Long-time Chicano activist Carlos Montes, who has been active in the antiwar, education and civil rights movements in Los Angeles for decades, goes on trial today for bogus charges that are being brought against him for purchasing a gun. It is a political trial and a continuation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) targeting of antiwar and international solidarity activists.
On May 17, 2011, at 5 am in the morning, the LA County Sheriff and FBI crashed down his door and entered his home. Montes was still asleep. He thought someone was breaking in to kill him, beat him up or rob him. All of these things went through his mind.
He yelled out, “Who is it?” The response he got was, “Police! Carlos Montes!”
Montes recalls there was a flashlight and cell phone near his bed along with a gun because he has been robbed before. It is a good thing he didn’t grab anything. He just jumped up. Agents and police entered his room with flashlights, bulletproof vests and helmets. They had automatic rifles pointed in his direction. He was placed under arrest, handcuffed, patted down and taken outside to the patio of his home.
“That’s when I saw a sea of police cars, black and white,” Montes recounts. “Two large green vans that were not marked,” were present too. That is what the LA County Sheriff uses.
The police put Montes in the back of a patrol car. He was wearing his pajamas and sat there for fifteen to twenty minutes before someone came and told him they believed he was a felon who purchased guns. Montes told the officers he wanted to see his lawyer before he would talk. The officers said okay but someone else wanted to talk to him too.
According to Montes, a man opened up the right-rear door where he was sitting. He was plain-dressed, was wearing a baseball cap and a windbreaker and had long blond hair. He said I am with the FBI and I want to talk to you about the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. Montes looked at him and said, “What?” He realized this had nothing to do with purchasing guns but was all about his politics.
“Do you have a card?” Montes asked. The agent scoffed and walked away. He didn’t have a card. Meanwhile, inside Montes’ home, according to Fight Back News, “the team of Sheriffs and FBI” were ransacking “his house, taking his computer, cell phones and hundreds of documents, photos, diskettes and mementos of his current political activities in the pro-immigrant rights and Chicano civil rights movement.” They also were seizing “hundreds of historical documents related to Carlos Montes’ involvement in the Chicano movement for the past 44 years.”
“That was the day they booked me and sent me to the County Jail,” Montes concludes.
Montes goes on trial today in LA. After a demonstration outside the Criminal Courts Building, when he and others will demand that charges be dropped, he will go inside and jury selection, opening statements, etc, will begin. In court, they will argue the felony charges (reduced from six to four charges) are part of a frame-up attempt.
Back in 1969, when Montes was a student at East LA Community College, he was part of a student movement that wanted the college to offer a Chicano studies program. The college said no to the movement’s demand so the students called for a strike.
The college called the LA County Sheriff and police came on campus with batons and helmets and pushed people. They arrested and beat people. The rally was squashed. And, Montes adds, “I was at the rally. I was already a leader of the Brown Berets,” a Chicano working class organization that fought against police brutality and the Vietnam War. He had already been arrested for “conspiracy to disrupt the school system.
Once the rally was entirely broken up by police, he hopped in a car with his friends and returned to his home. Police were there when he arrived. The County Sheriff stopped him, everyone was pulled out of their cars and Montes was arrested. They claimed he had “assaulted and battered a cop at the rally.” Montes thought, “What? Why didn’t you arrest me then?” He says he was singled out and framed back then.
The authorities assert he committed a felony when he was actually put on trial and convicted of a misdemeanor and never served any jail time. They have charged him with possession of a gun, felon with a gun, felon with ammunition and perjury. They are charging him with perjury because the authorities allege he falsified his application when he bought a gun and should’ve said he was a felon.
“They say I have a felony. I should not have guns even if they are legally purchased at the store,” Montes explains. “I’m saying no. I moved on with my life. I became an involved citizen—working, going to school, raising my children, continuing the antiwar movement, Chicano civil rights movements.”
The prosecution is selective. They could have come for him when he first bought a gun in 2002 or when he bought another gun in 2005. But, the authorities never came for him. They didn’t come for him because there are thousands of ex-felons in LA that own guns. Even if he was a felon (and he is not), the enforcement is only happening because the FBI called the LA County Sheriff and informed them that they thought Montes might be a felon because he had guns. The FBI only knew about his guns because they were investigating his solidarity activism.
The FBI spied on and infiltrated an antiwar group that was organizing against the Republican National Convention (RNC) in 2008. From September 24, 2010 and into 2011, twenty-three activists were raided by FBI or approached by FBI agents that gave them subpoenas to testify before a federal grand jury.
As Mick Kelly, who also had his home raided by FBI agents, says, “The story here is there was an investigation into the organizing at the RNC and Carlos was among those targeted. In fact, his name was on a search warrant just like mine that was served at the Antiwar Committee offices during a 2010 raids there. So indeed it is all connected. Carlos is the 24th activist to be hit with FBI repression for antiwar and international solidarity activism.”
The FBI had an undercover agent named “Karen Sullivan” infiltrate the antiwar movement in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They began to monitor Montes’ activism and investigate him and that is how they got information they are using to fabricate charges against him.
Asked if he has a history of being targeted by the FBI, Montes recounts how he has been an activist since he was a student in 1967. He helped organize student walkouts against racism and inequality in LA high schools known as the Chicano Blowouts, which was the subject of a 2006 documentary called Walkout.He was part of the Brown Berets, which the FBI infiltrated. They sent undercover cops to infiltrate, disrupt and frame activists on false charges in the late-1960s and early-1970s. And, today, the intelligence apparatus through Homeland Security, the FBI, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) continues to attack antiwar and immigrant rights activists.
“There is an increase in repression,” Montes contends. “They are using the excuse of the “war on terrorism” to [not only] infiltrate organizations but also initiate acts. The FBI’s new policy is that they will initiate an idea or an act so that to me is entrapment. They’re entrapping people to do things so this is a new wave of repression. It started with Bush and Obama is continuing it with his passing of repressive federal laws and continuing to use the federal grand jury system and the FBI to attack us.”
Despite investigations into COINTELPRO, the practice of using the FBI against progressive movements, whether they be labor, left or antiwar, has for the most part continued uninterrupted. Montes mentions the attacks on public workers, scapegoating of immigrants and targeting of Mexicans and Central Americans. He says these attacks are related to the fact that these same people were driven from countries where US interventions or US economic policies like the North-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have impacted people.
As the trial moves forward, Montes is concerned he will not be able to talk about his history as a political activist or describe the history of political repression in America. The District Attorney will likely simplify the case and say, “This is a gun. This is a felon. 1, 2, 3 – that’s it.” Convict him. Keep politics out of it. Montes already saw this happen in a preliminary hearing where his attorney raised the issue of the FBI and there were objections to making that a part of proceedings.
Steve Downs, interim Executive Director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, says he’s been following the charges against Carlos Montes for some time.
It is clear the government was determined to find some charge to bring against Mr. Montes because of his political activism, and so they used the full weight of the government to comb through decades of his records looking for something illegal. The only thing that they could find was a 42 year old misdemeanor conviction which they are now calling a felony. The charge is obviously a pretext. How many of us could withstand this kind of retaliatory investigation? If they can frame Carlos Montes they can frame anyone; all of us are potentially Carlos Montes.
Montes has received support from the California Teachers Association, the Southern California Immigration Coalition (which is a co-founder), the San Francisco Labor Council, UTLA, the State Association of Mexican American Educators and more. This support, along with the support of people around the country that condemn the FBI’s target of activists, will help Montes and his defense lawyer struggle in their effort to make it clear this is a political trial.
For those wondering how this case can advance if Montes is, in fact, not a felon but just someone convicted of a misdemeanor, Joe Iosbaker (another one of the twenty-three antiwar/solidarity activists targeted by the FBI), says, “The FBI has a technicality and claim it is seen in the eyes of the law as a felony.” He adds with regards to the trial process, “This is going to be a very narrow reading of past legal precedent. Is this is a misdemeanor or is this a felony?”
Like Montes mentioned, Iosbaker says First Amendment issues have been prohibited from being raised in court. Issues of selective prosecution, which the sheriff knows about, have been prohibited too. The LA County Sheriff has actually seized guns from Montes before. Montes’ girlfriend pursued a case against him and Montes faced a domestic charge. The charge was dropped and his weapons were returned.
Iosbaker concludes this is all about the FBI’s case against twenty-three Midwest activists. “They want to hurt him so they can get back to us. They wouldn’t be coming for him if it wasn’t for us.”