel that they have to snitch on others to save themselves. Rather than being coerced into betraying their comrades, they’ve been jailed for contempt.

At this time, none of the 23 have been offered immunity, jailed for contempt, or indicted. Any of them could be called back to testify at any time and jailed if they refuse, or charged with a crime. Given the looming threat, the 23 have been organizing a pre-emptive defense campaign of protests, petitions, call-in days to the prosecutor, speaking tours and regional organizing conferences. Dozens of organizations and prominent activists, both nationally and internationally, have also issued solidarity statements in support of the fight against this repression. The targeted activists are bracing for the next stage of state repression even while they’re in the midst of dealing with their current situations. They are struggling to have seized property returned to them, which is an onerous if not impossible legal battle to fight while an investigation is ongoing. Several have also been targeted for additional security searches at airports while traveling, whether for giving presentations about their situations or for other reasons.

To help with resistance, you can sign a pledge to take action in the event of more subpoenas or indictments, donate to the legal defense fund, check out upcoming support events and protests in your area, join one of the 15 regional support committees, or create a new one! Info: www.stopfbi.net.