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Being Anti-War Is Not a Crime -- But That's Not Stopping the FBI From Raiding Activists' Homes

Activists who organized anti-war protests at the 2008 RNC have been targeted with raids, subpoenas and government spies.
 
 
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In the early morning of May 17, longtime anti-war and immigrant rights activist Carlos Montes awoke to the startling sound of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department SWAT Team breaking down his door. "They came in with guns on their shoulders, yelling. I was shocked," 63-year-old Montes told the Pasadena Star-News. "I thought, let me close my eyes so I can go to sleep and see if I wake up from this nightmare."

Authorities searched Montes' home, confiscating his cell phone and computer. Montes says the authorities also sorted through, stacked and organized a large number of personal documents and photos, many of them relating to his activist activities and trips he took to Colombia and Cuba (Montes founded the Brown Beret Chicano youth group in the 1960s and has been involved in anti-war efforts for four decades).

When authorities discovered an illegally purchased firearm in his home, Montes was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm by a felon (Montes was convicted in 1969 of assaulting a police officer), possession of ammunition, and four counts of perjury for lying on his gun registration.

Montes already felt the raid had less to do with firearms than with his political activism, but what happened next solidified that feeling. While sitting in the back of a patrol car, Montes was approached by a plainclothes FBI agent who questioned Montes about his involvement with the Chicago-based Freedom Road Socialist Organization.

There is other strong evidence suggesting that Montes is being targeted by the FBI because of his activism and political views. The raid on Montes' home follows a flurry of home raids and subpoenas issued to nearly two dozen activists last September. Many, if not all, of the activists, including Montes, were involved in staging anti-war protests at the September 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. Also searched was the Minneapolis office of the Anti-War Committee; it was later revealed that a government spy had infiltrated it and similar activist groups in the Twin Cities.

The Washington Postpicked up the story of the probe:

FBI agents took box after box of address books, family calendars, artwork and personal letters in their 10-hour raid in September of the century-old house shared by Stephanie Weiner and her husband.

The agents seemed keenly interested in Weiner’s home-based business, the Revolutionary Lemonade Stand, which sells silkscreened baby outfits and other clothes with socialist slogans, phrases like “Help Wanted: Revolutionaries.”

The search was part of a mysterious, ongoing nationwide terrorism investigation with an unusual target: prominent peace activists and politically active labor organizers....

Investigators, according to search warrants, documents and interviews, are examining possible “material support” for Colombian and Palestinian groups designated by the U.S. government as terrorists.

According to the Post, the activists subpoenaed in September have "invoked their right not to testify before a grand jury, defying U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, whose office is spearheading the investigation" and have argued that the government is capitalizing on post-9/11 anti-terror sentiment to go after individuals who vocally oppose U.S. foreign policy -- an act that is protected under the First Amendment.

The activists banded together to form the Committee to Stop FBI Repression. The group has organized petitions, dozens of rallies, and at least one "national call-in day" to encourage Attorney General Eric Holder to end the FBI's activist probe and drop the charges against Carlos Montes, which carry a maximum penalty of 18 years in prison.

On July 6, Montes pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

The Committee to Stop FBI Repression deemed the day a National Day of Action in Solidarity with Carlos Montes. Anti-War Committee leader Meredith Aby, who was subpoenaed in September, addressed supporters gathered at the Minneapolis FBI building:

Carlos played an important leadership role with us in the Coalition to March on the RNC. He participated in the organizing conference we had here in January 2008 and on national coordinating phone calls. He spoke on the stage at the protest on day 1 of the convention and was a powerful voice for ending US warfare and occupation in Iraq. He also spoke at the Anti-War Committee’s protest on day 4 of the RNC and even stepped up to help lead the protest on the ground after the majority of our committee was arrested in the police’s attempt to prevent our protest from disrupting McCain’s speech at the Excel Center....Unfortunately, the FBI investigated the impressive coalition that we pulled together locally and we are still feeling the affects of that surveillance....

It is imperative for us to denounce the FBI’s use of [Counter Intelligence Program] tactics and demand an end to these attacks on activists!

Montes also spoke outside the Alhambra, California, courthouse where his arraignment was held: "Our view is that this is a political attack because of my views denouncing the U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and denouncing U.S. policy support of Israel denying the Palestinian people their rights," he said. "This is not about having a gun or buying a gun it's about my political views and political activity."

Lauren Kelley is an associate editor at AlterNet and a freelance writer and editor who has contributed to Change.org, The L Magazine and Time Out New York. She lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter here.
 
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