Weeks after the FBI raided their home, two Chicago activists, Stephanie Weiner and Joe Iosbaker, stood before a crowd of about 150 Chicagoans gathered outside the Dirksen Federal Building and announced during a press conference that they and twelve others who were subpoenaed have no intention to go before any grand juries and participate in a “fishing expedition.”
Weiner read a statement on behalf of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, a coalition formed in response to the FBI raids on activists in Chicago and Minneapolis. She recounted, “On September 24, the FBI raided the homes of anti-war and international solidarity activists and delivered grand jury subpoenas to activists across the country. The subpoenas claim that the grand jury is investigating violations of the 1996 law on the issue of “material support” of “designated foreign terrorist organizations.”
Weiner, Iosbaker and three other activists were called to testify before a grand jury on October 5. He shared that he was outside the Federal Building at a press conference and not inside giving testimony to a grand jury, as he and Weiner had been scheduled to do, because they were given a postponement until October 19. Three others submitted letters invoking their Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
Iosbaker reported, “Nine others who have dates scheduled for later this month have also submitted letters invoking their right not to testify.” And declared, “Today, we are here to state to the press that we too have nothing to say to a grand jury.”
The fourteen activists have not been charged with anything. That is why they were called before a grand jury—so the government could find information they could possibly use to press charges.
Attics and other parts of activists’ homes were searched, property was seized, but none of the activists at the press conference spoke as individuals charged with committing any crimes.
Weiner explained to the crowd and press, “One does not even need to be opposed to U.S. foreign policy to recognize that the government is working here to establish a dangerous precedent in targeting us. This case endangers the right of every person in the U.S. to organize for and express their views.”
The statement appeared to encapsulate the reason for the outpouring of support and solidarity the activists have been experiencing. Reverend Dan Dale, senior pastor of United Church of Christ, read an interfaith statement by the Faith-Based Alliance of over thirty Muslim, Jewish and Christian organizations and over eighty religious leaders and clergy.
“We are people of faith and conscience who condemn the recent FBI raids in Chicago as a violation of the constitutional rights of the people in organizations raided. They are a dangerous step to further criminalize dissent,” declared Dale. “The FBI raids chisel and bypass fundamental constitutional rights by hauling activists before grand juries under the guise of national security. An overly broad definition of “material support for terrorism’ in the June 2010 Supreme Court ruling concerns us as people of faith who continue to actively engage in humanitarian work and peacemaking.”
Anne Sullivan, an individual who had been involved in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, and Miryam Rashid from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization of people of various faiths committed to social justice, peace, and humanitarian service both expressed solidarity with the subpoenaed activists. Sullivan reminded people of how Nelson Mandela and the ANC (which Mandela was part of) had been regarded as a “terrorist” organization by the U.S. government at one point. And, Rashid told the crowd and press:
“The AFSC has worked for over 90 years to end the wars and to help give voice to the most vulnerable members of society. This is not the first time that our government has come after Palestinians and the progressive community in Chicago. Recently, the target was Muhamma Salah and it was intended to make Palestinians afraid of helping their families who are struggling for civil rights and equality in Palestine. Now the target is Hatem Abudayyeh, a father and a friend to many of us and to many members of the progressive community in Chicago.”
Weiner additionally shared how those targeted “have been very involved in the anti-war and international solidarity movements for many years” and “all worked together to organize an anti-war protest attended by tens of thousands at the Republican National Convention in 2008.” Some even “traveled to other countries to understand [the U.S.] government’s role in places like Palestine and Colombia.”
The Committee’s statement outlined the United States government’s history of using grand juries as tools of repression:
The grand jury has been used as a tool of political repression against many movements for social change in this country. From the pre-civil war abolitionist movement to the Civil Rights movements, the movement against the war in Vietnam, the American Indian Movement, the Central America solidarity movement, the Puerto Rican Independence movement, animal rights and environmental movements, there have been many targets of political repression and grand jury inquisition.
In fact, on GreenistheNewRed.com, Will Potter has written regularly about the ongoing criminalization of environmental activism in America. Recent revelations on FBI surveillance of the Thomas Merton Center in Pennsylvania, which the FBI engaged in to connect antiwar activism to terrorism, is another indication of FBI involvement in the suppression of dissent. Finally, all one has to do is look at drafted legislation that was put together years ago (but didn’t pass) the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Act to see how government has been growing increasingly interested in obstructing dissent and activism.
Jim Fennerty, a lawyer representing activists subpoenaed, mentioned the government has, in connection to this case, been asking for “documents on how people are indoctrinated. You know, it’s amazing.” He urged those present to call their congressman and express support for a new Church Committee to be formed to look into routine violations of civil liberties by agencies like the FBI in this country.
Despite the government’s history of political repression of activists, those subjected to raids displayed a sense of empowerment. The knowledge that over 60 demonstrations were held across the country in the past weeks to show solidarity gave them hope that the people will be there to help them through this injustice. It also gave them hope that there will be a groundswell of activism aimed at re-asserting the people’s right to fundamental civil liberties in America.
As Iosbaker said, “I think the government never expected that thousands of people would speak up against repression after their home raids and subpoenas. I think that they are very surprised.”
Stephanie added, “The American people do not want laws that can be rolled out on a whim with no lawyer there, with no judge, and no charges. The American people don’t want America to go there. That’s what this is about.”
On Monday, Minneapolis activists protested and declared that they would not be traveling to Chicago to testify before the same grand jury Chicago activists have been called to testify before either. TheUptake.org has coverage of the activists targeted in Minneapolis.
*Here is video of the statement raided activist Stephanie Weiner read at the press conference: