Marking Martin Luther King’s birthday by recalling the FBI’s surveillance and harassment of the civil rights leader, local students will deliver a “people’s subpoena” to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald tomorrow morning, calling for an end to a federal investigation of antiwar activists in Chicago and Minneapolis.
“Fitzgerald is leading the outrageous political witchhunt against antiwar activists, international solidarity activists, and Palestinian-Americans, in an attempt to intimidate and criminalize those who speak out against U.S. foreign policy,” said Chapin Gray of the UIC chapter of Students for a Democratic Society.
Members of local SDS chapters, Students for Justice in Palestine at DePaul and UIC, and others will deliver the subpoena at the Dirksen Federal Building on Friday, January 14 at 9 a.m.
Three DePaul students who are active in Students for Justice in Palestine are among nine activists, most of them Palestinian-Americans, who have been subpoened to appear before a grand jury in Chicago on January 25. One of them, Sarah Smith, will speak on Sunday (January 16, 2 p.m.) at Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington, on the topic, “Can Travel Be Criminal?”
The three students traveled to Israel and Palestine last summer; a statement from Smith is posted on the website of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression.
The new subpoenas are on top of 14 issued in September (see previous post for background) when activists’ homes were raided in Chicago, Minneapolis and elsewhere.
Details of investigation
The students’ “street theater” subpoenaing of Fitzgerald comes two days after a press conference in Minneapolis where subpoenaed activists revealed they’ve learned “in conversations with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago” that a law enforcement agent known to them as Karen Sullivan infiltated the Anti-War Committee of Minneapolis and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization.
Video of the press conference is available at Twin Cities Indymedia Center.
At the press conference, Jess Sundin of AWC said it appears that Fitzgerald’s investigation is focused on small donations to the daycare and women’s center projects of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.
“It appears the only thing they’re suggesting could have been criminal is this fundraising for the women’s union,” Joe Iosbaker, a target of the September raids, told Newstips. “That’s the crime.”
“We were very open about our work to support the UPWC,” said Sundin in Minneapolis. The group “is registered with the Palestinian Authority and is not illegal under Israeli or international law,” she said. It works for women’s equality and provides basic social services, she said.
Sundin said that Sullivan infiltrated AWC prior to the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis – AWC organized antiwar protests during the convention – and subsequently became very active with the group, chairing meetings, representing AWC in local and national coalitions, and for the past year helping with bookkeeping.
“She had full access to membership lists, financial information, and decision making,” said Sundin. “If there were any criminal activity happening here, agent Sullivan would have known about it.” She added: “The only crimes committed here were the abuse of our rights by Karen Sullivan herself.”
Instead, “lacking any evidence to charge anyone with a crime, today people are being dragged through an intimidating grand jury process, which is a fishing expedition.,” said Sundin.
Looking for names
Iosbaker said that in inventories of materials seized in the raid on his home, “the single main thing they took were pieces of paper with names, phone numbers and email addresses.”
Speaking on Democracy Now in December, former FBI agent Mike German said the subpoenas mainly focused on “associational information…address books, computer records, literature and advocacy materials – First Amendment [protected] materials.
“So that creates a huge chill beyond these activists and their associates to the entire advocacy community,” said German, who is now security policy counsel for the ACLU.
“It damages our democracy because people start to be afraid of participating in the political process,” he said.
Also on Democracy Now, local activist Maureen Clare Murphy noted the “irony” of a federal investigation of activists who have often protested at federal buildings and written to federal officials.
“We’ve been very vocal and public in our calls for a more just U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, so I don’t think the government needs to subpoena us to find out what we believe and what we do,” she said. “So that’s why we think this is really about trying to intimidate and silence our movement.”
Murphy, one of the nine subpoenaed for January 25, is managing editor of Electronic Intifada and active with the Palestine Solidarity Group. She’s posted a statement at the Middle East project of the Nation Institute.
Electronic Intifada has noted that grand juries have become “a tool of political inquisition” in recent decades and called the current investigation “part of a broad attack on the anti-war and Palestine solidarity movements and a threat to all of our rights.”
At Wednesday’s press conference, former FBI agent Colleen Rowley pointed out that protections were put in place to guard against political spying following revelations of widespread surveillance and disruption of progressive movements by the FBI under COINTELPRO, including actions against Martin Luther King. But the safeguards were lifted following the attacks of September 11, 2001, she said.
“Those were the standards I operated on doing domestic terrorism investigations, and I found they were very helpful,” German commented “It helped me focus on people who were actually doing bad things rather than people who were saying things that I didn’t like or didn’t agree with….
“After 9/11 these standards have been diluted significantly to where the FBI literally requires no factual predicate to start and investigation….
“Your innocence doesn’t protect you any more. They can literally start collecting information on anybody.”
The FBI and MLK
Under COINTELPRO, Martin Luther King was subjected to wiretaps, burglaries, harassment by poison pen letters and stories planted in newspapers by the FBI. And after he criticized the FBI — he said the bureau’s civil rights investigations were hampered by the predominance of white segregationists in its southern offices – the group he headed, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was infiltrated.
According to CNN, tens of thousands of FBI documents show “the fanatical zeal with which the FBI tracked King” and “spell out in detail the government agency’s concerted efforts to derail King’s efforts on behalf of civil rights.”
After King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, an FBI memo cited by CNN called him “the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country,” and FBI department heads met to discuss ways of “neutralizing King” – “without embarrassment to the Bureau.”
Historians including King biographer David Garrow (also author of “The FBI and Martin Luther King Jr.”) dismiss charges of goverment involvement in King’s assassination, as did a 2000 Department of Justice investigation. An earlier House Select Comittee on Assassinations found the “likelihood of a conspiracy.” And in 1999, a jury in a civil trial brought by the King family found there was a conspiracy involving “government agencies.”
Evidence brought by the King family in that trial – which generated almost no media coverage – suggested involvement by the FBI and military intelligence in planning and covering up King’s assassination.
Among the witnesses was former Representative Walter Fauntroy, who chaired the House Select Committee and testified that the committee was denied access to FBI files on the assassination.
One of the few reporters who covered the trial published an extensive report in Probe Magazine in 2000.
In 2004, Rev. Jesse Jackson told Democracy Now: “I will never believe that James Earl Ray had the motive, the money and the mobility to have done it himself. Our government was very involved in setting the stage for and I think the escape route for James Earl Ray.”
It is known that a year and a half after King’s assassination, the FBI helped plan the assassination of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. An FBI infiltrator provided local police with a sketch of Hampton’s apartment, and it’s believed he drugged Hampton earlier in the evening. The informer received a bonus and commendation from the FBI after Hampton’s killling.
Following King’s assassination in 1968, the FBI maintained surveillance on Coretta Scott King until 1972.