Protect Democracy from FBI Raids on Activist Homes

The FBI raided homes and confiscated papers, computers, phones and CDs of peace and rights activists in Minnesota and Chicago in the early morning of Friday, September 24, in what agents said was part of a counterterrorism investigation. The Fellowship of Reconciliation urges our members and other concerned citizens to contact Attorney General Eric Holder at 202-353-1555 to call for an end to actions targeting legitimate dissent, and to participate in protests of these actions in your area.

FOR Executive Director Mark Johnson was in Chicago this weekend, and participated in a Monday protest at the FBI headquarters there. "It has also actively alerted us all that our efforts to seek peace and justice through nonviolent means is being scrutinized by the government with what can only been seen as an effort to intimidate and chill speech and criticism," said Johnson in a report published today on FOR's web site.

The raids come in the context of the Supreme Court decision in June on the Humanitarian Law Project, which broadly interprets assistance to terrorism to include nonviolent engagement with armed groups, such as conflict resolution training and legal advice. The federal law upheld by the court decision and cited in the search warrants prohibits, "providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations." The Supreme Court rejected a free speech challenge to the material support law from humanitarian aid groups. Under the law, individuals can face up to 15 years in prison for providing "material support" to groups designated by the US government as terrorists, even if their work is intended to promote peaceful, lawful objectives. "Material support" is defined to include any "service," "training," "expert advice or assistance" or "personnel."

"Humanitarian and peace organizations say their direct interaction with violent or terrorist groups is vital to intervention efforts," the Christian Science Monitor reported. "The Supreme Court decision means they do it at their peril." Last week's raids are evidence of that. "Training groups to pursue peaceful resolution of their disputes should be encouraged, not made criminal," said Sharon Bradford Franklin, senior counsel with the Constitution Center.

The raids come on the heels of a Justice Department probe that found the FBI improperly monitored activist groups and individuals from 2001 to 2006. Among the groups investigated were Greenpeace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Catholic Worker and the Thomas Merton Center, a pacifist group based in Pittsburgh.

What do we know about these raids?

On Friday, September 24, the FBI raided at least six homes in Chicago and Minneapolis, with the explanation that the activists targetted were under investigation for providing "material support to foreign terrorist organizations," namely the FARC in Colombia, the Peoples Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Hezbollah. The FBI also raided the office of the Anti-war Committee in Minneapolis, which had organized a demonstration during the 2008 Republican National Convention. Some of the peace activists whose houses were raided are members of the Anti-War Committee. The New York Times quotes an FBI spokesperson who said the raids were part of "an ongoing Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation." While no arrests have been made so far, the activists have been served with grand jury subpoenas.

The raids appear to be 'fishing expeditions' -- attempts to gather as much personal information as possible from the activists' homes in the hopes of bringing some charges against them. Groups listed in the warrants are Hezbollah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The warrants also authorized agents to seize items such as electronics, photographs, videos, address books and letters, and seeks information pertaining to the activists' work in a left group called Freedom Road Socialist Organization. Click here to download a PDF of the search warrant.

Several of the activists whose homes were raided and/or received grand jury summons have been active in the Colombia Action Network (based in Minnesota) and/or the Free Ricardo Palmera Committee. Ricardo Palmera (alias Simon Trinidad) is a leader of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) who was tried for conspiracy in the kidnapping of the three US military contractors because of his membership in FARC, though he was not alleged to have taken part in the kidnapping itself, according to attorney Paul Wolf. Palmera was sentenced to 60 years in prison and is currently in solitary confinement at a SuperMax prison in Colorado.

FOR does not share the rhetoric of the Free Ricardo Palmera Committee in support of the FARC project in Colombia. However, democratic process and First Amendment guarantees require that people in this country be able to express these points of view, and those who disagree to engage in debate with them, without fear of seizure of one's cell phone, computer, and other personal possessions, of being labelled a "terrorist suspect", or of being targeted by armed federal agencies.

What you can do:

  • Call the Attorney General's office at 202-353-1555 and demand an end to political intimidation of peace activists.
  • Call or write the "newspapers of record" such as the New York Times and Washington Post, asking them to give full and prominent coverage to this story.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper, explaining why this kind of intimidation is a danger to democracy.
  • Call your local members of Congress to demand that the FBI stop harassing peace activists.
  • Participate in any local actions to protest these raids. Click here for a list of protest events around the country.

(Parts of this alert were drawn from an article written by Lynn Koh of War Times/Tiempo de Guerras.)