I very recently 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withdrawn may be thinking that this happened as a result of the storm of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
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, very soon.
What this means is that those three will very likely be offered
immunity for anything they testify about, which in turn 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
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
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.
They are hanging tough. The rest of us better had, too. I wrote
elsewhere 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.