Above photo: IWW leader Benjamin Fletcher was imprisoned after the Palmer Raids.
The Government’s Perpetual War On Black Radical Organizing.
Federal indictments against the African People’s Socialist Party are part of a long history of attacks on Black leftists.
In the recently-announced Department of Justice indictment against members of the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP) and its related Uhuru Movement, the United States Department of Justice claims that the Russia foreign intelligence service “weaponized” the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by instructing members of the APSP to advance the perspective and interests of the Russian Federation. The objective? To “divide Americans and interfere in the elections in the United States.
What exactly does that mean, though, that Russia weaponized First Amendment rights?
When reviewing the comments that Omali Yeshitela, the Chairman of the APSP has made over the years regarding the U.S./EU/NATO Axis of Domination and then specifically about the NATO proxy war against Russia, the idea that the APSP needed the encouragement of the Russians to oppose U.S. policy immediately becomes farcical. The anti-imperialist positions of the APSP are well documented. The party has consistently criticized the U.S. for much of its’ more than fifty-year history. Chairman Yeshitela was only being consistent by criticizing what the party and most of the Black Liberation Movement saw as a manufactured crisis meant to advance the imperialist agenda of U.S. capital. But, according to this indictment, holding a view and then disseminating a position in variance with the positions of the State Department and the Biden Administration on the war in Ukraine makes one eligible for criminal prosecution.
For example, Chairman Yeshitela’s March 4, 2022 explanation of the history of NATO as an international force created by colonial/white supremacist capitalist countries to attack and neutralize Russia since the end of WWII, accurately lays out the history of NATO’s creation and the continued aggression toward Russia with its expansion. He discusses the APSP’s support of Russia to protect itself from Ukraine in a video from the same date with the reasoning that Ukraine is being used as a force to maintain the West’s colonial economic and hegemonic power in the world. In this video, a member of the APSP discusses this history further and provides context into the hypocrisy of the US narrative about this war, especially given this country’s imperialist aggression toward other countries around the world. The member also raises the contested visits Chairman Yeshitela made to Russia to participate in a supposedly nefarious conference called, “Dialogue of Nations and Right to Self-Determination.” And in this video, Chairman Yeshitela and his guests connect the struggle for African self-determination and revolution to the war in Ukraine.
Though the indictment accuses Yeshitela, his organizations, and others of being influenced by or parroting the propaganda of Russian operatives, the history that informs Yeshitela’s and APSP’s positions on Ukraine is well-documented.
Analyses and commentaries from both the liberal and conservative establishments in the US pointed to NATO’s expansion as an undeniable contributor to the conflict in Ukraine, even as they trip over themselves to condemn Russia for finally responding to it. The Pew Research Center recently published a report on how the bipartisan lies that propped up the Iraq War and the terrible consequences that came with it changed the way Americans view US militarism around the world. And after the initial raid on the APSP and Uhuru Movement’s properties in July 2022, Chairman Yeshitela said of the government’s targeting of the organizations that “They’re doing this, in part, because not a single African country—not even neocolonial sycophants—want to unite with the United States and the United Nations in terms of how they are targeting Russia in this Ukraine-Russia question.” Yeshitela was referencing the economic sanctions imposed on Russia after it entered Ukraine in February, and he was not wrong about the lack of support for the US and Europe’s claim that they had international consensus on Ukraine: Last summer, when Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky held a virtual meeting with African countries, 93 percent of heads of state did not attend, despite Western pressure.
None of this reporting was influenced or created by Russian propagandists. So where, or how, has Russia “weaponized” the APSP’s right to their beliefs, considering that the facts surrounding the current war in Ukraine demonstrate the truth of their assertions?
Consider the well-documented evidence of US media reporting the proliferation of neo-Nazis in Ukraine before the same outlets decided that these factions did not exist after February 24, 2022, a point that I’ve previously written about. But the specter of neo-Nazism is also a recent and very relevant issue involving the current government of Volodymyr Zelensky. The legacy of the WWII Nazi sympathizer and war criminal Stepan Bandera has been a point of political and social contention for at least a decade in Ukraine. Euronews reported in 2021 that “In 2010, Bandera was named a ‘Hero of Ukraine’ by the outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko, sparking anger in Europe, Poland and Israel. He was stripped of the title in 2011 under Yushchenko’s replacement, President Viktor Yanukovych, but when Yanukovych was ousted in 2014, Kyiv’s City Council renamed the city’s Moscow Avenue Stepan Bandera Avenue after the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine.” Then in 2018, the Ukrainian government declared a national holiday for Ukrainian Bandera. As recently as last year, the holiday was still recognized, causing Poland to demand that Ukraine “…acknowledge the genocide of Poles by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) in World War II,” the army that Stepan Bandera led. But the administration of Volodymyr Zelensky responded by ignoring protests from Poland and Israel about their glorification of the Nazi collaborator whose organization massacred over 130,000 Jews and Poles during WWII.
And true to form, in January of this year, officials in Zelensky’s administration once again celebrated Stepan Bandera as a hero of Ukraine, with several American officials adding to the legitimization of the war criminal as an example of Ukrainian resistance against the former Soviet Union, while choosing to ignore his collaboration with Adolph Hitler’s Nazi regime, his hatred of Jews and Poles, and his organization’s massacres. For people who ask incredulously how someone of Jewish heritage could support neo-Nazism, Volodymyr Zelensky is making it clear.
So, when the DOJ asserts in the indictment that “…the APSP repeatedly hosted Ionov via video conference to discuss the war, during which Ionov falsely stated that anyone who supported Ukraine also supported Naziism and white supremacy…” [emphasis added] It expresses not only the position that the facts in Ukraine are irrelevant, but also that it is a criminal offense – a federal offense specifically – to formulate and express an opinion based on those facts.
This would be laughable were it not part of an enduring and increasingly more dangerous trend in this country, where the US government is targeting Black radicals agitating and organizing for self-determination, dignity, and power – radicals that have the temerity to connect our struggle with the oppressed people of the colonized world ravaged by capitalist dictatorship.
At the ANSWER Coalition’s March 18th “National March on Washington: Fund People’s Needs, Not the War Machine,” Yeshitela highlighted the work the APSP and Uhuru Movement have done and revealed the historical reasons for the government’s attack:
“They declared that despite the fact that I have been involved in fighting this system for most of the 81 years that I have been alive, despite the fact that I have opposed every predatory war that the United States – which by the way is the strategic enemy of all of humanity – despite the fact that I have always done that, they have declared that Black people are so stupid that it takes Russians to tell us that we are oppressed…They [the FBI] have charged me with the very same thing that they charged WEB Dubois with in 1951. They charged people like Paul Robeson with the very same thing, and we know that the FBI cut its teeth in the war against Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association. This is where it gets its origin… We are preparing to govern, because we cannot be a dignified and self-respecting people until we are able to feed, clothe and house ourselves, and that is our mission, that is why we’ve built economic development programs throughout this country, and that is why we’re under attack, because everything that we build for our own selves negates the power of the colonizer.”
This targeting of the APSP is not an aberration or an isolated miscarriage of justice. Instead, the FBI raid on their properties is reminiscent of the Palmer Raids, which were led by former Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, with assistance from J. Edgar Hoover, between 1917 and 1920 and resulted in up to 10,000 people arrested in a series of coordinated raids on labor organizations, civil rights groups, and other radical organizers under the guise of rooting out opposition to WWI and Bolshevik or communist infiltration.
Labor unions were heavily targeted, with the largest and most active of them, the interracial Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), at the top of the government’s hit list. The fledgling FBI raided IWW offices across the country, and stole membership records to identify and arrest members on the pretext that they were on the side of the Axis nations and were plotting to weaken the US because they were opposed to the war and capitalist exploitation of workers domestically. Black union leader of IWW Local 8 Ben Fletcher was arrested and sent to Leavenworth prison with hundreds of other Wobblies (IWW members) serving time on a myriad of charges ranging from speaking out against the war, dodging the draft, refusing to sign no-strike contracts with their bosses, and engaging in “criminal syndicalism”- a law enacted by some states that aimed to outlaw the IWW as an organization altogether. It took decades for the IWW to recover from the government’s attack and organized interracial worker solidarity in the US suffered as a result.
The US government’s anti-communist zealotry continued to be directed toward Black radicals and organizations in particular during WWII as well, with the targeting of groups such as Louise Thompson Patterson’s Sojourners for Truth and Justice, a group of influential Black women who, in 1951, raised the issues of racial terrorism, South African apartheid, U.S. militarism, and colonialism from a communist, Black nationalist, feminist lens. Members of the organization were harassed by the government, many of their passports were seized, and the group eventually dissolved under the weight of relentless government repression.
Or James and Esther Cooper Jackson’s Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC), founded in 1937, which “…campaigned for the full range civil, economic, political, and social rights for African Americans… including supporting labor organizing (including domestic workers), campaigns against lynching, police brutality and the poll tax, for the right to vote and an end to segregation, for an end to employment discrimination…” But in 1951 James Jackson was charged with “advocating the overthrow of the US government” and indicted under the Smith Act because he belonged to the Communist Party USA. He went underground for five years to avoid arrest, while Esther Cooper Jackson worked for the National Committee to Defend Negro Leadership and the Families of Smith Act Victims. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled the Smith Act unconstitutional and saved Jackson from a prison sentence, but it did not save the SNYC which fell victim to continued government repression.
Of course the government’s relentless hounding of Paul Robeson by Senator Joseph McCarthy and his House Un-American Activities Committee, which singled out Robeson as a major threat to “American democracy” for his anti-colonial activism and friendship with the people of the Soviet Union and worker solidarity in particular, is an example of the US government’s zeal in destroying radical Black organizers in the name of “protecting democracy.” The US government surveilled Robeson and his wife Eslanda, and revoked their passports, making it impossible for the Robesons to travel abroad to perform, stifling Paul Robeson’s career for eight years until it was finally reinstated by another Supreme Court decision. But the damage to Robeson’s career and his health was done.
There are so many more stories of the US government using the cover of anti-communism or the related idea of “foreign influence” to bring the full weight of its repressive boot down on Black radical organizers and organizations in this country. The danger of this indictment against APSP, as flimsy as it is, is that it is an indication that this government is, once again, following a tried and unfortunately true tactic of smearing Black radicals as subversive communist agitators who are influenced by some malign external government hell-bent on destroying the United States.
Just as they have in the past, the US government also uses the pretext of defending its warmongering abroad to criminalize domestic opposition, declaring that the working class and poor masses who refused to fight the rich man’s wars in the past, or who refuse to support the rich man’s narrative about this war in Ukraine today, are committing a form of anti-government subversion that arises to the level of criminality, with claims of violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act. A law that was enacted by the US government in 1938 to allegedly combat the dissemination of Nazi propaganda, it was also used to target communists, anti-imperialist, and Black radicals in the US, just as Yeshitela pointed out. The DOJ infamously used FARA charges to prosecute W.E.B. DuBois for disseminating anti-war literature from a French organization, but the prosecution was motivated by his communist sympathies. Although the DOJ’s case against DuBois failed and the charges were dismissed, once again the damage to his reputation was done.
Despite how much the US government claims that Africans who oppose the imperialist warmongering and capitalist oppression of this system are mouthpieces for some foreign entity, the truth is that Africans in this country do not need any outside entity to tell us that we are oppressed. We do not need any government’s talking points to talk about how we are oppressed, that our oppression is linked to the struggle of oppressed people around the world, and to determine for us who our enemies and allies are. This also exposes the fact that this tactic by the government also serves to dissuade the formation of international solidarity between the Black masses in the US and the rest of the colonized world. The US government will do all it can to make sure Africans in the US do not enter that struggle in any meaningful way. This was just as much a reason for the repression against Black radicals in 1919 as it is today.
Further, in a country in which the Constitution is frequently raised as the foundation of the special and unique freedoms we allegedly have in this country, disagreeing with the government’s narrative about their imperialist wars while we connect our internal struggle for self-determination with those of oppressed peoples around the world, is supposed to be a Constitutionally-protected right to free speech, freedom of expression, freedom to redress this government, and whatever else they claim we have a right to do as citizens. But clearly, that is not and never has been the case.
So no, the Russian government has not weaponized this country’s First Amendment rights in influencing the members of the APSP or anyone else named in the sham indictment to act on its behalf to influence US elections or sow discord or commit any other act this rogue state claims they have committed. Rather, this government has once again violated the First Amendment and other human rights of its alleged citizens. And I say “alleged” because if we were citizens, we would not be targets of government repression for speaking our minds.
And to the claim in this indictment that members of the APSP and Uhuru Movement are “sowing division”, on the one hand the claim is laughable because, any division that is sown in this country is done by the ruling class and their corporate bosses. The dissent expressed about this fascist system – in which one cannot tell the difference between corporations and the government with an ever-growing violent police state – is merely the most oppressed in this society speaking truth to power about the crimes and evils that this system metes out against them. The division in this society is created and maintained by the very system carrying out the repression, and the capitalist forces that prop it up that are using this illegitimate indictment to distract the masses from its embrace of fascism domestically and abroad, and its many subversions of democracy.
On the other hand, the claim is a signal of another dangerous shift by the US government to mercilessly attack Black radical voices for raising those internal contradictions that we continue to struggle under. “Sowing division” is merely the 2023 version of “plotting to weaken America” and “subversive activity” from the WWI and WWII eras and is the pretext for the full weight of the government being used to destroy Black radical movements that are raising the same contradictions that Black radical labor and other organizers raised in 1919, 1920, the 1930s, the 1950s.
As dangerous as this moment is, however, we must not shrink from continuing the struggle against this repressive white supremacist, settler colonial, patriarchal, capitalist, imperialist regime. We must not cower before these criminals and charlatans who are once again trotting out the old Palmer Raid/Red Scare script to not only silence dissent but to crush it. We must stand up and continue to speak out boldly to end the suppression, abuse, human rights violations, and tyranny of this rogue and illegitimate government as it once again moves to sacrifice Black radicals to distract us from their un-democratic machinations and outright crimes.
We must not let them get away with it this time.
Jacqueline Luqman is a radical activist based in Washington, D.C.; as well as co-founder of Luqman Nation, an independent Black media outlet that can be found on YouTube (hereandhere) and onFacebook; and co-host of Radio Sputnik’s“By Any Means Necessary”.