June 20, 2011

Solidarity Letter from Father Michael Pfleger

Dear President Obama and U.S. Attorney General Holder, 

I write out of grave concern about recent FBI repression and grand jury investigations of anti-war, international solidarity and immigrant rights activists. On September 24, 2010, two homes in Chicago, plus five homes and an anti-war committee office in Minneapolis were raided by over 70 armed agents. Eventually, 23 activists were subpoenaed, including 12 in Chicago, 7 of who are Palestinian Americans, including a prominent community activist, Hatem Abudayyeh. More recently, on May 17, 2011 the FBI and Los Angeles, California Sheriffs raided the home of an immigrant rights activist and veteran of the Chicano movement, Carlos Montes.

Hundreds of books, pamphlets, videos and other materials protected by the First Amendment were illegally seized as well as the entire computers, cell phones and personal materials of these activists and their families, including photos and items of their children. The pretext for these raids was the claim that the FBI was investigating “material support” for designated foreign terrorist organizations. However the people targeted are public activists with long distinguished careers in public service, including teachers, union organizers, and anti-war and community leaders. In the case of one of the raids in September and the recent raid in Los Angeles, SWAT teams used battering rams on doors and aimed assault weapons at political activists with no history of violence.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago has made it clear that it is their intention to bring indictments against a number of the 23 people. Many faith based activists are expressing concern about the repressive nature of the FBI raids, Grand Jury subpoenas and threats of indictments. These are seen as examples of improper investigation of activists expressing their right to free speech and assembly. These appear to be a continuation and an escalation of the FBI investigations and harassment of peace and justice organizations that were criticized in a recent Department of Justice Inspector General Report. Of course, the FBI has a sad history of repressive treatment of earlier movements for social justice. For example, it is well known that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was subjected to harassment and years of unwarranted investigation.

The FBI began to target this group of activists during the anti-war protests at the Republican National Convention in 2008. Now it appears that the prosecution of US foreign policy is requiring the FBI to criminalize Arab and Muslim Americans and those who associate with them or seek to educate themselves and others about the region.

The requirements of law enforcement cannot be used as an excuse to ignore the requirements of the Constitution. In addition, what seems to be the real danger here is a new type of McCarthyism.

I am confident that you share my commitment to civil liberties and appreciate your attention to this concern.



Father Michael Pfleger