NEW YORK — On the morning of September 24 the FBI broke into seven homes and an office belonging to activists in the peace and justice community in Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan. Subpoenas were handed to 11 people — the subpoenaed activists will have to testify before a federal grand jury — where they are not permitted to have a lawyer with them. The FBI claimed that they were collecting evidence — investigating potential “material support to terrorism” charges against the activists, based on the Antiterrorism And Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. The FBI seized crates full of computers, books, documents, notebooks, cell phones, passports, childrens’ drawings, photos of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, videos, music CDs, photographs, checkbooks, cameras, and other personal belongings.
Activists in the peace and justice community as well as representatives from community groups and labor unions reacted strongly and promptly to what they consider an attack on their First Amendment right to free speech. A diverse group of Americans rose to defend their Constitutional rights.
On September 28 there were protest demonstrations in front of federal office buildings or FBI offices in 32 cities across the U.S.
In New York protesters gathered at 26 Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan. Foul weather may have kept some away but 200 joined the protest carrying signs that decried the attack on the American people’s right to protest endless wars — as well as the policies of the U.S. government in several countries such as Israel, Palestine and Colombia.
Representatives from many organizations spoke, as did New York City Council member Charles Barron, Freedom Party candidate for governor. All pledged to support those under attack and to fight this new level of political repression against those who express dissent against the policies of the Obama administration. One speaker after another declared that they will not be intimidated or silenced. They pointed out that the 11 people subpoenaed were not endangering the U.S., if they were they would have been arrested. The “material support” law is very vague and very malleable. It was pointed out that if the law had been in effect at the time of the fight against apartheid in South Africa in the 1980′s, people here who supported that struggle could have been arrested because the Reagan administration had listed Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress as terrorists.
A second protest was held a week later, on October 5, in the same location.
Activists who received grand jury subpoenas will have to appear in October.