Standing up to eight years of repression
Eight years ago, on Sept. 24, 2010, more than 70 FBI agents took part in a series of coordinated raids that were aimed at activists of the anti-war and international solidarity movements, and also members of Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO). In a bogus investigation of “material support of terrorism” charges, seven houses and an office in Minneapolis and Chicago were raided. While the raids were underway, FBI agents approached and attempted to intimidate activists in Michigan, California, North Carolina and Wisconsin.
Also on that day, the FBI delivered grand jury subpoenas to many of the raided activists. More activists were served with subpoenas in the following weeks; a total of 23 people were commanded to appear before a Chicago grand jury – and the government threatened jail for those who refused. The charge of material support of terrorism carries 15 years in prison per count, and federal prosecutors repeatedly stated that they intended to indict “multiple people on multiple charges.”
After these raids, the attacks kept on coming. On May 17, 2011, the home of a longtime leader of the Chicano liberation movement, Carlos Montes, was hit with a no-knock raid in Los Angeles. Montes was jailed, hit with trumped up weapons charges, and faced 22 years in prison. Then on Oct. 22, 2013, Homeland Security arrested the well-respected Chicago Palestinian American leader Rasmea Odeh, who stared down a decade in prison as well as deportation.
Court documents show that all these attacks by the federal government were linked and that they stemmed for a common ‘investigation’ that involved the same cast of FBI agents, police and sheriffs working with the FBI, Joint Terrorism Task Forces, and federal prosecutors. Taken as a whole, this repression ranks as one of the largest attacks launched against progressive and left movement since the 1970s.
In the end it was the wall of resistance and an outpouring of popular support that defeated and blunted these assaults on the right to speak out and organize. Not one of those called to testify in front of the grand jury did so. In that refusal, the grand jury resisters put principal and doing the right thing above their freedom. Prosecutors said they were looking for someone “inside” FRSO to testify in a trial. Their threats yielded them no one. Carlos Montes and Rasmea Odeh waged heroic courtroom battles against the false charges leveled against them. The case of Carlos ended with a victory. In court, Rasmea put the Israeli occupation on trial for its crimes and beat the jail time – but sadly was deported to Jordan, where she continues her activism.
Unions representing millions of workers, countless progressive organizations and individuals, and even politicians stood up to this campaign of repression. Rallies took place in more than 100 cities across the world. Those actions, hard work, and a sound legal strategy, explains why this resistance was met with success.
Sometimes victories can be assessed by what does not happen. FBI documents, including the Justice Department’s “interrogation questions for FRSO members,” affidavits for search warrants, and defense lawyer conversations with federal prosecutors, indicate that the government planned, at least in part, to hold an anti-communist trial for FRSO leaders and supporters. In so doing they aimed to criminalize the very idea of international solidarity. Yet here we are, eight years later, and FRSO and other subpoenaed activists are still building the movements against Trump, for justice and are making contributions to the people’s struggle.
The U.S. is not the free country it claims to be. For decades the U.S. government has been trying to criminalize organizations in other countries that fight for national and social liberation – like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Communist Party of the Philippines, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). It is wrong to call those who fight for freedom ‘terrorists,’ and it is unacceptable for the government to make it a crime for people to point this out.
In the years ahead, it is vital that we resist each and every attack on our democratic rights and that we stand with those facing repression.
The powers that be are not going to transform themselves. Exploiters and oppressors are true to their nature, and repression is what they do. We are activists and we are certain that change will come. And we are revolutionaries and socialists – we are certain this system cannot last.