[Ppnews] Activists cry foul over FBI probe

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jun 14 10:45:55 EDT 2011

Activists cry foul over FBI probe

By Peter Wallsten, Published: June 13


CHICAGO ­ FBI agents took box after box of 
address books, family calendars, artwork and 
personal letters in their 10-hour raid in 
September of the century-old house shared by Stephanie Weiner and her husband.

The agents seemed keenly interested in Weiner’s 
home-based business, the Revolutionary Lemonade 
Stand, which sells silkscreened infant bodysuits 
and other clothes with socialist slogans, phrases 
like “Help Wanted: Revolutionaries.”

The search was part of a mysterious, ongoing 
nationwide terrorism investigation with an 
unusual target: prominent peace activists and 
politically active labor organizers.

The probe ­ involving subpoenas to 23 people and 
raids of seven homes last fall ­ has triggered a 
high-powered protest against the Department of 
Justice and, in the process, could create some 
political discomfort for President Obama with his 
union supporters as he gears up for his reelection campaign.

The apparent targets are concentrated in the 
Midwest, including Chicagoans who crossed paths 
with Obama when he was a young state senator and 
some who have been active in labor unions that supported his political rise.

Investigators, according to search warrants, 
documents and interviews, are examining possible 
“material support” for Colombian and Palestinian 
groups designated by the U.S. government as terrorists.

The apparent targets, all vocal and visible 
critics of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East 
and South America, deny any ties to terrorism. 
They say the government, using its post-9/11 
focus on terrorism as a pretext, is targeting them for their political views.

They are “public non-violent activists with long, 
distinguished careers in public service, 
including teachers, union organizers and antiwar 
and community leaders,” said Michael Deutsch, a 
Chicago lawyer and part of a legal team defending 
those who believe they are being targeted by the investigation.

Several activists and their lawyers said they 
believe indictments could come anytime, so they 
have turned their organizing skills toward a 
counteroffensive, decrying the inquiry as a 
threat to their First Amendment rights.

Those who have been subpoenaed, most of them 
non-Muslim, include clerical workers, educators 
and in one case a stay-at-home dad. Some are 
lesbian couples with young children ­ a point 
apparently noted by investigators, who 
infiltrated the activists’ circle with an 
undercover officer presenting herself as a lesbian mother.

All 23 of the activists invoked their right not 
to testify before a grand jury, defying U.S. 
Fitzgerald, whose office is spearheading the investigation.

A spokesman for Fitzgerald, the Chicago 
prosecutor whose past work has sometimes riled 
both political parties, declined to comment.

It is uncertain whether Obama is aware of the 
investigation. A White House official referred 
questions to the Justice Department, where 
spokesman Matthew Miller said the agency will not 
comment on an investigation, but he disputed any 
assertion that people would be targeted for political activities.

“Whenever we open an investigation, it is solely 
because we have a reason to do so based on the 
facts, evidence and the law,”Miller said.

The activists have formed the Committee to Stop 
FBI Repression, organized phone banks to flood 
Attorney General 
H. Holder Jr.’s office and the White House with 
protest calls, solicited letters from labor 
unions and faith-based groups and sent 
delegations to Capitol Hill to gin up support from lawmakers.

Labor backers include local and statewide 
affiliates representing the Service Employees 
International Union and the American Federation 
of State, County and Municipal Employees, two of 
the most influential unions in the liberal 
movement. So far, nine members of Congress have 
written letters to the administration asking questions.

The major national labor organizations have not 
gotten involved in the case and are considered 
likely to support Obama’s reelection next year.

But some state and local union organizations are 
expressing alarm about the case, saying that the 
government appears to be scrutinizing efforts by 
workers to build ties with trade unionists in other countries.

“I am so disgusted when I see that so many union 
people have been targeted in this,” said Phyllis 
Walker, president of AFSCME Local 3800, which 
represents clerical workers at the University of 
Minnesota, including four members who are possible targets.

The union’s statewide group, which says it 
represents 46,000 workers, called on Obama to 
investigate and passed a resolution expressing 
“grave concern” about the raids. Similar 
resolutions have been approved by statewide 
AFSCME and SEIU affiliates in Illinois.

If there are indictments, the case could test a 
Court ruling that found the ban on material 
support for designated foreign terrorist groups 
does not necessarily violate the First Amendment 
­ even if the aid was intended for peaceful or 
humanitarian uses. The ruling held that any type 
of support could ultimately help a terrorist group’s pursuit of violence.

The probe appears to date from 2008, as a number 
of activists began planning for massive antiwar 
demonstrations at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

After the convention, the FBI’s interest 
continued, apparently focused on the 
international work pursued by many of the 
participants. Several activists said they had 
traveled to Colombia or the Palestinian 
territories on “fact-finding” trips designed to 
bolster their case back home against U.S. 
military support for the Israeli and Colombian governments.

In 2009, a group raised money to travel and 
deliver about $1,000 to a Palestinian women’s 
group, but the delegation was turned back by 
officials at the airport in Israel, organizers said.

Search warrants, subpoenas and documents show 
that the FBI has been interested in links between 
the activists and the Revolutionary Armed Forces 
of Colombia (FARC), the Popular Front for the 
Liberation of Palestine and Hezbollah.

In the early morning of Sept. 24, 2010, agents 
raided homes in Chicago and Minneapolis, issued 
subpoenas to 14 activists, and tried to question 
others around the country, including prominent 
antiwar organizers in North Carolina and California.

At 7 a.m., according to documents and interviews, 
about a dozen armed federal agents used a 
battering ram to force their way into Mick 
Kelly’s second-floor apartment, which sits over 
an all-night coffee shop in a working-class neighborhood of Minneapolis.

Kelly, 53, a cook in a University of Minnesota 
dormitory and a member of the Teamsters, said he 
was at work and his nightgown-clad wife, Linden 
Gawboy, was slow to answer the door.

Apparently by accident, the agents left something 
behind: a packet of secret documents headlined 
“Operation Order,” laying out detailed 
instructions for the FBI SWAT team to find clues 
of Kelly’s activism, including personal finances 
or those of the Freedom Road Socialist 
Organization, a far-left group he works with. The 
documents point to the FBI’s interest in Kelly’s foreign travel.

“We’ve done absolutely nothing wrong,” Kelly 
said. “We don’t know what this is about, but we 
know that our rights to organize and speak out are being violated.”

In Chicago, the raid at the home of Weiner, 49, 
also targeted her husband, Joe Iosbaker, 52, a 
University of Illinois-Chicago office worker and 
a union steward for his SEIU local. The couple 
are among the grassroots activists close to the 
world once inhabited by Barack Obama who have 
been caught up in the investigation.

Like others, Weiner and Iosbacker have been 
fixtures on the local liberal political scene, 
protesting police actions, attending antiwar 
rallies, leading pay equity fights and even doing 
some volunteer work for Obama’s past campaigns.

Tom Burke, who received a subpoena Sept. 24, had 
in 2004 discussed the plight of murdered 
Colombian trade unionists with then-state senator Obama.

“He was a sympathetic ear,” Burke said, recalling 
that Obama told him the murders were a “human rights problem.”

Hatem Abudayyeh, one of seven Palestinians to be 
subpoenaed in the investigation, recalls 
encountering Obama in the community during his 
years as a state legislator. Abudayyeh, 40, is 
executive director of the Arab American Action 
Network, a Chicago advocacy group that hosted 
then-state senator Obama for at least two events.

The role of the undercover officer, which defense 
lawyers said was confirmed in their talks with 
prosecutors, became clear in the weeks following 
the raids. She had joined a Minneapolis antiwar 
group, then joined demonstrations at the School 
of the Americas military training site in Fort 
Benning, Georgia, and at one point flying with a 
group to Israel on the trip that was thwarted at the airport.

“They were smart sending a 40-year-old lesbian,” 
said Meredith Aby, 38, a high school civics 
teacher and longtime organizer. “A good match,” 
added Jess Sundin, a university clerical worker.

Aby and Sundin, whose homes were raided and who 
received subpoenas, had helped lead a group 
called the Anti-War Committee that had 
coordinated with antiwar activists across the 
country to plan the demonstrations at the Republican convention.

Civil libertarians and other critics say the 
investigation fits a pattern for the FBI, 
pointing to a Justice Department 
general’s report ­ issued three days before the 
raids ­ chiding the agency for monitoring the 
domestic political activities of Greenpeace, 
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and 
other groups in the name of combating terrorism.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a member of the 
House Intelligence Committee and a close Obama 
ally, wrote Holder in April conveying the 
activists’ concerns that the probe was infringing on their rights.

“Clearly we need to have a bright line where 
people can exercise their civil rights, their 
civil liberties, to peacefully protest,” Schakowsky said in an interview.

Holder experienced the activists’ anger first 
hand last month, when Tracy Molm, 30, an AFSCME 
organizer whose apartment was raided, stood to 
interrupt a speech he was giving at the 
University of Minnesota. Holder, unaware that she 
was a possible investigation target, agreed to meet with her after the speech.

In a small room off the auditorium, with the 
attorney general flanked by aides and security, 
Molm demanded to know why the administration was 
pursuing the inquiry, she recalled later in an interview.

“He said they had a predicate for the 
investigation,” Molm said. “I said, ‘The predicates after 9/11 are nothing.’”

“We’re going to have to agree to disagree,” Holder replied, according to Molm.

At that point, Molm revealed that her apartment 
had been raided as part of the investigation. 
Holder and Justice Department officials abruptly ended the discussion.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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