November 14, 2010

Grand Jury/FBI vs Activists: What's Up

Some hours ago I spoke with an old friend who is one of the peace and solidarity activists in the Midwest being targeted by the FBI and a Federal Grand Jury. Like many of us, I have been following the case with great concern from day one, but the conversation made it much clearer to me where things stand now in what is shaping up to be the worst legal assault on the US left in decades.

Some people who heard in the last month that the subpoenas had been withdrawn may be thinking that this happened as a result of the storm of protest that arose in the aftermath of the FBI raids on September 24.


What happened is that lawyers made it clear to the Feds that all of those subpoenaed intend to take the Fifth Amendment, and the subpoenas were suspended. Lawyers have been informed that the subpoenas will be reinstated for 3 of the activists very soon.

What this means is that those three will very likely be offered immunity for anything they testify about, which means that they can no longer claim their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination to refuse to testify. If they then refuse to answer questions placed by the government—and all have stated that they will so refuse---they are subject to civil contempt charges which can and likely will result in their imprisonment for the remainder of the Grand Jury’s term, currently scheduled to end in mid-February.

If a Grand Jury in the case is then re-empanelled, they can be jailed again. They may also be subject to punitive criminal contempt charges, which carry a sentence of up to ten years.


The immediate task before us is to raise a new and larger storm of protest when the renewed subpoenas are formally issued to the three activists, probably this Tuesday. Demonstrations should be held wherever possible in the days after, and the defense group which has been formed, the Committee to Stop the FBI will issue a call for other activities on its website.

If and when folks are called to appear before the Grand Jury and are held in contempt for non-cooperation, again immediate and forceful actions should be taken to defend those jailed and shine a spotlight on this brutal attempt to coerce testimony to be used against their fellow activists.

What then?

Those for whom the original subpoenas have not been reinstated are not off the hook at all. If serious protests now fail to halt the government’s legal steamroller, the next likely step is the indictment and trial of activists on charges related to supporting organizations on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list.

Note that I say activists and not “the activists.” It could be the thirteen originally subpoenaed, or two, or 23, or any number. At this stage very little is known about what the government’s intentions in the case are. All we have to go on is the incredibly broad list of materials in the subpoenas, which mention two organizations on the FTO list The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - People's Army (FARC-EP).

Charges, if made, will doubtless reflect the recent Supreme Court decision in the Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project case, a ruling in which “material aid” to so-called terrorist organizations is so broadly defined that even advising them to pursue their goals peacefully makes a US citizen subject to prosecution.

It’s hardly surprising that the folks hit in the first round of subpoenas and raids have been under extreme stress, initially reflected in symptoms like insomnia, eating disorders or return to long-defeated smoking habits.

Overall, though, they are holding up extremely well, considering. Considering that their homes were broken into by armed FBI agents and their books, papers, computers, passports and other possessions seized. Considering that several have small children and one is a great grandmother. Considering that employers and neighbors have been subjected to harassing visits by FBI agents. Considering, most of all, that the government seems intent on jailing them as supporters of terrorism for years to come.

Hold fast!

They are hanging tough. The rest of us better had, too. I wrote here at FotM about the surprisingly broad and rapid response among socialist and anarchist organizations of every stripe in the US in the days after the FBI raids. Unions, community organizations, civil liberties groups and others have also spoken against this attack in ringing terms. Folks seemed pretty clear that this is not only an attack on the anti-war and solidarity movements but an incredibly dangerous precedent which, if the government succeeds, will be turned against others in short order.

The longer term task here is to make sure those who have rallied around stay rallied, Issues and causes in the Internet era tend to blink in and out of existence like the virtual particles posited by physicists. If we let that happen here, the consequences will be grave. A national Committee to Stop FBI Repression has been formed, with over 170 people attending an inaugural meeting last weekend. Get involved.

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