By Pat Fry
With the threat of grand jury subpoenas served within the next couple of days on anti-war activists in Minneapolis and Chicago, a standing room-only national meeting the Committee to Stop FBI Repression (CSFR) was held Saturday evening, November 6, at St. Mark’s Church in the lower east side of Manhattan.
Several of the targeted activists spoke to more than 200 people about their ordeal on September 24th when the FBI staged coordinated raids on the homes and offices of 14 activists in Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan. Everything from computers, mailing lists and books to children’s drawings were confiscated. Thirteen of those targeted – all of whom have been active in movements critical of U.S. foreign policy in Colombia and the Middle East – were served with subpoenas ordering them to appear before a grand jury in Chicago. After all refused to comply, citing their right to remain silent, the government withdrew the subpoenas. Last week, however, the Justice Department announced that it intends to enforce the subpoenas on three of the activists and will require their appearance before a grand jury.
Bruce Nestor, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and lead attorney representing the subpoenaed activists, said that it is expected that three will be subpoenaed sometime this week. None have been arrested or charged with any crime. Failure to comply with a grand jury subpoena can lead to imprisonment, loss of jobs, and homes.
The federal law that was cited in the search warrants prohibit, “providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorists organizations.” The law was first passed under the Clinton Administration in 1996 and further expanded with the Patriot Act under the Bush Administration to include provisions to prosecute for speech if it is deemed to be coordinated with a designated foreign terrorist organization. According to Nestor, “what you run the risk of is that even if you state your own independent views about U.S. foreign policy, but those views somehow reflect a group that the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization, you can be accused of coordinating your views and face, if not prosecution, at least investigation, search warrants, or being summoned to a grand jury to talk about your political allies and who your political friends are.”
In June, the Supreme Court rejected a free speech challenge to the law brought by humanitarian aid groups that said its provisions would lead to prosecutions for talking about non-violence to groups designated by the U.S. to be terrorists.
Ten of the fourteen who were raided by the FBI are members and leaders of trade unions. Several union bodies have responded by passing resolutions condemning the FBI raids, including the American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 5 in Minnesota, the Duluth Central Labor Body, and the San Francisco AFL-CIO. At the Saturday meeting a member of the Central Labor Council of the Detroit AFL-CIO reported that a resolution introduced before a well attended meeting last week was adopted unanimously.
Religious organizations are also responding to condemn the raids including the American Friends Service Committee of Chicago, the Chicago Faith Coalition Middle East Policy, Fellowship of Reconciliation, First Chicago Church of the Brethren, and Witness for Peace – Great Lakes Region.
Members of the Illinois State Legislature are circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter opposing the FBI actions, which has thus far garnered signatures from a third of the legislators, it was reported on Saturday. A similar Dear Colleague Letter in the U.S. Congress is under discussion with Congressional delegations in Illinois and Minnesota.
The New York chapter of the National Lawyers Guild is training lawyers and legal workers for defense work in the case. A petition soon to be circulated among academics was announced at the meeting.
Numerous peace, international solidarity and socialist political organizations were represented at Saturday’s meeting, mainly from Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, and New York. Hundreds of statements condemning the raids and the grand jury subpoenas can be viewed on the web site: www.stopFBI.net
Local committees have been formed in several cities and a speakers’ bureau has been organized. All AFL-CIO central labor councils in the country have been sent mailings about the case.
A large banner hanging in the front of the room Saturday listed three key demands: Stop FBI Repression, Stop the Grand Jury, Return Our Stuff. On a side wall, the names of dozens of mainly Middle Eastern Americans jailed as “Victims of Preemptive Prosecution” were listed, identified with organizations such as the Holy Land Foundation. The daughter of one of the founders of the charitable Holy Land Foundation serving a 65 year sentence under the repressive law spoke at the meeting about the case. She said Palestinians and Arabs have been the main targets thus far of the law but now it has been expanded to others, and a movement is being organized. Jimmy Carter himself could be prosecuted under this law,” she said.
The meeting concluded with adoption of an organizational structure and a National Coordinating Committee of the “Committee Against FBI Repression." The committee will meet via telephone conference every two weeks or as needed. Organizations and local groups that are working on the issue are invited to participate with a representative. A national office has been set up in the Twin Cities.
Over $12,000 was raised in a fundraising pitch at the meeting. The NY CCDS contributed $100. The immediate need is for protests when the grand jury subpoenas are handed down sometime this week. Some 62 protests have already been organized in front of FBI offices around the country and one in front of the U.S. embassy in Vancouver CANADA. end