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FBI Targets Black Liberation Activists, Claims Russia Used Them As Pawns To Spread Propaganda 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States raided the offices and homes of members of the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP) and the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement.

At 5 am in the morning on July 29, FBI agents in St. Louis, Missouri, targeted the Uhuru Solidarity Center and the homes of 80 year-old APSP founder Omali Yeshitela and the African People’s Solidarity Committee chair Penny Hess. FBI agents simultaneously busted into the Uhuru House and the group’s radio station Black Power 96.3 LFM in St. Petersburg, Florida.

FBI agents told Yeshitela, the founder of the APSP, that they raided his home in north St. Louis because they had indicted a Russian national named Aleksandr Ionov.

Ionov is a Moscow resident who the U.S. Justice Department claims engaged in a campaign to “influence” U.S. political groups and “interfere” in US elections. He founded a group called the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia that hosted international solidarity conferences, which Yeshitela attended.

No one allegedly connected to Ionov was charged with a crime nor were they issued a grand jury subpoena.

Members of the Uhuru Movement and various leaders of other solidarity groups condemned the FBI raids as a continuation of the history of attacks on Black activists, like Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, and Marcus Garvey, which were part of COINTELPRO under FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

Armed FBI Agents Deploy A Drone And Flash-Bang Grenades

Uhuru is the Swahili word for freedom or independence, and the Uhuru Movement was founded 50 years ago to complete the Black revolution of the 1960s. Its organizers are involved in the global struggle against white colonialism in the US that goes back centuries. They engage in campaigns for reparations for slavery and education and community development in areas impacted by structural racism. 

As Yeshitela recalled, he was in his home with his wife and organizer Ona Yeshitela, when FBI agents alerted them to their presence with a loudspeaker. They were instructed to come out of their home with their hands up and nothing in their hands.

While talking through the loudspeaker, FBI agents set off flash-bang grenades in the neighborhood. They broke a window to the basement.

Omari led the way down the stairs with his wife following him, and as Ona shared, “This big ol’ drone met me coming down the stairs, like it’s going to attack me.”

“When I get outside, what I see is that there was an armored vehicle in front of the house. There are combat-clad FBI agents all over the place carrying automatic weapons. They not only are in front of the house. They are occupying the porch and the yard of the neighbors next door. And this is a really poor and economically depressed community what we live in,” Omari said.

FBI agents handcuffed and detained Omari and Ona. Both were instructed to sit on a curb, but they refused.

Omari was then told that they apparently had a search warrant related to the indictment of a Russian national and somehow his name and his wife’s name were linked to this person. But FBI agents would not show him a search warrant.

It became clear to Omari that the FBI agents did not intend to arrest him, and this was all a “big show” for those in the community who were watching.

Ransacking The Uhuru House And The Group’s Solidarity Center

Omari told the press the FBI agents seized their cellphones and took all of their devices, computers, and other electronics in their home. They also put tape over a doorbell security camera so his neighbors would not have footage of the raid. 

FBI agents used a battering ram to bust down the door of the Uhuru House, which is the movement’s office in St. Petersburg, and Omari claimed a 40-year archive on the movement was seized by agents.

A report from the Associated Press indicated, “Akile Anai, who describes herself as director of agitation and propaganda for the African People’s Socialist Party, said agents searched her car and took her cellphone and laptop computer on Friday in addition to raiding the Uhuru House.”

The African People’s Solidarity Committee operates out of the solidarity center in south St. Louis. It is the white arm of the Uhuru Movement that goes “behind enemy lines” to enlist support for black liberation in white communities. They have organized for decades.

“[The FBI] took a battering ram. They also had drones,” when they raided the solidarity center and an apartment above the center, according to Penny Hess, the white chair of the African People’s Solidarity Committee.

Jesse Nevelsky is the white national chair of the Uhuru Movement, and he lives with his partner in the apartment above the solidarity center. He said local and county police helped the FBI conduct the raid. 

The FBI put Nevelsky and his partner, who also works for the organization, in handcuffs and moved them out of the building while six or seven FBI agents pointed assault rifles at them.

“Then they took five and a half to six hours to ransack both the solidarity center and the apartment upstairs and took computers, cellphones, hard drives, files, notebooks, and a whole long list of things,” Nevelsky shared. 

‘All The Makings Of A Witch Hunt’

On September 24, 2010, the FBI raided the homes of 23 antiwar, labor, and international solidarity activists in Chicago, Minneapolis, and other parts of the Midwest. They were issued grand jury subpoenas and informed they were under investigation for “materially supporting” foreign terrorist organizations.

The FBI targeted the activists for their solidarity work with organizers in Colombia and Palestine. They later learned an undercover FBI agent infiltrated their group and attempted to entrap them. None were ever charged with any crimes.

Like the raids against the Uhuru Movement, FBI agents seized notebooks, family photos, membership lists for antiwar groups, and other political documents.

The activists formed the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, and along with the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression in Chicago, they put out a statement condemning the latest FBI raids.

“We oppose all efforts by the U.S. government to target activists in any progressive movement in this country. We call for an end to investigations, political harassment, and threats against activists and our movements,” the groups declared

“The DOJ is alleging that those raided collaborated with a ‘Russian asset’ to spread ‘Russian propaganda.’ At a time when the US is engaged in an imperialist proxy war with Russia in the Ukraine, these raids have all the makings of a witch hunt.”

The Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) also put out a statement against the FBI’s “repression and intimidation tactics.”

“BAP believes that these raids continue the history of state repression directed against Black people in the U.S.,” the group asserted. “This repression now occurs under the guise of opposing ‘adversary’ nations but regardless of how these actions are characterized, Black people still bear the brunt of surveillance and police violence.”

“The APSP has the right to freely associate with people around the world, to hold any political beliefs it may choose, and to express them without fear of intimidation, persecution, or prosecution,” BAP proclaimed.

US Justice Department Alleges Russian National ‘Directed’ Uhuru Movement

APSP founder Omari Yeshitela attended a conference hosted by Aleksandr Ionov’s organization on September 20, 2015, that was called “A Dialogue of Nations: the Right to Self-Determination and the Construction of a Multipolar World.”

Yeshitela and other Uhuru Movement members are labeled as “unindicted co-conspirators” in the indictment against Ionov. Particularly, it accuses Yeshitela of entering into a partnership with Ionov while knowing he was an agent of the Russian government.

One of the other “unindicted co-conspirators” in the indictment is Louis J. Marinelli, who was the founder of CalExit, a right-wing campaign in the style of Brexit that called for California to secede from the United States.

Marinelli, who is white, was previously linked to the Russian government in US news media reports, but the FBI did not raid Marinelli’s home or the homes of any individuals linked to the secession campaign.

The indictment maintains that Ionov worked with FSB or Russian intelligence officers to “use members of U.S. political groups as foreign agents of Russia within the United States.” He allegedly “recruited members of various political groups within the United States and other countries, including Ukraine, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, to attend conferences in Russia.” 

“The purpose of the conferences was to encourage the participating groups to advocate for separating from their home countries,” the indictment further contends. “At these conferences, Ionov entered into partnership with some of the U.S. separatist groups, including groups from Florida and California.”

“Thereafter, Ionov exercised direction or control over these groups on behalf of the FSB. Ionov also monitored and regularly reported on their activities to the FSB.”

But Yeshitela repeatedly stated that he had not received any Russian money, and Ionov never “influenced” the agenda of the Uhuru Movement. “We’re 50 years old. The Russians didn’t create us.”

Kalambayi Andenet, who is the international president of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, was even more pointed in her statement. “Don’t insult our intelligence by saying Russia, China, or anyone will lead the African working class to liberation. The African working class will lead our own struggle.” 

Earlier this year, after Russia deployed its military forces and launched attacks in Ukraine, Yeshitela said he participated in a webinar with Ionov that was titled, “Ain’t No Russian Ever Called Me A Ni**er.”

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."