Drop all charges filed against the African People’s Socialist Party!

By Terry Evans
May 8, 2023

Striking a serious blow at constitutional protections, Department of Justice prosecutors got a federal grand jury in Florida April 18 to indict three members of the African People’s Socialist Party and Uhuru Movement on trumped-up charges of being “foreign agents.” This pretext has been used by the government for decades to go after militant workers, Black rights fighters, the Socialist Workers Party and others.

Omali Yeshitela, Penny Joanne Hess and Jesse Nevel are charged with acting “as an agent of a foreign government and foreign officials, to wit, the Russian Federation,” and doing so “without prior notification to the Attorney General.” Along with former APSP member Augustus C. Romain, now a member of Black Hammer, they are also charged with defrauding the U.S.

Three Russians — no longer in the U.S. — are named in the indictment. Federal prosecutors claim Aleksey Sukhodolov and Yegor Popov work for the FSB, Vladimir Putin’s political police. A third, Aleksandr Ionov, is alleged to have worked with the APSP to advance Moscow’s interference in an election in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 2019. The APSP ran Eritha Akile Cainion for City Council there.

Founded in 1972, the Black nationalist party runs a range of small businesses and has engaged in constitutionally protected political activity for decades.

The indictment says Ionov gave money to APSP members to build support for Moscow’s agenda in the U.S., especially Putin’s seizure of parts of Ukraine. APSP leaders have never made any secret of their support for the Kremlin’s attempt to crush Ukraine’s independence. And that opinion is shared by others, including a number of Stalinist-trained groups here. All of them collaborate with forces abroad who share their views, as is their right.

Prosecutors lost no time making clear their real target is the Constitution’s protections of free political expression. Russian spies “weaponized our First Amendment rights,” complained Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. Whenever the government says someone is “weaponizing the First Amendment,” it means they’re voicing opinions it wants to shut up.

Assault on protected political activity

Throughout the indictment prosecutors target APSP members political activities. These include campaigning for reparations for descendants of slaves, and publishing articles by Ionov. It also cites a visit by Yeshitela to Moscow in 2015. Prosecutors charge the group’s members because they didn’t sign up as Moscow’s “agents” with the U.S. attorney general. If convicted, they face up to 15 years in prison.

Heavily armed FBI agents raided the APSP and Uhuru Movement’s offices in St. Petersburg last July, battering down the doors, throwing flashbang grenades inside and handcuffing those there at gunpoint, as they seized computers, financial records and files. They also raided the homes of APSP and Uhuru members.

“This case is not about … whether or not I have a position around the war in Ukraine that was the same as what the Russians had,” Yeshitela, chairman of the APSP, wrote late last year. “This attack was perpetrated against us because we have always fought for the liberation of Africa.” The group also supports the Cuban Revolution and one of its members is currently on a delegation from the U.S. to Havana to take part in activities around May Day.

“Foreign agent” laws are a key part of the government’s “national security” arsenal — a direct attack on First Amendment protections. If any of your political positions are similar to some other country’s government, you’re fair game to be spied on, disrupted and prosecuted.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act was adopted in 1938 by the Democratic Party administration of Franklin Roosevelt. It was part of a package of laws attacking political rights in preparation for crushing opposition to Washington’s entry into the second imperialist world war.

The FBI launched an assault on the Socialist Workers Party for building opposition in the labor movement to the U.S. rulers’ imperialist war drive in the late 1930s. The attack began under the Foreign Agents Act. It led to the frame-up and conviction of 18 SWP leaders and Teamsters union members under the thought-control Smith Act in 1941.

For decades afterward, Democratic and Republican administrations have used “foreign agent” and a raft of other witch hunt laws as weapons to spy on, harass and disrupt the SWP, Communist Party, opponents of Washington’s wars and others.

Acting as “unregistered foreign agents” was one of the charges against five Cuban revolutionaries who had come to the U.S. to gather information about counterrevolutionary groups plotting violent assaults on Cuba. The Cuban Five were targeted by the FBI, framed up and imprisoned for up to 16 years. The last of them won their freedom in 2014.

Months before Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, the FBI tried to cook up a case claiming he too was a threat to “national security,” operating in collusion with Moscow. It raided the homes and offices of Trump supporters.

The FBI broke into Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last summer under the ruse of protecting “national security.” The government claimed he improperly took secret documents when he left the White House. It turned out later that many presidents do the same, including Joseph Biden. This assault was a part of the Democrats’ six-year effort to drive Trump out of politics or to prison.

Whenever one ruling-class party attempts to criminalize its differences with the other, their assaults batter constitutional protections and inevitably come back on the working class. The raid at Mar-a-Lago and against the APSP were followed by another FBI operation, where agents attempted to interrogate some 60 people in Puerto Rico who had taken part in a solidarity brigade to Cuba. So far no charges have been issued.

Defending constitutional freedoms against government assault remains central to advancing the common struggles of workers and the oppressed.

Drop the charges against the APSP!