FBI Raids: An Attack on First Amendment Rights

The Communist Party, USA strongly condemns the Sept. 24 raids on the homes of a dozen peace and solidarity activists carried out by the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force and subpoenas to appear before a grand jury.

The activists haven't yet been charged with a crime.

The invasion of homes, the confiscation of boxes of artifacts including children's artwork, is an affront to every American. It poses a danger to the Bill of Rights.

The raids flow from the repressive set of laws and institutions developing since passage of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act by Congress and signed by then President Clinton in 1996, and the Patriot Act rushed through Congress by President Bush after Sept. 11, 2001. They have been further reinforced by the recent ruling of the ultra right dominated U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project.

Passage of these laws was justified on the grounds of combating terrorism. But substantial parts of the laws and their implementation go well beyond fighting terrorism. They in fact pose a danger to civil liberties.

We do not ignore the real danger of terrorism. The security agencies of the U.S. government have the responsibility to protect the American people against the violent acts of extremists.

However, at times, U.S. intelligence agencies have been the propagator of violent acts that could be called terrorist as well. For example, in the U.S. supported Contra Central America wars in the 1980s, the CIA wrote and distributed manuals on committing assassinations and terrorist acts.

And most recently, the Cleveland Plain Dealer uncovered a recording that seem to point to an FBI agent firing shots that led to the Ohio National Guard firing on Kent State students, killing four on May 4, 1970.

These recent FBI raids have nothing to do with protecting the American people against terrorism, but has everything to do with quashing these activists right to free speech. They are all opposed to U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan and U.S. policy toward right-wing governments in Colombia and Israel.

It does have everything to do with chilling the long cherished tradition of the right to dissent.

The CPUSA speaks with authority on this issue. During the McCarthy period our party was criminalized as a foreign agent and accused of advocating the violent overthrow of the government. Our leaders and members were hauled before grand juries, jailed, fired from their jobs and blacklisted, their families disrupted and ostracized.

But the McCarthyite hysteria and persecution was aimed at the U.S. people as a whole, the entire left, labor and peace movements. Its purpose was to pave the way for reactionary foreign and domestic Cold War policies. It severely curtailed democracy and free speech, stained our constitution and distorted political discourse for a generation.

Thanks to the American people, McCarthyism was defeated and the courts declared these attacks unconstitutional.

We fear a similar erosion of constitutional rights if this case becomes a precedent. It has broader implications for those who oppose various aspects of U.S. foreign and domestic policy, including trade unionists, environmentalists and others.

The FBI has a long sordid history of repression, dating back to its inception in the 1920s during the Palmer Raids. It has notoriously acted as a rogue agency for example during the Civil Rights movement, targeting of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, anti-Vietnam war, religious and trade union activists, the COINTELPRO disruptions and spying on domestic organizations and new connections surfacing of involvement in the Kent State shootings.

A recent report by the Inspector General said the FBI was improperly spying on people's First Amendment-protected activity during 2002-2006, and that the FBI didn't have enough internal controls to prevent abuse.

The so called U.S. government "terrorist watch list" has surpassed one million Americans.

The Supreme Court decision in the case of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project is seen by many as a threat to the Bill of Rights. It has given credence to the government's broad and vague definition of "material aid" to designated terrorist organizations. This can include help not directly connected to terrorism or violent acts.

The government can designate any organization terrorist, as it did the African National Congress, the organization leading the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

We call upon the Justice Department to end this harassment of peace and justice activists, and Congress to repeal the undemocratic and repressive aspects of the Patriot Act.

The resurgent danger of right wing reaction, its deep embedment in the nation's politics and government institutions underscores the urgency to defeat reactionary candidates running for office in the November elections as a necessity to defend democracy.