Rep. John Lewis writes to Attorney General Eric Holder about FBI repression

The following letter was sent by Rep. John Lewis (5th District, Georgia) to Attorney General Eric Holder on May 13, 2011.


May 13, 2011

Dear Attorney General Holder,

I am writing to convey concerns raised with me regarding the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) investigation of anti-war and labor union activists. I understand that on September 24, 2010, the FBI conducted searches of seven homes and an office building in Minneapolis and Chicago and issued subpoenas to 23 individuals in Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan. The FBI also visited individuals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, San Jose, California, and Durham, North Carolina in relation to the investigation. Media reports have cited documents that the case is focused on possible violations of federal laws prohibiting support to terrorist organizations.

Attached please find a letter from Michael Deutsch from the People's Law Office, one of a team of attorneys representing the activists whose homes were raided and those who have been issued subpoenas. They are concerned these investigations of individuals engaged in First Amendment protected speech and association activities are a continuation of FBI investigations of peace and justice organizations criticized in a recent Department of Justice Inspector General report.

I am writing because I am reminded of another time and another period in our history, during the Civil Rights Movement, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and I and many others in the movement, were investigated in an attempt to silence our voices. Mr. Deutsch and other union leaders have expressed concerns about the "chilling effect" such investigations may have on the free speech rights of Americans. While I understand that the Department is not at liberty to comment on pending criminal investigations, any information that you can provide to address the concerns raised here would be deeply appreciated.

I know you share my commitment to protecting our civil liberties and preserving our freedoms as Americans. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff person Michaleen Crowell if we can provide additional information.

Sincerely,

John Lewis
Member of Congress

Letter from Michael Deutsch of People's Law office

The Honorable Jan Schakowsky
U.S. Congresswoman
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C.

Attn: Leslie Combs

April 21, 2010

Re: Civil Liberties Violations Against Political Activists

Dear Congresswoman Schakowsky,

I am one of the attorneys representing the political activists whose homes were raided by the FBI in September, who were subpoenaed to appear before a Federal Grand Jury and who are facing the possibility of serious federal indictments. As a member of a legal team of over 15 lawyers, I am writing to express our deep concern about the civil liberties violations already visited upon these activists and the looming potential for far more serious attacks.

As you are aware, in late September of last year the FBI carried out raids on the homes and political offices of public activists in Minneapolis and Chicago. Hundreds of books, pamphlets, videos and other materials protected by the First Amendment were illegally seized as well as the entire computers, cell phones and personal materials of these activists and their families, including photos and items of their children. The pretext for these raids was the claim that the FBI was investigating “material support” for designated foreign terrorist organizations. However the people targeted are public non-violent activists with long distinguished careers in public service, including teachers, union organizers, and anti-war and community leaders.

These raids were followed by grand jury subpoenas issued through the Office of the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois against the people whose homes were raided, and numerous other public activists, particularly those active in speaking out about the human rights violations against the Palestinian people. As of this writing, at least 23 people have been subpoenaed. Although each one of the 23 people have refused to voluntarily cooperate with what they consider an illegal attack on their political work, the possibility of forced immunity and testimony or imprisonment is a real danger.

In addition, the files and records of two anti-war groups in Minnesota were subpoenaed by the same grand jury. As you can imagine the targeting of public, peaceful political activists and their organizations creates an anti-constitutional “chilling effect” on all activists who speak-out in solidarity with human rights issues which may conflict with U.S. government policies.

Based on statements by local U.S. Assistant Attorneys, we believe that the government is now preparing indictments against many of the targeted political activists. These indictments appear to be based on the First Amendment protected advocacy and associations of these activists, relying on a distorted and dangerous interpretation of the law prohibiting “material support” for designated foreign terrorist organizations. We also believe that these indictments will rely on the false claims of at least one government infiltrator/provocateur and focus on the legal solidarity advocacy of many of those targeted.

The expansion of the law prohibiting material support to target peaceful public activists based on their First Amendment activities is an ominous expansion of the law and was never intended by the Congress when it passed this law in 1996. While the government seems to read the recent Supreme Court case of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project as a green light to go after non-violent public activists, the legal team vigorously rejects such an anti-civil liberties interpretation.

We urge you to speak-out against this dangerous and chilling use of the broad powers of federal law enforcement against those who are simply exercising their constitutional rights to organize and protest government policies. We know of your positive record in support of civil liberties, and I and the other lawyers involved in this case believe that this case presents a very dangerous attack which threatens the civil liberties of all of us.

Sincerely yours,

Michael E. Deutsch
People’s Law Office
1180 N. Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, Ill 60647
773-235—0070

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