Five years ago today the FBI raided the homes of anti-war activists across the Mid-West, as well as the offices of the Minneapolis based Antiwar Committee. The FBI deployed SWAT teams and even sent medics—no hostage negotiators were present, but they were on call. As they hauled away the personal belongings of activists, FBI agents asked them about their membership in political organizations, including socialist ones, and if they could provide them names of other members. The use of the FBI to raid the homes of antiwar activists hunting for socialists is eerily reminiscent of the Palmer Raids. The questions about membership in First Amendment protected associations and the demand that people “name names” of others with similar political affiliations is reminiscent of the era of the House Un-American Activity Committee. Yet, these events did not occur in a distant era. They happened in Barack Obama’s America.
Other than playing the role of America’s political police what was the FBI doing sending swat teams, medics, and having hostage negotiators on call in order to the raid the homes of political activists? Officially, the FBI was investigating “material support for” the designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and FARC. The FBI plot began when an undercover agent going by the name of Karen Sullivan became involved in organizing protests against the Republican National Convention. After the convention was over, the FBI agent continued to immerse herself in the local activist scene—participating in nearly every local demonstration on a range of causes. Eventually, she ended up becoming a member of the “Freedom Road Socialist Organization.” During her time in the Freedom Road Socialist Organization Sullivan and the FBI concocted a story that her father had died and left her $1,000 in cash that he really wanted to go to the PFLP. According to the affidavit supplied by the FBI to get a warrant for the raid, she than approached various people about getting this $1,000 to the PFLP. At one point she finally gave the money to an unidentified man. If the money really was going to support terrorism—as the FBI would want us to believe—it is unclear why the FBI was apparently unconcerned that its undercover operative had given $1,000 to the PFLP.
To date no one has been charged with material support for terrorism. Twenty-eight individuals were subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. They all refused to do so. The FBI’s attempt to snag activists on material support for terrorism failed, however they did succeed in bringing charges for two others on seemingly unrelated charges. The first charges stemming from the FBI’s raid were brought against Carlos Montes. While the FBI was investigating Carlos it discovered two things—that he had a registered firearm and was convicted in 1969 of throwing a soda can at police officer during a civil rights protest. Carlos was than charged with illegal possession of a firearm and arrested by the local police. The FBI and local police conducted yet another SWAT team raid and arrested Carlos, but they were not there to discuss soda cans. Instead, they repeatedly asked Carlos about the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. Carlos eventually agreed to plead “no contest” to perjury in exchange for the serious felony charges (which carried lengthy prison sentences) being dropped. The second set of charges were brought against Rasmea Odeh. Rasmea was not caught up in the original raid, but it is believed that her prosecution was related to the initial investigation. Rasmea is a Palestinian-American who was highly active in her local community with the Arab American Action Network. She is also a torture survivor. In 1969, the Israeli military arrested, tortured (including sexual assault) Rasmea for 41 days before she was coerced into confessing to a fatal bombing. As part of her confession, her captors took her to the supermarket where one of the bombings took place and asked her to show them where she placed the explosives. She had no idea, as she had nothing to do with the bombing. She asked her interrogators where she put the explosives, they told her where, and she then pointed to the place as part of her “confession.” She was sentenced to life in prison both for the bombings and for belonging to an illegal organization (the PFLP). Rasmea spent ten years in jail before she was released as part of an Israeli prisoner swap. In 1994 she moved to the United States and in 2004 she became a United States citizen. During the 2010 Mid-West FBI raids the home of her co-worker, Hatem Abudayyeh, was raided. It was through the investigation of Hatem that it is believed the FBI first set its sights on Rasmea. The FBI discovered that when applying for citizenship she reported that she had never been arrested. Since she was arrested and tortured by the Israeli military the US government claimed that she had lied on the form The US government did not have to do much investigating to discover Rasmea’s arrest by the Israeli military. At no point in her life has Rasmea ever hidden it. She testified before the UN about the torture she endured at the hands of the Israeli military. The very same year she applied for citizenship she recounted her torture as part of a documentary film. The jury that convicted Rasmea for immigration fraud heard none of this. Even though the judge allowed the prosecution to submit Israeli military documents as evidence against Rasmea, it refused to allow her to present evidence about the fact that Rasmea was tortured or allow an expert in post traumatic stress disorder to testify. The prosecutor later warned that “A light sentence in this case would be a signal to anyone who has fought overseas for ISIS or a similar organization that there is not much risk in coming to the United States, hiding one’s past and seeking citizenship.” After her trial, the jury asked to meet with the prosecutor, but declined to meet with the defense. The judge, who claimed he usually did not comment on verdicts, felt the need to state that Rasmea’s conviction was a “just verdict.”
Rasmea was sentenced to 18 months in prison, loss of her citizenship, and deportation. She is appealing this conviction and on October 14 supporters will rally in Cincinnati where an appeal in her case is being heard. Five years later the FBI raids are still relevant. The witchhunt that began then continues with the unjust politically motivated prosecution of torture survivor Rasmea Odeh. There are also serious questions about the conduct of the FBI. While the FBI would have us believe they were conducting a major terrorism investigation, their two and half year investigation began when their undercover agent first infiltrated groups protesting the Republican National Convention and than progressive groups more broadly. In addition to Karen Sullivan, the FBI deployed another undercover agent to pose as her life partner. The FBI dedicated two undercover agents and two and half years of its time to infiltrating leftwing groups. Without probable cause that a crime is being committed the FBI should not be allowed to infiltrate political organizations engaged in First Amendment protected activity. Since its inception though, the FBI has a history of spying on groups and individuals solely for their political beliefs. This investigation involved a bizarre entrapment attempt (the $1,000 in cash that the FBI would like us to believe they gave to the PFLP) and a fishing expedition that resulted in unrelated indictments against Carlos and Rasmea, but it began with blatant political spying.
Photo: Protest in front of FBI building on the 2nd anniversary of the raids. Used with permission of the photographer, Chris Clark. See his work here: http://www.continuouscontrol.com/