An activist jailed for refusing to testify before a Grand Jury in Seattle on Sept. 13, 2012 says he and others are being targeted for their political beliefs. Matthew Duran was one of several northwest-area activists whose homes were raided by the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force in July. According to reports on the raids, agents seized computers, black clothing, and “anarchist literature.” All but one of the five people issued subpoenas is refusing to testify. Duran’s next hearing is scheduled for Sept. 26 in Seattle.
Dennison Williams and Leah-Lynn Plante, two Portland-area residents who have been subpoenaed to testify, issued a statement on Aug. 1 explaining why they are refusing to cooperate with the Grand Jury investigation. Grand Juries are secret judicial bodies that privately determine the need to apply formal charges, without the aid or presence of a defense attorney for those testifying. Originally called to appear on Aug. 2, Plante refused to co-operate with the jury proceedings, offering them only her name and date of birth. She was re-subpoenaed and returned to appear before the Grand Jury on Sept. 13, where she again refused to testify. She released a statement on the same day saying, in part, “I believe that these hearings are politically motivated.” She has been issued another subpoena, but no date for her next hearing has been scheduled.
The FBI has not provided many details about the raids or why they are subpoenaing people to appear before a Grand Jury. FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele said the raids were conducted in part of “an ongoing investigation involving a violent crime,” possibly related to a Seattle protest on May 1 that resulted in minor property damage. Plante has said that she was not in Seattle during that time.
Tabatha Millican, a spokesperson for the Committee Against Political Repression, said the activists “are being targeted based on their political beliefs.” Over two hundred community organizations and activist groups have signed a letter in support for those targeted in the raids and by the grand jury.
The case is similar to one in the mid-west, which began in September 2010, when more than 70 FBI agents took part in a series of coordinated raids on the homes of anti-war, labor and international solidarity activists, and the office of the Twin Cities based Anti-War Committee. A total of 23 activists were subpoenaed to a Chicago grand jury, for what the FBI said was related to “activities concerning the material support of terrorism.” All of them refused to testify. And while there have been no indictments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas has said that the investigation remains ongoing. Several Congressional and state legislators wrote letters to the Attorney General in April 2011 asking for an explanation of the “investigations into individuals and organizations engaged in peaceful anti-war demonstrations.”
Numerous groups have condemned the raids, calling them a “fishing expedition.” Joe Iosbaker, one of the activists targeted in the raids, sees the subpoenas as part of a history of government suppression and disruption of social movements, saying, “The FBI acts today as they have always acted: to intimidate and disrupt the anti-war movement and the movements for peace and justice.”
The two year anniversary of these raids and subpoenas is triggering several protests around the country. The Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition will hold a demonstration calling for the end of the investigations outside the FBI national headquarters in Washington, DC on Sept. 24.
In Chicago, a press conference is scheduled for Sept. 20 that will feature Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, lead-attorney Michael Deutsch, and Hatem Abudayyeh, one of the activists targeted by the government. It is sponsored by the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, Committee Against Political Repression, Coalition to Protect People’s Rights, Episcopal Peace Fellowship – Chicago Chapter / Diocese of Chicago Peace and Justice Committee, Palestine Solidarity Group, and the United States Palestinian Community Network.