Obama DOJ’s War on Free Speech and Activism
A few days ago, rallies were held in cities all over the United States in support of veteran Chicano activist Carlos Montes, who had his home raided by the FBI on May 17. The rallies coincided with Montes’ arraignment hearing for felony charges, which were filed against him by the LA County Sheriffs and FBI after the raid.
The target of an ever-expanding government investigation into antiwar and international solidarity activists, Montes demanded that his charges be dropped. The District Attorney denied his request. Montes asked to see the search warrant and police report on the raid of his home. The District Attorney initially refused the request but then agreed to release heavily edited versions of the documents. Montes was also told he would not be allowed to show the documents to the press.
Tom Burke, a spokesperson for the Committee to Stop FBI Repression and a subpoenaed activist, explains that Montes allegedly was found to be in possession of a weapon that was not properly registered. Burke believes that if Montes hadn’t been a political activist or organizer he would have been contacted about a problem on the gun permit. But, the LA sheriffs chose to make an example of Montes.
Burke also notes, like twenty-three other activists subpoenaed thus far, Montes has a link to the organizing of marches at the 2008 Republican National Convention.
The FBI raided the Antiwar Committee office in the Twin Cities in Minnesota in September 2010. On the warrant for the raid there were seventeen names. Burke says Carlos Montes’ name appears on the warrant.
When Montes’ home was raided by the FBI & SWAT team, they smashed Montes’ front door, rushed in with automatic weapons while Montes was sleeping and proceeded to ransack his home, “taking his computer, cell phones and hundreds of documents, photos, diskettes and mementos of his current political activities in the pro-immigrant rights and Chicano civil rights movement.” They did this at 5 am in the morning.
“For people who have had their homes raided, it’s worse than being robbed because it’s the government coming in and taking the things that are nearest and dearest to you – your own writing, your own diary,” says Burke.
Rallies in eighteen cities were held in support of Montes and against ongoing FBI repression of activists. And because the judge did not drop the felony charges against Montes, another round of rallies will be held July 7 to again call for the charges to be dropped.
Recent articles in news publications like the Washington Post has given the repression against activists greater attention. At the Netroots Nation 2011 conference, a member of the audience asked at a panel session titled, “What the Government Wants to Know About You,” if he could get more information on what he read on the recently published Post article.
Marcy Wheeler of Firedoglake, one of the speakers on the panel, described to the audience how the activists are alleged to be “material supporters of terrorism.” She outlined how the grand jury investigation has been opened and recounted how an informant infiltrated the Antiwar Committee. She noted the activists are alleged to have connections to groups in Palestine and Colombia that perhaps have engaged in terrorist activities but concluded, “Chiquita has far closer ties to terrorism than any peace activists but nobody from Chiquita has gone to jail.”
Essentially, the FBI now has all this data and is able to use it to start investigations. The FBI can turn over any rock that they want to turn over and they can seek out whatever they want to find and piece together a case.
With the FBI moving to expand surveillance powers, it is cases like this investigation into activists that the new powers will effectively make legitimate.
Burke reacts to the news that the FBI is claiming new powers, “The FBI has been violating their own guidelines and their own standard operating procedures and instead of saying we violated what we set out ourselves, they decided to expand what they were allowed to do.
Why does the government want these new powers? Why does the Justice Department under Obama support a growing investigation into activists?
Burke suggests with the economy getting worse the American people are getting more frustrated, with the Congress’ approval rating getting lower and lower, the war in Afghanistan failing, stability in Iraq not being maintained and troops not being sent home, the Colombia war stagnating with no defeat of the insurgency—This “cumulation” is leading to more state repression against those fighting for change in the system.
The war on free speech and activism is apparent here at Netroots Nation as people like Lt. Dan Choi and Tim DeChristopher speak on panels and as individuals like David House are discussed during panel sessions.
Lt. Dan Choi, a soldier and gay rights advocate who engaged in an act of civil disobedience at the White House fence last year to push the Obama Administration to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” is facing federal charges for exercising his right to demonstrate. While most people receive misdemeanors for protesting, for the first time since 1917, the Department of Justice under Obama is taking him to trial this August for speaking out.
Tim DeChristopher, a climate activist who placed fake bids in a public land auction to disrupt drilling by energy companies, has been convicted of a crime. Although the land auction was ultimately declared illegal, the Obama Administration has gone ahead and pursued a case against DeChristopher. The prosecution pushed the jury in his trial to not consider his conscience but rather that he broke a law. They nudged the jury to obfuscate facts and, in fact, many key details on the auction were kept from the jury. And so, DeChristopher now faces up to ten years in prison.
And, David House, co-founder of the Bradley Manning Support Network, has been embroiled in a grand jury investigation that seeks to embroil him in espionage charges for being linked to WikiLeaks. House has been targeted consistently by the government for the past months. His lawful association with the Bradley Manning Support Network, which was created to raise funds for the legal defense of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower to WikiLeaks now being held at Ft. Leavenworth, has led the Department of Homeland Security stop him at airports and seize his laptop, camera and USB drive.
What is at stake with the targeting of activists is an American’s right to protest against the government and sometimes take bold action that could be regarded as adversarial. Those who believe in free speech and support a person’s right to protest must not ignore the cases the Department of Justice is pursuing against individuals in this country, who are being made examples to send a message to others that if they draw inspiration and display courage in the face of power they too might face the same punishment or harassment as these people.
*For video of Montes speaking at the rally on June 16, go here.