Solidarity against the FBI raids

October 1, 2010

An International Socialist Organization statement condemns the FBI raid that targeted activists and socialists as part of a history of government repression of the left.

THE RECENT FBI raids targeting antiwar and international solidarity activists and socialists continue a long and despicable tradition of government political repression of the left in the U.S. We stand in solidarity with those targeted in the raids and with the movement to defend their political and civil rights.

What is perhaps most ominous about the FBI raids and grand jury investigations in Minnesota, Illinois and North Carolina is that they apparently rely on a law that bars solidarity activists from providing "material support" to organizations deemed as "terrorist" by the U.S. government. In a June 2010 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower federal court's ruling and upheld the law. According to civil liberties attorney David Cole, "In the name of fighting terrorism, the Court has said that the First Amendment permits Congress to make human rights advocacy and peacemaking a crime. That is wrong."

This blatant attack on political free speech protected under the First Amendment should be of grave concern to all who value freedom of expression and political organization, and the right to dissent.

Students protest the recent FBI raids on activists' homes in Minnesota, Illinois and North Carolina
Students protest the recent FBI raids on activists' homes in Minnesota, Illinois and North Carolina

No one should be taken in by the FBI's attempt to justify this crackdown with a list of "terrorist organizations" in Colombia and Palestine that the targets of the raid supposedly supported. It should be recalled that the U.S. government once listed South Africa's African National Congress as a "terrorist" group when the left in the U.S. and internationally correctly saw that organization as a leading force in the liberation struggle against apartheid.

Indeed, the U.S. "terrorism list" is tailored to U.S. political considerations at any given time. Thus, the Islamist forces that the U.S. is fighting in Afghanistan today were, in the 1980s, the recipients of U.S. guns and money to further the American interests in the Cold War.

It is in this context that we must view the political agenda behind the FBI raids. U.S. trade unionists are being targeted for their efforts to aid their counterparts in Colombia, where murders of union activists are commonplace, with the connivance of a regime that is one of the top recipients of U.S. military aid.

Others were targeted in the raid for their efforts to build solidarity with the Palestinian people. At a time when the 1.5 million people of Gaza have been reduced to semi-starvation by Israel's U.S.-backed blockade, such solidarity efforts are more urgent than ever. By making aid to Palestine a central issue in the raids, the U.S. government is trying to intimidate activists in this country from joining the growing international movement against the blockade. The FBI raids are, in effect, an effort by the U.S. government to criminalize international humanitarian solidarity efforts.

MANY MAY find it shocking that such repression is emanating from the Democratic Party administration of Barack Obama, who made opposition to George W. Bush's encroachment on civil liberties an important part of his presidential campaign. In fact, the raids are perfectly in keeping with Obama policies. The administration has not only continued the Bush administration's violations of civil liberties, but has sought to expand them. In the wake of the FBI raids, the Obama administration announced that it will seek legal authority to "wiretap" the Internet and virtually all electronic communications.

These attacks on civil liberties are only the latest efforts by the U.S. government to intimidate and silence dissidents in complete disregard for rights supposedly protected by the U.S. Constitution.

The history of such repression includes the struggle for the eight-hour day in 1886, which resulted in the executions of four of the Haymarket martyrs; the imprisonment of Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs and members of the Industrial Workers of the World for their opposition to the First World War; the anti-socialist and anti-immigrant Palmer Raids of 1919-20, which resulted in the imprisonment and deportation of thousands of radicals; the Smith Act trial of socialists during the Second World War; the McCarthyite witch hunt of communists and socialists in the 1950s; the FBI surveillance of civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as the Socialist Workers Party in the 1960s; the lethal repression of activists in the Black Power, American Indian and Puerto Rican nationalist movements in the 1960s and 1970s; and FBI harassment of Central America solidarity activists in the 1980s.

In almost every case, the influence of socialists, communists and anarchists--or, in the anticommunist shorthand, "reds"--was used by the federal government to justify attacks on free speech. So it should come as no surprise that members of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization are the most prominent target of the latest raids. If history is any guide, the FBI and federal prosecutors believe they can drive a wedge between socialists and the wider left, including liberals, and establish a precedent for further violations of civil liberties and political repression.

This cannot be allowed to happen. Whatever political differences may exist between those targeted in raids and the rest of the left, they are irrelevant when it comes to defending our rights to express our political views and to organize. This is an attack on the entire left, and the left must respond with unity and resolve.

The outpouring of statements denouncing the raid from left-wing and antiwar groups is a heartening first step in building the defense campaign that is needed now. The task must be to turn that sentiment into a vigorous solidarity effort. The International Socialist Organization is fully committed to that project, and urges all concerned organizations and individuals to act likewise.

Further Reading

From the archives