by: Darryl Holliday and Meghan Keyes
It is 7 a.m. on a Friday morning, and Doug Michel is in Minnesota visiting his friends, whom he met working on a protest at the 2008 Republican National Convention. There’s a knock at the apartment door. The FBI enters, serving a search warrant and a subpoena to one of the roommates, Tracy Molm. By Michel’s account, he and friends were instructed to sit in the corner, asked not to move or use their cell phones, with no reason given, but Molm immediately calls her lawyer. For approximately three hours, the agents sifted through Molm’s papers and belongings, seizing any activist material and artwork from Palestine and Colombia.
“This was not my apartment, but I certainly felt violated,” Michel said.
The FBI conducted raids in both Minneapolis and Chicago on Sept. 24, targeting those suspected to be providing “material support” to international terrorist groups.
Among them were Joe Iosbaker and Stephanie Weiner. Their Logan Square house was one of eight raided by the FBI. Approximately 30 boxes of the family’s personal possessions were confiscated by the federal agency, including artwork and poetry by their younger son.
Outside the Chicago FBI headquarters, 2111 W. Roosevelt Road, on Sept. 27 approximately 200 people protested the searches and the subpoenas.
“The searches we conducted last week were part of an ongoing criminal investigation,” said Ross Rice, spokesman and special agent for the FBI. “The searches were conducted pursuant to a warrant issued by a federal judge in Chicago based on probable cause.”
Joe Iosbaker, an activist in Chicago and chief steward for Local 73 of the Service Employees International Union, was one of the subpoenaed. His wife, Stephanie Weiner, spoke out at the rally.
“It’s not just our family, it’s not just those [who] got the knock on Friday,” Weiner said. “It’s not just the many movement activists here today… it’s not about two people or 10 people, it’s about the true message. It is not about these main people, it is about a movement being attacked and the FBI’s attempt to intimidate, silence and divide.”
Rice said procedure was followed in obtaining the warrants and conducting these searches was the same as any other.
“As far as any allegations that we target people or groups based on their political affiliation, that is totally and
completely untrue,” Rice said. “We support and defend the Constitution and that includes the right to peaceably assemble and protest.”
The basis for the FBI searches, as well as the grand jury subpoenas, can be found in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. The act set up the foundation for the criminalization of giving material support to groups listed under the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Terrorist Organization list.
This controversial statute is said by many to infringe on the civil liberties of U.S. citizens by vaguely defining what constitutes material support to
“In addition to engaging in independent advocacy, petitioners can meet with members of the foreign terrorist organizations, can join the foreign terrorist organizations—that membership is not prohibited by the statute,” said Elena Kagan, then solicitor general, in a transcript of the Supreme Court decision. “What the statute prohibits is active support of all kinds.”
Critics argue the ruling will have a chilling effect on individuals who want to give support or help any organization thought to be subversive.
Though the U.S. Secretary of State lists the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), as well as the Palestine Liberation Front as two of 47 current terrorist organizations, many supporters see things differently. The difference between ‘terrorist’ and ‘freedom fighter’ depends largely on perspective.
Though challenged in spring 2010 through the Humanitarian Law Project v. Holder case, which charged that the material support rule was “unconstitutionally vague,” the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the material support ruling by a 6-3 vote.
“I think it’s a wrong decision,” said Michael Seng, professor of constitutional law at John Marshall Law School. “I really have a problem with the statute, its reach and vagueness—that it could be used very broadly against a number of
According to a 2010 report from the Investigative Project on Terrorism, since 2001 approximately 150 defendants were charged with violating the material support rule. Fifty percent of those cases were followed by a conviction. The same report states “the material support law has become the cornerstone of U.S. counter-terrorism efforts,” making up 23 percent of terrorism prosecutions.
By confirming probable cause of material support the FBI obtained a search warrant enabling it to search the homes of two Chicago residents and six homes in Minneapolis, confiscating personal belongings as potential evidence.
At least 13 Midwest anti-war activists were subpoenaed by the FBI, including members of the Palestine Solidarity Group, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, and Students for a Democratic Society. The activists will appear in front of a grand jury on Oct. 5, where potential evidence could be presented regarding the case.
Activists whose homes were searched said they have done nothing wrong. A series of solidarity actions have been planned since the raids including national conference calls, phone call-ins to prominent U.S. government organizations, as well as a rally and vigil scheduled for Oct. 5.
“[The] raids, searches and grand jury investigation are nothing more than an attempt to intimidate us and intimidate the anti-war movement,” Iosbaker said. “All we ever did was work against U.S. military aid to the governments of Colombia and Israel … and if the U.S. government wants to call that terrorism—we’re
Maureen Murphy, a member of the Palestine Solidarity Group in Chicago, agreed with Iosbaker.
“Had this law been in effect during the anti-apartheid movement, their entire movement would have been considered guilty of material support for terrorism under this new law,” Murphy said. “I think that’s what this is all about and what the public needs to know about.”
Seng cited another historical example as a possible indicator toward history’s tendency to repeat itself.
“It’s reminiscent of some of the cases during the 1940s and ’50s during the Red Scare, where First Amendment rights were trampled upon,” Seng said. “If it’s a sign of what’s to come, I think it’s a very bad sign.”