The FBI Raids in Context
On September 24, 2010 the FBI raided several houses and a couple offices in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Chicago and North Carolina under the guise of looking for proof that the people living in those houses were involved with organizations that “lent material support to terrorists.” Ironically (or perhaps presciently) the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) also released an 88-page document titled The Policing of Political Speech: Constraints on Mass Dissent in the U.S on that day. Not content with criminalizing the representation provided by attorneys to those accused of fomenting terrorism, as in the case of Lynne Stewart, with these raids the Obama administration has stepped up the repression that became quite commonplace under George Bush.
In short, the government is attempting to criminalize the organizing of antiwar protests. Furthermore, it wants to make opposition to the the government’s assistance in repressing struggles for self-determination illegal. Other repressive actions by law enforcement against US citizens, including the sentencing of a videographer to 300 days in jail for trespass after he tried to film an unauthorized talk in Chicago and the acknowledgment by the Pittsburgh FBI office that it had spied on peace activists and used a private agency to help out, makes it clear that the PATRIOT Act and its excesses are alive and well under the Obama administration. Repression is a bipartisan activity, especially when it comes to the repression of the left.
These raids are a clear and vicious attempt to intimidate the antiwar movement. The grand jury is a fishing expedition, as evidenced (for example) by the warrant asking for papers from no determined time. This intimidation is a continuation of the harassment of the Twin Cities left/anarchist community that began before the 2008 Republican National Convention. As I recall, several organizers had their homes and offices raided prior to the convention. In addition, hundreds of protesters were arrested and many more were beaten by law enforcement thugs. Eight organizers were eventually charged with a variety of charges including conspiracy. As of September 25, 2010, three of those charged had all of their charges dropped and the rest face trial on October 25, 2010.
This is not just about the movement in the Twin Cities, however. The September 24 raids also took place in Chicago and North Carolina. There is a grand jury being convened in October 2010 with the intention of perhaps charging some of the people (and maybe others) subpoenaed on September 24. These raids are an attempt by the federal government to criminalize antiwar organizing. They are also an attempt to make support for the Palestinians and other people fighting for self-determination illegal.
The PATRIOT Act was passed on October 26, 2001. Since that passage, the level of law enforcement intimidation and outright repression increased quite dramatically. From little things like protesters being forced to protest in so-called free speech zones or face arrest to the recent approval of the assassination of US citizens by federal death squads, there has been a clear progression away from any concern for protecting civil liberties. Indeed, the concern for civil liberties is usually dismissed by politicians, judges, and other people in power almost as if they were some worthless costume trinkets from grandma’s jewelry box. As mentioned earlier, this harassment and repression is not new to US history. In addition to multiple murders of Black liberation activists, illegal surveillance, false imprisonment and other forms of harassment, the use of grand juries was essential to the repression of the antiwar and anti-racist movements of the 1960s and 1970s. As the NLG document points out, “from 1970-1973, over 100 grand juries in 84 cities subpoenaed over 1,000 activists.” However, nowadays there seems to be less resistance to it. Some of this can be attributed to the lack of press coverage, which is quite possibly intentional. Much of the lack of concern, however, can be attributed to the state of fear so many US residents live in. This is a testimony to the power of the mainstream media and its willingness to serve as the government’s propaganda wing.
To those who argue that the media don’t always support the government and then cite Fox News’ distaste for Obama or a liberal newspaper’s distaste for certain policies enacted under George Bush, let me point something out. Like the two mainstream political parties (and the occasional right wing third party movement like the Tea Party), even when different media outlets seem to be opposing each other, the reality is that none opposes the underlying assumptions demanded by the State. In fact, the only argument seems to be how better to effect the underlying plan of the American empire. The plan itself (or the rightness of the plan) is never seriously questioned.
The September 24, 2010 raids in the Twin Cities, Chicago and North Carolina may not seem like much, even to other antiwar organizers and leftists. The setting up of “free speech zones” may also appear minor. A grand jury fishing for supposed links to “terrorism” by antiwar activists may seem like no big deal. Violations of human rights in cases involving foreign nationals like Aafia Siddiqui (who was sentenced to 86 years after a trial that barely recognized her defense) do not even register on most Americans’ radar. Yet, it is the cumulative effect of all of these efforts at repression that we should be aware of. As James Madison wrote: “I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation.”
If these seemingly minor encroachments on liberties we assume we have go unchallenged, how long might it be before assassinations and torture by the US military and their mercenary cohorts are carried out on US citizens? Oh wait, that’s already happening.
Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso.