(photo: SEIU International )

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has written a letter to Attorney General Eric J. Holder expressing concern about an investigation into antiwar activists in Minneapolis and Chicago. The congressman is the latest member of Congress to send Holder a letter on this matter.

In September of last year, the FBI raided seven homes and an antiwar office in the Midwest. Fourteen activists in Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan were handed subpoenas to testify before a grand jury (months later, in December, nine Palestinian solidarity activists in Chicago were given subpoenas). Each of the activists had prior involvement in the Twin Cities Antiwar Committee, the Palestine Solidarity Group, the Colombia Action Network, Students for a Democratic Society and/or the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. They had all participated in a major anti-war march held at the 2008 Republican National Convention.

Kucinich’s letter raises two key questions. One, why was an undercover agent assigned to infiltrate groups planning peaceful protests at the 2008 Republican National Convention?

…As early as April of 2008, with the assignment of an undercover agent to infiltrate the meetings of anti-war groups and individuals who were planning protests and demonstrations at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis that summer. The introduction of an undercover agent into meetings of anti-war groups would normally be cause for concern in isolation, but it is especially worrisome in the context of other efforts during the previous administration to stifle legitimate anti-war dissent including, as disclosed last month, that the Bush White House had asked the CIA to investigate Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor who was a strong critic of the Iraq War.

Kucinich asks, “If the justification for that assignment was to determine whether any violent activities were being planned, why was that undercover operation continued after the Convention was over?”

Secondly, Kucinich asks for an explanation for why “small, local groups” are being targeted. He notes the focus of the investigation seems to be that these groups “provided ‘material support or resources’ to foreign terrorist organizations,” which “defies credibility.” He asks Holder why former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, former White House security adviser Frances Townsend and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who have publicly expressed “their support for the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq (MEK), are not being targeted for “material support for terrorism.”

The MEK is an “organization that has been on the foreign terrorist list of the State Department since 1997,” Kucinich notes. Each of these individuals spoke at a rally organized by an international group that lobbies for the MEK.

Kucinich highlights how these leaders have been helping to get the MEK removed from the terrorist list:

It has also been reported recently that “the MEK has spent millions of dollars on lobbyists, PR agents and communications firms to build up pressure on Secretary Hillary Clinton to take the group off of the terrorist list.” In [Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project], the Department of Justice, under both your direction and that of Attorney General Mukasey, argued that it was a felony to file an amicus brief on behalf of a foreign terrorist organization, or even to engage in public advocacy on behalf of such an organization, unless that advocacy was totally “independent” of the organization. How do you reconcile those arguments with the total absence of attention paid to lobbying activities in support of the MEK? How do you reconcile that inaction with the apparent overkill that has been directed at the anti-war activists in Minneapolis and Chicago?

Kucinich probably knows the answer but is sending Holder a letter because he wishes to advocate for the activists from a position of power and also hear the answer from Holder himself. This can be presumed because Kucinich asks at one point if the “distinction that justifies the different treatment of these two groups” is simply that one is “composed of prominent people who support the wars conducted by successive administrations” while the other group is “composed of ordinary people who do not.” To anyone following the targeting of these Midwest activists, it certainly seems they are being targeted for their political beliefs and views.

Thus far, Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA), Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), Rep. David Price (D-NC), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) have all sent letters to Attorney General Eric J. Holder. Holder has not publicly addressed the questions raised by congressional leaders or the movement of people around the country who increasingly agree the Justice Department is unfairly targeting activists.

Back in May, Holder was confronted by some of the targeted activists and their supporters when he came to Minnesota to headline youth violence prevention conference and also speak with young adults in the Somali community. He told Tracy Molm, a union organizer with AFSCME Local 3800 whose home was raided, that they would have to “agree to disagree.”

Weeks prior, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) invited two activists subpoenaed, Joe Iosbaker and Stephanie Weiner, to write a personal letter that could be submitted into the Congressional record during a House Judiciary Committee debate over reauthorizing provisions of the PATRIOT Act. Their letter provided details on what happened when their home was raided:

On Friday, September 24th, our home was raided by the FBI. We were served a warrant indicating that we were under investigation for providing “material support” to “foreign terrorist organizations.” We were also subpoenaed to a grand jury convened for the purpose of this investigation.

Altogether, 25 FBI agents searched our home, starting at 7:00 a.m. and ending at 6:30 pm. They seized our computers, our cell phones, bank statements and other financial documents. They took note books and files from our lifetimes of political activism. They took artwork off the wall. Our family photos were poured through. We watched as the bedrooms of our two sons were each searched for an hour by three agents wearing blue latex gloves. The agents read one son’s poetry; they sorted through the other son’s t-shirt collection.

As they went through the house, mainly they were interested in any piece of paper with a name and a phone number or email address, what the ACLU’s Mike German has referred to as “associational materials.”

The activists continue to be subject to investigation. In a related case, the FBI is now going after long-time anti-war activist and Chicano leader Carlos Montes.

Over 400 organizations have issued solidarity statements with the targeted activists. Unions representing over 800,000 workers have adopted support resolutions. Numerous street protests have been held since September of last year and petitions continue to net tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of signatures.

Support is growing for these targeted activists, and it only increases as the Justice Department refuses to provide and cannot provide a reasonable justification for wrecking the lives of people, who appear to be guilty of exercising their right to assemble, associate and dissent.