November 14, 2010

Report from the First National Meeting of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression

Report from the First National Meeting of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression

Tom Burke of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression

The first national meeting of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression (CSFR) was a great success.  There was standing room only in the hall, with over 150 anti-war and international solidarity organizers.  Here are the important points, followed by notes for people who are working to build the movement against FBI repression and Grand Jury intimidation. A.  We are asking people to prepare to take action upon the coming re-activation of three subpoenas in Minneapolis.   We are calling for emergency protests.   Please see section 6.b. of the notes.

B.  Join the nationwide Committee to Stop FBI Repression—we will be meeting on phone conferences every two weeks or as needed.  We also want to encourage you to form a committee in your city or on your campus. 

C.  Continue with education and fund raising events.  Please host one of the 14 subpoenaed activists to speak in your city at events.  There is a new CSFR office in Minneapolis and a speakers’ bureau.  

D.  Please turn some efforts towards fund raising.  When indictments are handed down, the legal costs will rise quickly.  Please make checks to the CSFR at:

Committee to Stop FBI Repression
PO Box 14183
Minneapolis, MN 55414

For larger tax deductable donations going to the legal defense fund, please make them out to the “National Lawyers’ Guild” and write CSFR in the message line. 

On behalf of the CSFR, Tom Burke, 773-844-3612

1. Introductions

a. Supporters were thanked for spectacular response and organizing in response to the FBI raids and 14 subpoenas.
b. Three key demands were reviewed: End the repression of anti-war and international solidarity activists, return all materials seized in the raids, and call off the Grand Jury
c. Meeting conduct: refrain from side conversations, keep comments brief, photograph front of the room only

2. FBI raids and grand jury repression

a. Jess Sundin, founding member of the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee recounted the raid of her family's home, what was taken, and how the Anti-War Committee's office was raided as well. Eventually it was learned that 70 federal agents around the country were involved in the raids and subpoenas against the Midwest activists and the intimidation visits and phone calls across the country
b. Hatem Abudayyeh described the impact of the raids on families. He emphasized that while he was the only Palestinian and Arab-American target of the raids and subpoenas, he's not the first Arab-American or Palestinian visited or raided in the US. There have been systematic attacks on Palestine solidarity work in the US since the immigration from Palestine following the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but the attacks have been worse since 11 September 2001. He reminded the meeting of the case of the LA 8 — seven Palestinians and a Kenyan immigrant faced deportation proceedings because they distributed written materials in support of Palestine liberation. It took twenty years to drop the case. The only crime was that they were Palestinians or supporters and they said that US policy is the main issue in regards to the Israeli repression of Palestinians. Hatem also mentioned how organizations such as Global Relief and the Holy Land Foundation have been shut down since 11 September. The Holy Land 5 were indicted and convicted for material support because of their humanitarian work. Muhammad Salah was acquitted of all RICO (conspiracy) charges and convicted only on an obstruction of justice charge. Salah's co-defendant Dr. Abdelhaleem al-Ashqar was sentenced to 11 years in prison because he refused to testify before a Grand Jury. Hatem said that the government is trying to criminalize our movement's work — the work of everybody in the meeting room — to support legitimate struggles for freedom across the world.
c. Attorney Bruce Nestor of the National Lawyers Guild explained that the NLG sees the material support laws that are the basis of the investigation against the 14 anti-war activists as an attempt to repress US activists' involvement and solidarity with liberation struggles. Bruce described the national coordination and high number of the raids as a development of the material support laws enacted since 1996, which were a bipartisan package signed by a Democrat President. These laws were broadened by the Patriot act under Bush, another bipartisan pact. The material support laws prohibit providing any resources to groups unilaterally declared a terrorist organization by the Secretary of State, a designation virtually impossible to challenge. Bruce explained that the Supreme Court decision this summer on Holder vs. Humanitarian was a test case in which the court said that providing any service to a group designated as a terrorist organization, including training on nonviolent methods of conflict resolution, frees up resources that could be spent by the organization on violent activity. The court carved out the disclaimer that international solidarity work cannot be "coordinated" with the views of the group designated a terrorist organization. 
Regarding the Grand Jury proceedings, Bruce explained that the probable cause of investigation is international travel. Bruce explained that the U.S. government justifies the investigation by taking a first amendment activity such as travel and/or meeting with different groups, and then use it to prove intent in the criminal prosecution. He explained that the government has issued a strict ruling to the lower courts not to question the government's determination of what constitutes "probable cause" — the language of the ruling is that "respect for government's opinion is appropriate." Bruce also explained that there is no effective legal restraint on the government to go after international solidarity work and the ONLY effective restraint is political restraint. He said that the raids and subpoenas are a test case for the government and warned that US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who is overseeing this investigation, asked for a longer sentence for Dr. Ashqar than the 11.5 year sentence he received.
Word is that the subpoenas for three of the activists in Minnesota are being reactivated.  When we know the dates for the Grand Jury appearances, the CSFR will be calling for protests demanding an end to the Grand Jury witch hunt! 
d. Comments and questions
i. One person asked about contact with elected officials and what concrete actions supporters can take?
Jess responded that in Minnesota, state legislators took up a "dear colleague" letter to President Obama, which was signed on to by one third of the legislators and forwarded on to Obama. Minnesota activists have also met with staff of both senators who have been asked to initiate a dear colleague letter to Obama and call for an investigation of the FBI for overreaching and intimidating domestic political movements, and for a re-examining of the material support laws.  Jess reported that Representatives Keith Ellison (MN) and Luis Gutierrez (IL) have given lukewarm commitment to circulate a dear colleague letter in the House of Representatives that calls for the Grand Jury to be shut down.
ii. Lamees Deek mentioned that there have been recent arrests in Staten Island, New York and Kentucky that are part of the wave of repression against Arabs and Muslims in the US. She stressed that there has never been a committee convened to protect Palestinians in the US and that there is an urgent need for this.
iii. Susan from the NLG in New York City asked why these 14 individuals were targeted in these cities at this time?
Mick Kelly responded that while we can't read the government's minds, all of the targeted activists have been active in supporting the struggles for liberation and freedom, including Palestinian and Colombia and all of those resisting US imperialism around the world.
Bruce Nestor responded that the FBI attacks against Somali immigrants in Minnesota means that state has the second largest FBI office and the agency needs to keep its staff busy; the second factor is that the activists in Minnesota organized the huge demonstration against the Republican National Convention.

3. Fundraising

Sara Flounders emphasized the immediacy of the situation.  She said the determined response by the targeted activists, in opposing the raids and subpoenas was inspiring, and we need to stand up and that this is our movement's only protection and defense.  She explained that the pushback will need to raise funds and she encouraged the meeting audience to pledge funds.  Individuals and groups from across the country pledged $5,000 during the meeting. 

4. Activities and organizing

a. Tom Burke explained the highlights of the political pushback so far: more than 60 cities across the US protested in the first week after the raids; another major element is the Committee To Stop FBI Repression online petition hosted by the International Action Center; 120 solidarity statements are posted on; know-your-rights and other education events have been organized by the NLG, CCR, and ACLU; there is now a speakers bureau and the targeted activists are travelling to and speaking at cities around the US; Cherrene is heading up work in the labor sector, which is growing in significance; faith organizations issued a sign-on statement against the raids with many signers.  There is a Committee To Stop FBI Repression office in Minneapolis with staff, and a CSFR bank account. 
Jess Sundin added that there were two national call-in days to Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder's office because while it's not clear what agency or individuals are behind the raids and investigation, Obama and Holder have the power to stop it
b. Comments from Anti-war Leaders
i. One person from Canada emphasized reaching out internationally to put further pressure on the US government
ii. Charla from SDS in California says SDS is coordinating a sign on letter for professors, starting with reaching out to big-name professors, and expanding the effort for fundraising purposes too. 

5. Solidarity with similar injustices 

Noor Elashi explained that on 4 December 2001, more than 80 FBI agents raided the Holy Land Foundation, which was the largest Muslim organization in the US. Bush called it "the face of Hamas in the US." Two and a half years later, Elashi's father and four others from the Foundation were arrested. US government prosecutors said that the foundation's humanitarian aid donations to the Zakat or charitable committees in occupied Palestine constituted material support. After a three-month trial, which included government tactics to intimidate jurors, the government failed to get guilty verdicts and the jury was deadlocked. However the judged convened another jury that gave guilty verdicts and decades-long sentences were issued. The case is being appealed but Attorney General Holder last week gave the second highest national honor to the prosecution team. Elashi emphasized that with these material support laws, it is possible to prosecute anybody and everybody, and everybody is at risk, including former US President Jimmy Carter. Elashi also read an excerpt from her forthcoming memoir, which recounts the FBI's arrest of her father.
6. National organization and next steps 
a. Mick Kelly put forth a proposal for national organization (see appendix below) to set up a national coordination committee that will be both democratic and practical. This proposal was then passed. The national coordination committee will meet via telephone conference every two weeks or as needed. A person designated by those facing the Grand Jury will take responsibility for chairing the phone meetings, developing the agenda and sending out the notices for the meeting and other relevant tasks. The Coordinating Committee can establish smaller working groups that will be accountable for the Coordinating Committee. Any organization willing to do work on this effort can designate a representative to participate in the work of the Coordinating Committee. So can local groups and coalitions that are doing work around this effort. Groups that are active in this project can have more than one representative on the call. The Coordinating Committee can make recommendations and take action in the event that a/some participants on the call are acting in an unreasonable way. A national office of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression is being set up in the Twin Cities, and it will take some of the day-to-day work of organizing resistance to the Grand Jury and other efforts decided upon by the Coordinating Committee.
b. Steff Yorek reminded the large audience that we are being told that three activists in Minnesota will be called to appear in front of the Grand Jury. 
**The activists at the meeting committed to holding emergency demonstrations the day after activists are called to appear before the Grand Jury.
**The CSFR will organize another call-in day to Obama and Holder's offices.
**The third action is that cities and campuses should organize demonstrations for the dates of the Grand Jury appearances.
**Lastly, activists should create and pass resolutions against the raids and grand jury proceedings in their various organizations.
c. Sara Flounders urged activists to continue to publicize the online petition at It has generated more than 200,000 letters to politicians and public figures. 
d. It was also explained that there is now a DVD with a program on Minnesota public access TV that features interviews with the targeted activists. The Minnesota DVD can be shown to classrooms or other gatherings and aired on other public access stations. Activists are also being urged to educate anyone and everyone about the raids and grand jury proceedings, and to make relevant relationships with different constituencies, putting it in the historical context of the Palmera raids, McCarthyism, and COINTELPRO.  It was pointed out how these material support laws would have essentially criminalized the anti-apartheid movement and the Irish republican movement.