Activists call FBI raids massive “fishing expedition”

PowerandIosbaker

CHICAGO - Antiwar and solidarity activists filled the West Town Community Law Office here of Melinda Power, Saturday, Sept. 25, to show support for Joe Iosbaker and Stephanie Weiner whose house was raided by the FBI on Friday.

Clapping and chanting, the activists whole-heartedly supported statements made to the media condemning the raids as a crackdown on the entire peace and solidarity community.

The FBI raided six homes of activists in Minneapolis and two in Chicago "seeking evidence" that the activists gave "material aid" to organizations on the U.S. government's terrorist list.

There were no arrests, but grand jury subpoenas were issued to some, including the Chicagoans. The FBI questioned people in Michigan and North Carolina as part of the sweep.

Along with Iosbaker and Weiner's home, the FBI raided the home of Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network. The Chicago Tribune reports that Thomas Burke also was served a subpoena that requested records of any payments to Abudayyeh or the AAAN.

Power, who is representing Iosbaker and Weiner, told the media it was "harassment and intimidation" that sent a message to the public: "Don't dare challenge the U.S. government!"

Power said the subpoena demands documents "with no time limits" that would detail "people's entire political history."

Iosbaker and Weiner, married and parents of two, are longtime social justice activists and well-known in the antiwar movement.

Power said 20 FBI agents came to the couple's door as they were getting ready for work. "They took 30 boxes of mostly personal belongings. I saw baby cards and postcards from old girlfriends." The FBI took papers going all the way back to the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

"We have done nothing wrong!" a visibly-moved Iosbaker told the media. "We are targeted because of our opposition to criminal wars."

Iosbaker also said they oppose U.S. aid to Israel and Colombia. "They are the two largest recipients of aid and they are brutal governments."

Iosbaker said the FBI took their cell phones, their children's artwork and poetry.

"We won't be intimidated!" he said.

Others called the raids a massive "fishing expedition."

In a statement issued on behalf of the activists, Minneapolis-based supporter Steff Yorek said the raids on homes of the antiwar, socialist or pro-Palestinian groups are "an outrageous fishing expedition."

"Activists have the right not to speak with the FBI and are encouraged to politely refuse," she said.

The FBI has a long and sordid history of cracking down on dissenters, spying on and infiltrating left-wing political groups, peace and civil rights movements.

Just days before the Midwestern raids, the Justice Department's Inspector General issued a report on the FBI spying of peace groups from 2001-2006.

The IG report, "clearly shows that the FBI was improperly spying on people's First Amendment-protected activity, and that the FBI didn't have enough internal controls to prevent abuse,'' according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Chicago's major TV and radio news stations were at the quickly-called press conference, along with alternative news sources. Representatives from Students for a Democratic Society, Palestine Solidarity Group, 8th Day Center For Justice, National Boricua Human Rights Network and a United Methodist minister all gave solidarity statements.

Some of the FBI-targeted activists are members of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, which is a different organization than the similarly-named Freedom Road Socialist Organization/Organización Socialista del Camino para la Libertad.

Civil liberties advocates have expressed deep concern about the government's broad and vague definition of "material aid." In a 6-3 ruling in June, the Supreme Court upheld the government's ban on material aid, which can include help not directly connected to terrorism or violent acts.

In his June 24 article, "Supreme Court ruling seen as threat to Bill of Rights," Emile Schepers writes that the decision means:

"Even if U.S. persons thought their advice was helping to turn a designated foreign terrorist organization toward peaceful means of attaining its ends, that is, away from terrorism, this would be considered illegal."

According to the decision, this could include legal advice - or even editing or translating statements made by organizations on the government's terrorist list.

The material aid ban and list of foreign terrorist organizations were created by the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. The government broadened by the material aid definition - and list of terrorist organizations -in the 2001 Patriot Act, passed by Congress immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Schepers points out that the definition of terrorist organization is deeply political. For example, organizations that have planned and executed attacks on Cuba are not included on the U.S. government's list. And during apartheid in South Africa, the now-ruling African National Congress was deemed a terrorist organization by the Reagan-Bush administrations.

Speakers invited the public to a protest on Monday, Sept. 27, outside the FBI office in Chicago at 4:30 p.m.

Photo:  Joe Iosbaker makes a statement to the press with lawyer Melinda Power, left. (John Bachtell/PW)