Federal Bureau of Intimidation vs. International Solidarity: Interview with Omali Yeshitela (APSP) and Joe Iosbaker (FRSO)

Orinoco Tribune
Last Friday, Orinoco Tribune had the honor of interviewing Omali Yeshitela, chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP) in response to recent repression and intimidation tactics launched by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) against him, the APSP, and the Uhuru Movement.

On July 29, 2022, the FBI raided Yeshitela’s residence in St. Louis, Missouri, where he was living with his wife and APSP Deputy Chair Ona Zené Yeshitela. Yeshitela described his chest being littered with “red dots of lasers” immediately upon opening the front door, where he was greeted by law enforcement officers armed with stun grenades, and automatic farearms, and armored vehicles. The raid disrupted the entire neighborhood, where the Uhuru Movement had been involved in a long trajectory of community work, and was also replicated in other APSP and Uhuru facilities across the US.

Despite the FBI using “Russian influence” as an excuse for the excessive use of force and intimidation tactics that could have ended Yeshitala’s life, after more than six months, neither Yeshitela nor other members of the movement have been summoned to court or charged for any crime. The FBI reported to the press that the incident was part of an investigation against a Russian national named Alexander Viktorovich Ionov, implying that the decades-old APSP has somehow served as a Russian front.

Jesus Rodriguez-Espinoza, Orinoco Tribune’s editor, was in charge of conducting the interview and brought into the conversation Joe Iosbaker, a longstanding and well respected Chicago organizer for the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) that in 2010, along with several other anti-imperialist and anti-war activists, were subjected to the same intimidation tactics in different parts of the US Midwest.

In 2010, the organizations and activists targeted by the FBI were put in front of a grand jury and were accused of providing material support to “terrorist organizations” due to the international solidarity work they did and still do in defense of the Palestinian cause and the Colombian people. Up to this day, the legal battle has not been officially closed.

Orinoco Tribune, in understanding the basic rules of international solidarity, wants to highlight with this interview the hypocrisy and double standards employed by the US government to neutralize and sabotage any legitimate anti-imperialist black and brown liberation movement identifying with socialist ideas. At the same time, Orinoco Tribune aims to showcase the robust fight that those targeted by the FBI in 2010 endured to dismantle the Machiavellian machinations that the US empire employs.

Omali Yeshitela is a leader and activist for anti-colonial thought and black reparations and chairman of the APSP. He is also leader of the Uhuru Movement, a worldwide organization fighting for the self-determination of African people. He founded The Burning Spear newspaper, which has been in continuous publication since the 1960s.

Following the 2014 murder of 18-year-old Mike Brown in St. Louis, the Uhuru Movement’s Black Power Blueprint has transformed vacant properties in the black community by building a community center, a basketball court, housing for the formerly incarcerated, a community garden, and an outdoor events venue, and are planning to work on a women’s health center in the future.

Joe Iosbaker is a Chicago-based district organizer for FRSO and a retired rank-and-file trade unionist. He is also co-chair of the Labor Committee for the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR). In 2010, the FBI raided his home, and he and his ex-wife were subpoenaed to a federal grand jury who investigated their movement for “providing material support to foreign terrorist organizations“ in Palestine and Colombia.

Before jumping into the questions, Rodriguez-Espinoza explained the international context of the July 29 raids, which were framed by intense Russo-phobia and anti-Putin rhetoric injected by the White House into US public opinion via the government-controlled mainstream media just five months after the beginning of the Russian military operation in Ukraine.

The international and internal context has been shifting in recent months due to the high risk of military escalation in Ukraine spreading the conflict beyond Eastern Europe, but also in part due to US economic deterioration and ordinary US citizens witnessing how resources that could be used to improve their lives are being sent to Ukraine and the corrupt sect around Vladimir Zelensky.

Rodriguez-Espinoza also mentioned that in Venezuela, a new law is being evaluated to control the international financing of “pro-democracy” non governmental organizations (NGOs) that, in the case of Venezuela and many other countries, are part of the US arsenal of imperialist actions to oust democratically-elected leftist governments, promote color revolutions, and push for “regime change” in nations whose governments refuse to submit to US imperialism.

He emphasized the hypocrisy of the US, the international NGOs it controls, and mainstream media’s characterizations of this law as a new authoritarian move by Venezuela’s “tropical dictator” when the US has been implementing its own Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) since 1938 precisely to regulate these kinds of situations on US soil. However, the US implementation of these regulations are used to justify its criminalization and sabotage of legitimate organizations, activists, and community leaders for denouncing the atrocities the US “democracy” commits against millions of US citizens.

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At this point in the session, the questions began as follows:

For Omali Yeshitela (OY): Please update us about the details of the FBI raids that might not have been highlighted enough in media coverage, and update us about the status of the intimidation process against you and the APSP.

Chairman Yeshitela began by highlighting that the US’s status as a settler-colony that built concentration camps called “reservations” for indigenous people and transported Africans across the Atlantic at gunpoint, subjecting these two groups to colonial terror that in recent years has culminated in the assassination of Malcom X and many others. This all began in an era that was pre-Putin, pre-Lenin, pre-Soviet Union.

He added that this is the nature of the capitalist and imperialist systems that have perpetuated colonial domination, exploiting not only Africa but the whole world, including Latin America. These systems are the driving forces behind NATO’s imperialist wars and provocations, first against the Soviet Union, and now against Russia and China, whose only “crimes” have been their ability to serve as an alternative to US imperialist domination.

Yeshitela explained that since the 1990s, the US claims that its division of the world is not between communists and capitalists but between “democracies and autocracies, and the United States is the chief of the democratic world, and of course anybody that opposes the United States, that has different interests that are articulated and politicized, is an autocrat, like in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran, Russia, and China. All of these are autocrats because they are trying to go in other directions, but how can you be this great democracy when every day you see another African being killed by the police department, by white people, or by colonizers?

“They [the US government] are attacking us because we are trying to do the same things in our communities that Malcom X, the Black Panthers, Fred Hampton, and many other black liberation leaders and organizations did, and ultimately some governments like China, Venezuela, and Nicaragua also do,” Chairman Yeshitela added.

He went on to add that the attack was motivated not by the Uhuru or the APSP being “Russians in black,” but by their community work the work they do in helping people understand better what is going on. “Since this happened, hundreds, thousands of people expressed support and solidarity with our party and our movement, and we’re still working; we’re still building communities,” he explained.

On the status of the “investigation” that allegedly motivated the attacks, the chairman expressed that the US government recently posted on Twitter a notice of $10 million reward for any information about Alexander Viktorovich Ionov and his alleged interference in US elections.

Up until today, there has been no indictment, but lawyers are expecting it soon. Chairman Yeshitela believes that the government is “surprised because we did not surrender, we did not let them crucify us, and we are letting the world know there is a lynching happening right now against us by the US government.”

For Joe Iosbaker (JI): Please tell us about your experience as leader of the movement opposing FBI repression and what can be learned from that experience to avoid repetition of these intimidation practices but also to secure legal victories.

“I want to begin by expressing our total solidarity with the African People’s Socialist Party, the Uhuru Movement, and your righteous resistance defending your rights as a movement, as an organization, to campaign for black liberation and to seek aid and support from any quarters. All freedom struggles have the right to seek aid from any quarters,” said Iosbaker at beginning of his answer.

He then explained the three lessons he believes any activist and organization should learn from the experience he and several organizations and activists had to endure during the FBI raids and grand jury they had to face in 2010.

• We can’t expect the FBI is going to stop attacking the people’s movement
“An animal like that does not change. This is what they were designed to do, this is what they were brought into existence to do, they are the political police, and what we have to do is not hope or expect that they will cease this repressive behavior. What we have to do is—as a movement—prepare ourselves for attacks, and we have to—as the chairman and the Uhuru Movement are doing—rally progressives to defend anyone attacked by the FBI, and to insist on opposing imperialism, fighting for black liberation, and embodying international solidarity with national liberation struggles abroad,” the Chicago political activist added.

United States: Two Barrels Aim at African People’s Socialist Party

He underscored that those are not crimes, and that what the FBI and the Department of Justice is doing is criminal behavior that is in violation of the rights of an organization engaged in political activity protected by the US Constitution.

• Anyone who is subject to the FBI raids or even just a visit by the FBI has to do what the Uhuru movement has done which is to speak up 
In his response, Iosbaker compared the FBI to cockroaches: “If they are exposed to light, they will scatter.” He added that it is very common to hear people explain that even though they were visited or called by the FBI, they don’t want their employer or parents and don’t want it sent to the press. On the contrary, for Iosbaker, targeted people should be more willing to fight back, bring FBI activity to light, and report it.

When the FBI comes to talk to you, don’t talk to the FBI. If you’ve noticed in the scandals around the Trump administration, there’s only been a few people who’ve gone to prison that were part of the Trump regime. All of them went to prison for lying to the FBI; it is a felony to lie to the FBI, so when they come to you and say, “We just want to ask a few questions,” [you should] say, number one: “I’m not talking to you; the only thing I have to do is give you my license and prove that I live here or prove that I am who I am,” and second, say: “I want to talk to my lawyer,” and if you don’t have a lawyer, call the National Lawyers Guild hotline: you can Google it and tell them that you’re being questioned by the FBI and you need an attorney.

Do not talk to the FBI, and there’s a corollary: do not talk to a grand jury. A grand jury is an anti-constitutional body; there’s a an old expression about grand juries which is: a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich. 99% of suspects who were brought in front of a grand jury [were brought] back guilty. They bring back indictments against them, not guilty, but indictments against them. 99%.

• Do not provide information about your international connections to the FBI
Iosbaker explained that the organizations and activists intimidated by the FBI in 2010 not only oppose US imperial wars but all wars, and, going a step further, expressed solidarity with the heroic people of Colombia and Palestine in their resistance against imperialism, and, in the case of the Palestinians, their resistance to the settler colony called Israel.

Raided by the FBI for Being Socialist, With Omali Yeshitela

“When we were raided, we immediately responded and said not only that we did nothing wrong, but that opposing war is not a crime, that international solidarity is not a crime …. Many of our friends in the peace movement suggested to us, ‘Yes, defend your anti-war activity, but you really shouldn’t talk about the right of the people of Palestine and the people of Colombia to resist by any means necessary,’ and we had to be very clear: when people are occupied, resistance is justified. That’s one of the key slogans that we raised,” he added.

“When we were threatened by the assistant US attorney, we never talked, none of us who were there. We were eventually subpoenaed, and none of us talked to the grand jury or to the US attorneys. They talked to our attorneys, and they told our attorneys [that] they had enough to indict us, put us on trial, and convict us for the crime of providing material support to foreign terrorist organizations.”

“These US government attorneys also threatened to bring civil contempt or criminal contempt charges against us, and [we would] face 18 months in prison if we refused to talk to the grand jury, but we never did.”

Joe Iosbaker added that among the 28 activists attacked by the FBI, there were three families with parents subpoenaed who were forced to give temporary custody of their children to friends or comrades, in case of the worst outcome.

He explained that although they were ready for the worst outcome, they decided not to tell the US government the names of the people they worked with in Palestine or Colombia because the violent raids and the prison time they faced would still be lighter than the consequences comrades in Colombia and Palestine would have to endure if they betrayed them, with torture and assassinations being real possibilities.

He finished his answer by expressing that discipline in refusing to cooperate with US government intimidation campaigns should be one of the top priorities of leftist movements. Furthermore, the movement should campaign in every corner to bring light to criminal proceedings perpetrated by the FBI to sabotage initiatives like the Uhuru Movement, to whose activists he, representing FRSO and the CAARPR, reiterated his full solidarity and support.

For both: What can be done to strengthen the socialist and anti-imperialist movement in the US? Why was the response to the Tyre Nichols assassination so stale?

Chairman Yoshitela explained that colonialism and racism are fundamental aspects to consider regarding these issues because there is no freedom of speech or freedom of assembly for black communities and black people in general in the US. Black people in the US do not have the privilege of democracy, and for that reason, people like George Floyd and Tyre Nichols are continually assassinated by police and US government agents, he said.

Additionally, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), or the police for migrants along the Mexican border—again, a police force designed specifically to criminalize brown people—commit all sort of atrocities that are normalized by the colonial system but that would cause an uproar if the same tactics were to be applied to white people. “Basically, [these tactics are normalized] because racism is the ideological foundation of the colonial capitalist system, and [are similar to repression] the indigenous people living in the concentration camps called ‘reservations’ face everyday,” Yoshitela added.

“The Uhuru Movement has created solidarity committees in 141 cities around the US, among the colonizers, among the white communities, and that solidarity movement has fought back, showing strong solidarity in supporting the Uhuru Movement during this FBI intimidation campaign.” Yoshitela went on to emphasize that the movement also shows solidarity with international movements in Iran, Nicaragua, El Salvador, the occupied territories of Palestine and Venezuela.

Iosbaker explained that the CAARPR under the leadership of Frank Chapman organized rallies in Chicago in response to the release of the video showing the brutal assassination of Tyre Nichols, despite the “law and order” campaign launched by the US plutocracy and its mainstream media just after the George Floyd rebellions.

Iosbaker also emphasized that another front to struggle toward beyond protests is changing the police force’s free rein in urban communities, with movements attempting to pass resolutions to create committees for police community control. These initiatives are currently happening in Chicago while disregarding Mayor Lightfoot’s initial resistance, which might open the door to allow the people to rewrite the norms for the Chicago Police Department.

Chairman Yeshitela expressed his support for the developments in Chicago because they reminded him of a similar initiative the Uhuru Movement set in motion in 1984 in Oakland, California, showing that sometimes street protests are not the only tool to push for changes, and that we can push progressive initiatives in favor of the people despite the service of the politicians involved in these initiatives for the US imperialist government.

For OY: Why do you think they targeted you?  What do you see for the future of the international anti-colonial socialist struggle?

Chairman Yeshitela mentioned that Oxford University invited him to a conference in 2019 because they saw the work APSP and the Uhuru Movement was doing, a repeat of their invitation of Malcom X to a similar conference back when he split from the Nation of Islam. He expressed his interpretation of the reason for the invitation being that they recognized the work Uhuru and the APSP were doing not only in the US but also in the Caribbean, in Europe, and in Africa.

“That might be in part what lies beneath this FBI campaign, but also something similar to what happened to the Black Panthers in 1969, [who were] declared the greatest threat to internal security,” Yeshitela said.

“I think they see a re-emergence of a a particular kind of trajectory within the African Liberation movement, and they see us at the forefront of that. I think that’s one of the reasons that they attacked along with the whole convergence of ‘the perfect storm,’” added Omali Yeshitela, referring to the recent decline of US hegemony, both politically and economically.

This decline was evidenced by the Capitol building storming, which highlighted ruptures and disorganization within the US system. “They will do anything to hide it, and use us as scapegoats as well as also anyone who criticizes them,” said Yoshitela.

“Thousands of white people are influenced by our movement directly in the institutionalized processes we’ve created and in the organization of our solidarity committee … so I think that’s also a problem for [the US government]. They could kill Malcolm X, and there was not going to be any demonstration for the white community; they could kill Martin Luther King, and you wouldn’t have massive uprisings from white people; Fred Hampton: no, you didn’t see that. But we’ve built a movement now that makes it difficult for them to isolate the struggle of black people in the way they were able to in the 1960s, so I think that’s one of the things that makes us a problem,” expressed Chairman Yeshitela.

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