by David Bernt
CHICAGO—On Jan. 25, about 350 activists rallied outside the federal building here against a McCarthy-style federal grand jury and witch hunt. Nine antiwar activists were subpoenaed to testify that day about their international solidarity work. The rally featured Maureen Murphy and Sarah Smith, two of the nine activists subpoenaed. Murphy read a statement on behalf of all nine activists stating their refusal to testify and declared, “We will not participate in this fishing expedition.” All of the activists who have been subpoenaed have refused to testify to the grand jury.
Starting Sept. 24, when the FBI raided 14 homes in Chicago and Minneapolis in an alleged attempt to investigate “material support” for terrorism, the FBI and federal prosecutors have harassed and subpoenaed 23 antiwar activists.
The government prosecutors claim they are seeking information related to trips taken by the activists to Colombia and Palestine. In truth, the government is attempting to criminalize antiwar, international solidarity, and socialist activism and send a chill through activists’ circles in order to discourage this activism.
The extent of the government’s attempts to intimidate and disrupt was further revealed when prosecutors confirmed that an undercover FBI agent had spent 2 ½ years infiltrating Minneapolis antiwar and socialist organizations. The agent went by the name Karen Sullivan and claimed to be a single lesbian mother who had been discharged from the military under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. She became a regular attendee of the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, the organization that led the 2008 demonstrations at the Republican Convention, and assumed major responsibilities for the organization, including taking care of financial records.
Sullivan also went on a delegation to visit a Palestinian women’s organization; when the delegation arrived in Tel Aviv the group was turned back by Israeli officials. Activists now assume that the FBI agent’s information led to the group’s interception by Israeli authorities. Karen Sullivan also joined the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, a socialist group that some of the subpoenaed activists support. As a member of these different groups, activists recall Sullivan making extreme statements and proposals; she was obviously sent by the FBI not only to gather information but to be a provocateur.
Activists from different social movements have rallied around those targeted by the government, demanding that the government end its witch hunt. The Chicago rally was attended by busloads of youth from the Palestinian and Puerto Rican communities.
Christine Boardman, the president of SEIU Local 73 and Jesse Sharkey, a vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, both spoke. Those two unions, along with dozens of other labor locals, councils, and federations, have passed resolutions condemning the FBI raids and subpoenas. Other speakers included Ricardo Jiminez, a Puerto Rican Independence activist and former political prisoner of 20 years, and Basil Ali of American Muslims for Palestine.
Simultaneous rallies were held in over 50 cities across the country—including close to 250 people in Minneapolis, 100 in San Francisco, 100 in New York City, and 50 in Louisville, Ky.
The Northland Anti-War Coalition in Duluth, Minn., sponsored a Jan. 25 event on the steps of the federal building. Those in attendance were invited to enter the Federal Building and help deliver citizen’s subpoenas to the FBI office on the third floor. The subpoenas named three federal officials, ordering them to immediately bring forth “all documents in your possession which evidence violations of citizens’ First Amendment rights to Freedom of Speech, Press, Assembly and Association, particularly pertaining to the issuance of Grand Jury subpoenas against 23 antiwar and international solidarity activists and the Sept. 24, 2010 raids of activists’ homes in Minneapolis and Chicago.”
The movement that is being built to defend the FBI victims, along with their brave refusal to testify to the grand jury, has pushed back the government’s attempt to criminalize political activity. The stakes are high in this movement, as our very right to dissent is on the line. The Committee to Stop FBI repression is planning regional organizing conferences in Chicago and San Francisco on Feb. 12; and at Judson Memorial Church on Washington Sq. in New York on Feb. 19. For more information, see Stopfbi.net.
> This article was originally published in the February 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.