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FBI raids and grand jury repression panel at National Lawyers Guild southern regional conference

By Kosta Harlan |
April 4, 2011
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Tom Burke (right) speaking at the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) conference
Tom Burke (right) speaking at the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) southern regional conference. (Fight Back! News/Kosta Harlan)

Asheville, NC - On April 2, about 80 people attended a workshop on the Sept. 24, 2010 FBI raids and grand jury repression of anti-war and solidarity activists at the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) southern regional conference here. In addition to NLG members from across the South, over two dozen community members from Asheville’s peace and justice movements came to learn about the case and to show their support for the targeted activists.

FBI raids on antiwar and solidarity activists

Tom Burke of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) was the first speaker. Burke gave an overview of the history of FRSO and that organization’s work in the mass movements to stop war, support immigrant rights and build the labor movement. Several of the 23 subpoenaed activists are members of the FRSO.

Burke explained that the government’s case against the activists will center around the law enforcement officer who spied on and infiltrated the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee and the FRSO. “This agent lied about everything. It was lie after lie,” Burke said. “The raids and subpoenas were based on who she interacted with the most.”

Burke also talked about the context around this case and why it was happening now. Pointing out that the U.S. is involved in a series of unpopular and draining wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and that the economic crisis continues to cast millions of people into poverty, Burke explained that the repression against the activists occurs because “the powers that be are nervous and are worried about people who are organizing against them.”

FBI and the Muslim community

Azadeh Shahshahani from the ACLU of Georgia was the next speaker. Shahshahani, who used to work with the ACLU in North Carolina, talked about how NLG activists can support the Muslim community by offering ‘know your rights’ trainings and legal support. Shahshahani detailed how the FBI after 9/11 would approach Muslim men, based solely on their background, for ‘voluntary’ conversations. “The FBI might ask all sorts of inappropriate questions about their political and religious beliefs,” Shahshahani said, like, “Did you vote for Bush?”

Shahshahani’s advice for Muslims approached by the FBI? “Don’t talk to the FBI. Don’t sign anything. If you’re ever approached by the FBI make sure to call an attorney.” Shahshahani emphasized, “There is nothing you gain from a conversation with the FBI, you can only lose.” Shahshahani concluded by stressing that there is a huge need for attorneys and law students to put themselves out there and help people since “the FBI has obviously not subsided in targeting Muslim communities. It’s getting worse.”

Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project

Peter Gilbert, of the University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights and a member of the NLG, concluded the panel by discussing the 2010 Supreme Court decision, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project.

“With the ruling in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the state has found a new vehicle to go after progressive activists,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert explained the history of the ‘material support of terrorism’ statute, from 1996 under the Clinton administration to the present. In reviewing the history of the statute, Gilbert pointed out the unfairness and hypocrisy in how the law has been used against some people but not others.

For example, people who have supported charities in Palestine such as the Holy Land Foundation are locked up with decades-long prison sentences, but Chiquita Banana executives have not served a day in jail despite admitting to sending millions of dollars and thousands of weapons to the Colombian right-wing paramilitary organization, the AUC. Ironically, the current Attorney General Eric Holder was instrumental in helping Chiquita Banana avoid any serious penalties for their material support to a terrorist organization.

Gilbert concluded his talk by stressing that the legal community needs to mobilize to push back against the expansion of the material support laws. “This is the first wave of attempting to use this law to criminalize progressive organizing and speech,” Gilbert said. “We have an opportunity as a movement to push back against this.”

Pledge to resist FBI and grand jury repression

In the question and answer session that followed, many attendees expressed outrage and shock at the violation of civil liberties. The Pledge to Resist FBI and Grand Jury Repression (http://www.stopfbi.net/get-involved/pledge-of-resistance) was circulated and signed by all attendees, who also committed to help broaden the support and solidarity for the activists under attack.

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