On September 24th, the FBI raided the homes of 14 peace activists in Minneapolis and Chicago, ostensibly searching for possible "material support" to terrorist organizations.
Nearly two months later, a coalition of 45 civil rights, human rights, peace and environmental groups have mounted a campaign to press Congress for an investigation of federal law enforcement's conduct, claiming the raids violated constitutional protections and could reflect a growing politicization of law enforcement.
"These raids suggest an ongoing trend of intrusive government surveillance of progressive activists in the United States," they wrote in a joint letter to President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, the leaders of Congress and FBI director Robert Mueller. "Prosecutions for protected political activity have a chilling effect, not just in the communities in which they occur, but also on the First Amendment rights of all Americans."
No arrests were made and the FBI said there was no "imminent danger" to the public.
"The problem here is, at the same time our government is criminalizing what used to be constitutionally protected, the FBI is regaining access to an expanding set of intrusive investigative tactics," explained Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, in an interview with Raw Story.
"These raids in the midwest demonstrate one predictable way in which these powers have been and will be further abused."
The warrants sought "evidence in support of an ongoing Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation into activities concerning the material support of terrorism," Steve Warfield, spokesman for the FBI in Minneapolis, claimed at the time.
The FBI seized computers, cell phones, boxes of documents, and other personal possessions from the activists as part of their investigation.
"These raids, searches and grand jury investigations are nothing more than an attempt to intimidate us and to intimidate the anti-war movement," said Joe Iosbaker, a peace activist who had his home raided. "We have done nothing wrong."
The activists were later summoned to appear before a federal grand jury, but invoked their Fifth Amendment right to refuse testimony. They are expected to be summoned again and may face contempt if they continue to refuse, according to an attorney representing the activists.
"I think these raids reflect the politicization of law enforcement," Buttar said. "This was a problem under the Bush administration, when the DOJ was politicized by the attorney general."
"We call on Congress to initiate an investigation similar to the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (the 'Church Committee'), initiated in 1975, to report on FBI activities that appear to be targeting legitimate political speech and assembly," the groups wrote.
The signers of this letter reflect not just peace or civil liberties or environmental groups, but a coalition that's now spanning movements," claimed Buttar, who is credited as one of the letter's authors. "This is a broadening breadth of interest. [...] The real fear here is that our federal law enforcement agencies are being politicized in a way that is very dangerous."
Read the full letter here (PDF link). A full list of signatories follows.
With original reporting by Stephen C. Webster.
American Friends Service Committee
American Muslim Voice
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
Arab American Association of New York
Arab American Institute
Arab Community Center for Economic & Social Services (ACCESS)
Arab Muslim Federation
Asian Law Caucus
Bay Area Association of Muslim Lawyers
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Brooklyn For Peace
Center for Constitutional Rights
Civil Liberties Defense Center
Community to Community Development
Council on American-Islamic Relations- Cincinnati Chapter
Council on American-Islamic Relations- Cleveland Chapter
Council on American-Islamic Relations- Columbus Chapter
Creating a Culture of Peace Training
Defending Dissent Foundation
DRUM- Desis Rising Up & Moving
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Filipino Advocates for Justice
Humanitarian Law Project
Islamic Shura Council of Southern California
Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition
Muslim Legal Fund of America
Muslimah Writers Alliance
National Lawyers Guild - New York City Chapter
National Lawyers Guild International Committee
National Lawyers Guild New York City Chapter Anti-Racism Committee
National Lawyers Guild/Los Angeles Chapter
National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC)
NBPA International Leadership Institute
Network of Arab American Professionals
Nevada Desert Experience
Rights Working Group
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
South Asian Bar Association of Northern California
Standish E. Willis, Attorney At Law National Conference of Black Lawyers/Chicago
The Sikh Coalition
US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
US Palestine Community Network