Pro-Obama lefties get slapped down by the FBI
by Justin Raimondo
September 27, 2010
FBI raids on six houses in Minneapolis and Chicago, including the
office of the Minneapolis Antiwar Committee, have the antiwar
movement and the left in general in an uproar. Agents came
barging into homes guns drawn, kicking down doors and smashing
furniture, armed with search warrants. The warrants described, in
suitably vague terms, allegations of "material support for
terrorism." No arrests were made, although a number of individual
activists were served with subpoenas demanding their appearance
before a grand jury. Computers, documents, phones, and other
materials were carted away by burly FBI agents, who appeared at 7
a.m. sharp, locked and loaded.
Let the frame-ups begin!
This Palmer raids-style fishing expedition is apparently aimed at
members and supporters of an obscure Marxist grouplet, the Freedom
Road Socialist Organization (FRSO), a Maoist remnant founded in the
1960s which came out of the "new communist movement" documented in
Max Elbaum's Revolution in the Air. What drew the attention of the
authorities to FRSO was apparently their "solidarity" work on behalf
of the Palestinians and a Colombian leftist insurgency known as FARC.
More about FRSO later, but in the meantime let's look at the context
in which all this is occurring. Why it seems like only yesterday that
the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General issued its
report on the illegal surveillance, infiltration, and systematic
harassment of antiwar groups, including the Merton Center, in
Pittsburgh, the Catholic Worker organization, and Greenpeace. The
report has been described by many as "scathing," but in the process
of trying to whitewash FBI Director Robert Mueller, it also succeeds
in minimizing the crimes of the political police as they sought
evidence to frame up a bunch of pacifists as potential terrorists.
In justifying the infiltration and extensive surveillance, FBI agents
told the IG that, since the individuals involved were advocates of
"direct action," the activities of the Merton Center/Catholic Worker
raised the possibility of "arson attacks" on military facilities.
Remember, this is the same FBI that, under J. Edgar Hoover, spied on
and tried to destroy Martin Luther King. An arson attack these thugs
can understand, and deal with, but the concept of nonviolent
resistance is a direct affront to their entire worldview and a much
more potent threat to their power.
The surveillance of the Merton Center, and specifically of a 2002
protest against the Iraq war, was supposedly initiated in order to
garner information about "an ongoing terrorist investigation," and so
Director Mueller testified in hearings before Congress, but that
turned out not to be true. A great deal of the IG's report is taken
up with defending Mueller, personally, who supposedly didn't know
there was no ongoing terrorist investigation that required the
agent's presence at the rally, where he took photographs of
participants and collected literature. Or, at least, this agent
didn't know there was such an investigation although there was
but went anyway, because he was a "probationary" pig, and was just
trying to please his supervisor: his presence at the antiwar rally,
however "ill-conceived" it may have been, wasn't carried out "because
of the Merton Center's antiwar advocacy," it was just "make-work."
And if you believe that, then I have a P. T. Barnum quip at the ready
I won't even bother typing out.
"Ill-conceived," but legal that's the IG's verdict on the Merton
Center surveillance, because the FBI's shenanigans fit the very loose
legal parameters applicable under the PATRIOT Act. After all, the
rationale goes, it's possible that the subject of an ongoing
investigation into al-Qaeda's Pittsburgh cell might attend a protest
against the Iraq war given by Catholic nuns. Just as I suppose it's
possible Osama bin Laden could convert to Christianity and become a
In an editorial, the Boston Globe denounced the FBI's actions as
"red-baiting," but this is incorrect: A footnote in the report seeks
to justify the surveillance, or at least make it more politically
palatable, by identifying the Center as an "anarchist" enterprise,
one devoted to "mutual aid" as well as fighting war and State
oppression. Now that the Soviet Union is gone, there aren't all that
many reds around to be baited they've all either gone into real
estate, or else gone to Washington to take jobs in the Obama
administration. It's those darn anarchists who are the new bogeymen,
bomb-throwing radicals both Chris Matthews and Rush Limbaugh can
vilify in unison.
Since the PATRIOT Act and subsequent legislation gave the feds a
blank check to spy on us, law enforcement agencies have taken the
opportunity to cast as wide a net as possible over the legal
activities of American citizens whose only goal is to change American
foreign policy. Under Bush, and now under Obama, the government is
engaged in a systematic campaign to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat
the anti-interventionist movement on the home front, all under the
rubric of "anti-terrorism."
The FBI invasion of antiwar activists' homes and offices is the
latest chapter in this ongoing campaign: as our troops take Kandahar,
our political police are taking Minneapolis and Chicago.
The target of the raids, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, is
interesting because its history gives us a capsule summary of what
happened to the antiwar movement of the 1960s and 70s and a lesson
in why the current antiwar movement is floundering.
FRSO came out of the generational radicalization that created
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and energized a mass
left-wing student-based movement. When SDS splintered into a couple
dozen fragments in a frenzy of factional warfare, FRSO emerged from
one of the splinters known as the Revolutionary Youth Movement (II)
the Revolutionary Youth Movement (I) being something altogether
different, you see. In any case, as more and more of these young
radicals began to go into real estate, or take up Zen Buddhism, the
dead-enders either joined the Weathermen and went underground, or
else joined one of the plonky neo-Stalinist "parties" i.e. sects
that sprang up like mushrooms on a fallen tree.
FRSO was one such grouplet, formed out of the merger of the Maoist
Revolutionary Workers' Headquarters (which had previously split from
the Revolutionary Communist Party), and the Proletarian Unity League.
Both of these groups had been highly critical of the "ultra-left"
doctrine, tactics, and strategy of the Maoist movement, and sought to
salvage those activists who survived the flight to bourgeois respectability.
The idea was to rebuild the movement by carrying out a holding
action, but the result was yet another split, with one faction
deciding that the entire basis of Marxist-Leninist theory had to be
reexamined with a critical eye these are the "Left
Refoundationists" against the upholders of orthodoxy, who called
themselves FRSO-(Fight Back). There are, today, two organizations
which call themselves the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, with
the orthodox faction winding up in the sights of the FBI, and the
Left Refoundationists winding up in … "Progressives for Obama."
One comic side note of the raids is the Left Refoundationist
denunciation of the FBI's attack on their ex-comrades, which, after
decrying the incident as "part of a growing governmental trend
targeting the left," and pointing out that "the [African National
Congress, which currently governs South Africa] was on the
'terrorist' list right up until they won electoral victory in South
Africa," is careful to point out, in bold print:
"Although the organization in question has a similar name to ours,
we are different organizations. (We are officially Freedom Road
Socialist Organization/Organización Socialista del Camino para la
Libertad (FRSO/OSCL).) We were not targets in these raids."
In other words: it ain't us! It's those guys over there:
"These raids and arrests have the effect of stifling dissent and
foreclosing democratic rights of minority viewpoints. We should be
concerned, whether or not we agree with the politics of the targeted
The Left Refoundationists went into the Democratic party, and were
active in "Progressives for Obama," an outfit cooked up by Tom
Hayden, FRSO-"Left Refoundationist" and AFL-CIO bureaucrat Bill
Fletcher, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Danny Glover, whose job it was to
get these former militant commies to the polls on behalf of the Great
Change. The orthodox FRSO-ers, on the other hand, continued along the
"Marxist-Leninist" path, meeting with leftist insurgents in South
America and occupied Palestine, but still feeling the pull of the
Great Change. As their "Main Political Report" on the domestic
situation for 2010 puts it:
"The election of Barack Obama as the first African American President
of the United States is a contradictory event. In part the election
of Obama was a referendum on race in the United States, a referendum
that came out surprisingly positive … Obama's election represents a
rejection of the Bush administration policies and a desire amongst
the people for a progressive agenda from the government. Immediately
following his election there was a sense of optimism and a feeling
that change is possible. This is a very good development after so
many years of Bush. "
I wonder if they'll revise that last sentence in light of recent developments.
I think it's safe to say the antiwar movement was unprepared for this
kind of attack from an administration they hailed as "a very good
development," and I'm not just talking about FRSO. The idea that the
election of a black man whose resume reads "community organizer" is
going to change the face of US imperialism even slightly is an
illusion brought on by the identity politics that have long since
replaced Marxism (or any coherent 'ism) in the canons of the left. If
many have wondered who let the air out of the antiwar movement, it
was precisely those "radical" leftists who, like the "orthodox"
Marxists of FRSO, signed on as the "left" wing of the Obama cult.
That's why they didn't see the mailed fist of the State coming even
when it was a few inches from their faces.
The Minneapolis and Chicago raids are just the beginning. The logic
of the "war on terrorism," and its legal machinery here on the home
front, is an ever-expanding campaign to associate political dissent
and, specifically, dissent from our interventionist foreign policy
with violence and treason. And it will be a lot easier to pull this
off under a "progressive" veneer. Remember, Bush's political police
just spied covertly, as well as targeting Islamic charities and
shutting several down: Obama's KGB is conducting open raids on the
offices of domestic antiwar organizations. Anybody who gave a dime,
or an hour of their time, to the Minneapolis and Chicago antiwar
groups in which FRSO involved itself is now apt to be on an FBI
"terrorist watch list." Under this "progressive" President, the FBI
isn't just taking photos of us at antiwar events and following us to
the grocery store: it's kicking down the front door and taking our stuff.
The escalation of Obama's wars abroad is being matched, and more, by
an escalation of the war on dissent at home and the antiwar
movement is caught unprepared, in shock that this "community
organizer" and his buddies in the Justice Department would go after
them. So watch out, comrades: that FBI agent at your door may be a
"Left Refoundationist" of a particular type.
Okay, aside from the ideological lesson we can draw from this, what
can the antiwar movement do, concretely, to defend itself from
attack? What's needed is a legal defense organization, one narrowly
devoted to providing assistance to those who find themselves targeted
on account of their anti-imperialist views. The network that's grown
up around the defense of Bradley Manning ought to be expanded to
include not only the FRSO activists but all future targets of state
repression and, believe you me, there will be more.
The ruling elite has never been more nervous, because their rule has
never been more brittle: the economic collapse foreshadows a
political collapse that can only be prevented by a crackdown and
general tightening of the rules of the American "democratic" system.
They're making up these new rules as they go along, and the process
is still ongoing, but of one thing we can be certain: the
Constitution is a dead letter. It no longer exists except as a
document kept under glass, venerated but never obeyed.
In an atmosphere like this, anything is possible: repression, mass
raids, and, yes, even dictatorship (in the name of "preserving
democracy," naturally). We are in for some hard times, and certainly
some tumultuous times: if we're going to survive, we must shed any
illusions that the State is going to back off, or give us a break,
because, after all, "our" guy is in the White House. The Obama
administration is the enemy of freedom at home and the main danger to
peace abroad and progressive opponents of war and domestic
repression need to either acknowledge that, or else give up the
fight. The Obama boomerang has hit them squarely upside their heads:
now they need to pick themselves up off the ground and face reality.