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Unsealed search warrants targeting activists reveal FBI ‘obsession’ with socialist organization

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Back in September 2010, FBI agents conducted coordinated raids on homes and offices in Minneapolis, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Michigan and Durham, North Carolina, seizing electronics, personal papers, address books, and even clothing. The raids targeted anti-war, labor, and international solidarity activists doing work with Colombians and Palestinians. Using warrants indicating that they were seeking evidence of "material support for terrorism," armed agents seized computers, cell phones, t-shirts with slogans, photos, files and even any documents containing the word 'Palestine.' Eventually, US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald would issue Grand Jury subpoenas to 23 people; one after another, all 23 refused to submit to what they deemed a political witch-hunt.

When the raids first happened, activists working with targeted organizations including the Anti-War Committee and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization assumed they were linked to the activities of an alleged secret government informant with a Boston accent. She called herself 'Karen Sullivan'.

Now, a lawsuit has revealed that the activists were right. According to formerly sealed documents newly public because of the suit, an informer was indeed sent to infiltrate their organizations.

From, an organization formed in the wake of the coordinated raids:

On Feb. 26, the application and affidavit used to obtain the search warrants for the 2010 raids on homes and offices of anti-war and international solidarity activists were unsealed, revealing lies and attacks on the constitutionally-protected rights to speak out and organize. The unsealing of these documents came as a result of legal action taken by the anti-war activists.

The timeline in the documents show what we have always stated. Shortly before the huge protest at the Republican National Convention, undercover police agent and professional liar, going by the name of Karen Sullivan (identified in the affidavit as UC1) joined the Anti-War Committee and became active in the efforts to build the demonstration. She later joined Freedom Road Socialist Organization.

The documents demonstrate a callous disregard for free speech and the right to associate. They in effect criminalize those of us who oppose U.S. wars, and stand in solidarity with the oppressed. From Palestine to Colombia, people want to be free from the domination of Washington. We have said this publicly on thousands of occasions and will continue to do so.

Not unlike countless “anti-terrorism” cases against Arabs and Muslims, the affidavit contains a collection of lies and out-of-context statements to try to isolate people from their communities and movements. In a McCarthyite return to the 1950s, the affidavit shows an obsession with Freedom Road Socialist Organization. After decades working in the anti-war movement, anyone who has worked with us knows we are proud to be fighters in the struggles against war, and for justice and economic equality. The documents imply that is something sinister, when really, it is commendable.

The formerly sealed portions of the search warrants include authorization for agents to search for any evidence of:

“REDACTED travel to and from, and presence and activities in Minnesota, Palestine, and other countries involved in REDACTED transit to and from Palestine, including the identities and locations of REDACTED facilitators, co-conspirators and REDACTED travel history and travel plans;”

“REDACTED potential co-conspirators, including any address books, lists, notes, photographs, videos, or letters of REDACTED personal contacts in the United States and abroad;”

“the recruitment, indoctrination, and facilitation of other individuals in the United States to join [Freedom Road Socialist Organization] or the [Anti-War Committee], the means by which the recruitment was financed and arranged;”

“any bracelet, t-shirts, necklaces or other items that reference the PFLP or FARC;” and

“any address books, lists, notes, photographs, videos, or letters of REDACTED and REDACTED personal contacts in the United States and abroad,” among many other things.

Some of the warrants include approval for the FBI to seize bank records. All of the warrants authorize the seizure of electronic devices.

A long, ugly history of political harassment

The FBI has long used Grand Jury subpoenas and the threat of criminal indictments as pretext to investigate dissident political organizations. When individuals and organizations are smeared as “Terrorist” by the federal government, it’s much easier for the FBI to justify expansive investigations into those people and groups. The warrants in this case sought information not only about the US based activists, but also about their contacts and colleagues in Palestine and Colombia.

In this case, activists are under investigation for allegedly providing "material support" to two organizations deemed Terrorist by the US State Department: the FARC of Colombia and the PFLP of Palestine. Activists say the intent is to use an exceptionally broad anti-terrorism statute to criminalize Palestine and Colombia solidarity activism in the United States, and that the investigation has nothing to do with terrorism.

The US Attorney has not yet announced whether the investigations have been closed, and there’s no word on whether or not any indictments will issue. The activists demand that the matter be dropped, and are suing the federal government. In the years since the initial raids back in 2010, state and federal elected officials have written letters to the Department of Justice asking them to back off and stop harassing the activists.

The longer this investigation drags on without indictments, the more it looks like it has always been a carefully orchestrated political surveillance and intimidation campaign, and never had anything to do with actual terrorism. After all, surely if the targeted organizers had committed a serious terrorism offense and were a threat to the country, the US government would not rest until they were incarcerated.

Four years on, it appears as if that’s far from the case. Instead, it looks like the FBI is once again playing on the public's fear of terrorism to justify expansive and violative investigations into the protected political activities of people who espouse political ideas that run contrary to US government policy.

J. Edgar Hoover would be proud.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.