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Defending Rights & Dissent expresses its concern with the indictment of three members of the African People’s Socialist Party, along with one member of Black Hammer, for allegedly acting as unregistered foreign agents of Russia. According to a Department of Justice press release, Russia “ weaponized our First Amendment rights — freedoms Russia denies to its own citizens — to divide Americans and interfere in elections in the United States.”
As we articulated in a previous statement issued when the African People’s Socialist Party was raided (but not indicted), we take seriously the problem of any nation’s foreign intelligence service interfering in the domestic political affairs of another nation. Nonetheless, we have deep concerns about the US government’s actions.
The raid of of the African People’s Socialist Party was connected to a US government indictment of Alexander Viktorovich Ionov, a Russian national who resides in Russia, alleging that he was a Russian intelligence officer who had conspired against the United States by getting three domestic political organizations to act as unregistered foreign agents of Russia.
The organizations were not named, but it was obvious that they were the African People’s Socialist Party and its sister organization the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, Black Hammer, and Yes California, a rightwing California secessionist organization. A number of unnamed unindicted co-conspirators were mentioned whose profile clearly matched those of prominent members of the three aforementioned organizations. Now the US government has brought a superseding indictment explicitly naming the African People’s Socialist Party and Black Hammer movement, as well as formally charging their leaders. The Yes California movement remains both uncharged and anonymized (albeit poorly) in the latest indictment. The reasons for this disparate treatment are unclear, but given the DOJ’s history of racial and political bias the decision to name and indict Black socialists while protecting the identity of similarly accused white far-right actors is troubling.
Much of the indictment is troubling in light of the history of the DOJ, FBI, and other government actors. As we stated in our previous statement:
While the indictment alleges the group received money from the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (which they have denied), it includes as overt acts in the conspiracy a speaking tour in support of reparations for slavery and a petition to the United Nations condemning the US’s treatment of Black Americans as “genocide.” These views have been held by the African People’s Socialist Party, and other Pan-Africanist and Black Liberation organizations for decades. Conflating these points of view with “Russian misinformation” and foreign attempts to “sow division” runs the risk of stigmatizing dissent.
This is made all the more concerning given the US government’s history of suppressing Black Liberation organizing based on fears of foreign influence. The Uhuru Solidarity Movement’s UN petition appears modeled after the “We Charge Genocide” petition of the Civil Rights Congress. Paul Robeson and W. E. B. DuBois were unable to deliver the petition in France, as they had their passports revoked. When William Patterson of the Civil Rights Congress did so, the US government seized his passport while he was abroad. DuBois was later himself indicted as an unregistered foreign agent, but was acquitted. Similarly, in the early 1970s J. Edgar Hoover kept a file on “Foreign Influences in the Black Extremist Movement” and tasked the NSA with helping the FBI to reveal it.
Through its statement about Russian weaponization of “our First Amendment Rights,” the Department of Justice acknowledges a very real nexus between its indictment and First Amendment activity. While we await what evidence the Department of Justice puts forward intended to prove the defendants accepted money from a foreign government, we remain deeply concerned about those parts of the indictment that play into an over century-old fake narrative that Black-led struggles against racial injustice are the work of foreign government seeking to “sow discord” and create “divisions” in our country. Finally, we stress that an indictment is the unproven allegations of the government. All criminal defendants have a constitutional presumption of innocence.
We will continue to monitor this case as it develops.