Supporters of a longtime California activist, Carlos Montes, rallied outside a courthouse in Los Angeles Tuesday calling on authorities to drop his prosecution. Montes faces four charges, including one for firearms possession that dates back to the 1960s. A longtime leader in the Chicano, immigrant rights and antiwar movements, Montes’ arrest in a May 2011 raid followed similar FBI raids on activists in Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois targeting fellow members of a political group called the Anti-War Committee. "They’re attacking me for my activism against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also because of my solidarity work with oppressed people throughout the world, whether they be in Palestine or Colombia or Mexico," says Montes, who plans to march against NATO this weekend in Chicago. Montes helped organize the Brown Berets and took part in the famous 1968 walkout by high school Chicano students in East Los Angeles to protest academic prejudice and dire school conditions. [includes rush transcript]
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AMY GOODMAN: We turn to another person who will fly into the protests this weekend. Nermeen?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Supporters of a longtime California activist rallied outside a courthouse in Los Angeles Tuesday calling on authorities to drop charges against Carlos Montes. Montes has long been a leader in the Chicano, immigrant rights and antiwar movements. Early on the morning of May 17th, 2011, FBI and L.A. Sheriff’s officers raided his home. The pre-dawn raid came after similar FBI raids on activists in Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois targeting fellow members of a political group called the Anti-War Committee. The group helped organize protests during the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul.
Montes faces four charges, including possession of a firearm by a felon. The alleged felony charge dates back to the 1960s, when Montes was an activist in the Chicano movement. He helped organize the Brown Berets and took part in the famous 1968 walkout by high school Chicano students in East Los Angeles to protest academic prejudice and dire school conditions. Montes says he is being prosecuted for political reasons.
AMY GOODMAN: The legendary Chicano journalist Rubén Salazar, who was shot dead by police in 1970 in East Los Angeles, described Montes as, quote, "a lean, intense young man who often sports a Zapata mustache, ... noted for his articulateness on the Chicano movement and his wit."
Carlos Montes’s trial was scheduled to start on Tuesday but has been postponed to June 20th. We reached out to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office for comment on the case, but they declined, saying, "Because of State Bar of California ethical guidelines for prosecutors, we wait until the trial is over before discussing the case."
Well, Carlos Montes is joining us now from Los Angeles, founding member of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression and the Southern California Immigration Coalition in L.A., before he flies out to be participating in the protests of NATO in Chicago. And we’re joined in Minneapolis by Bruce Nestor, past president of the National Lawyers Guild and a criminal defense and immigration attorney in Minneapolis.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now!, but we’re going to go first to Carlos. We’re talking about a raid that happened a year ago tomorrow. Explain why it is that the FBI and the police, the sheriffs of L.A., raided your house.
CARLOS MONTES: OK. They raided at 5:00 in the morning, busted the door down with automatic weapons drawn, right, I was totally asleep. The main reason is that they’re attacking me for my activism against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also because of my solidarity work with oppressed people throughout the world, whether they be in Palestine or Colombia or Mexico. I will be marching in NATO—against the NATO summit to denounce the warmongers, but also to express my solidarity with people who want freedom and democracy in their homeland.
AMY GOODMAN: But can you explain what happened yesterday in court?
CARLOS MONTES: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Because the trial was supposed to start yesterday, but new information came out.
CARLOS MONTES: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And we’re talking about a charge against you from 43 years ago.
CARLOS MONTES: Right, absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: They are saying you committed a felony; you’re saying that’s not true. And there seems to be new information that has come out that has caused them to postpone the trial.
CARLOS MONTES: Absolutely. There’s new information we’re trying to seek that will show that I was framed in 1969 for being a student, a Chicano activist demanding women’s studies, black studies, Chicano studies. The sheriffs came on the East L.A. college campus and repressed the strike. I was on my way home with my co-organizers and family, and I was arrested off campus and charged with assault and battery on a peace officer. That was a frame-up then, and this is the frame-up today, because of my activism, denouncing racism and war then, and it continues today.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Can you say, Carlos, why the FBI has targeted the Anti-War Committee, in particular?
CARLOS MONTES: In particular, because we denounced the warmongers at the Republican National Convention, and we were infiltrated by the FBI prior to the march on the RNC, and because we are in solidarity with the people in Palestine, Colombia and throughout the world, and because we travel to those countries, we investigate the violations of human rights, and we come back to the United States and denounce those atrocities. We denounce Plan Colombia. We denounce the invasion of countries by the U.S. military warmongers. And we do that in the communities, in the unions, and that is why they’re after us. They’re using the excuse of investigating domestic terrorism or people who are providing material support for terrorist organizations in Colombia and Palestine. And we are not terrorists. We are peace activists, we are solidarity activists, who want peace and justice, not only in the United States, but throughout the world.
AMY GOODMAN: So you have plans, despite the legal case that you’re dealing with, to go to Chicago to protest NATO.
CARLOS MONTES: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: As an immigrants’ rights activist, as a member of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, why are you going to Chicago this weekend?
CARLOS MONTES: I am going to Chicago to be in unity with the Iraqi veterans, with the immigrant rights activists, with my Boricua brothers and sisters, my African-American brothers and sisters, with the unions, the antiwar activists. I want to be there in unity to denounce the summit of NATO as warmongers. I missed the '68 Democratic convention; I'm not going to miss this one. I am going to be there in solidarity to denounce the NATO warmongers.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Carlos Montes, can you also say a little about the role of FBI informants in your case? You talk about a Karen Sullivan.
CARLOS MONTES: Yes. Karen Sullivan, absolutely. Karen Sullivan infiltrated the Minneapolis Anti-War Committee prior to the Republican National Convention of September 2008. She infiltrated the march on the RNC Committee. She infiltrated the local antiwar work for over a year, 'til she — ’til the raids of the antiwar activists occurred in September of 2010. She infiltrated the organization. She befriended folks. She went to family parties, to—she even had the keys to the Anti-War Committee in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which I am a supporter of. So this was an FBI infiltration not only to gather intelligence, but we know that the FBI is promoting acts of violence and provocative actions, not only during the RNC, but also during Karen Sullivan's infiltration of the antiwar movement.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And can you explain what the significance is of the term "material support"? Is that what most of these activists are being charged with? And what does it mean?
CARLOS MONTES: They are being investigated for providing material support for terrorist organizations. We have not been charged, because I am part of that search warrant that was executed by the FBI at the Anti-War Committee. What does that mean? That is a good question. What is the definition of providing material support for anyone? My definition is providing direct money, material support, arms. We have not done that. I believe that the federal government now has a new definition based on the Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project Supreme Court decision, that could be interpreted that providing solidarity work, providing counseling, providing legal—peaceful legal advice could be construed as providing material support to terrorist organizations.
AMY GOODMAN: Carlos Montes, I want to bring in Bruce Nestor—
CARLOS MONTES: Yes. Thank you, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —in Minneapolis right now, who’s been dealing with a lot of these cases. In a long piece by Ben Ehrenreich in the L.A. magazine on the Montes case, he writes that FBI papers discovered on the raids include a long list of questions agents were to ask suspects that range from "Have you ever heard of the Anti-War Committee?" to "Have you ever taken steps to overthrow the U.S. government?" And also, perhaps a bit absurdly, "What did you do with the proceeds from the revolutionary lemonade stand?" But talk in this last two minutes we have, Bruce Nestor, about the police crackdown on nonviolent protests that are taking place, from the Republican convention to what we’re seeing in Chicago right now and in Carlos Montes’s case.
BRUCE NESTOR: Well, the case against Carlos really begins in the 2008 Republican National Convention held in Minneapolis, when the FBI sent in an infiltrator for two years into the group organizing the peaceful march against the convention. That then morphed into an investigation about material support for terrorism, that ended up in the raids in the Midwest of 23 people, where they wanted any information about travel, phone calls, affiliation, any groups of the Colombia Action Network and political activity. And they left a list of people that they were wanting to seize information about, and Carlos’s name was on that list. And so, he’s really the 24th person out of the 23 in the Midwest who were summoned to the grand jury. And then they dug into Carlos’s background and have brought up these charges against him.
And you really have to see that this policy of infiltrating a peaceful group organizing a peaceful demonstration, and then morphing the demonstration under this broad definition of material support for terrorism that Carlos just talked about, that also fits into a lot of information coming out now through a Freedom of Information Act request being done by the Partnership for Civil Justice out of Washington, D.C., on behalf of Michael Moore and the National Lawyers Guild, in finding the immense amount of information that the Department of Homeland Security was collecting and then disseminating to local law enforcement to go after the Occupy protesters. And it’s really that whatever restraints, legal restraints, were imposed on the FBI following the scandals of COINTELPRO in the ’70s and the CISPES investigation in the ’80s, those legal restraints are entirely off right now. They have the infrastructure to carry out the surveillance in terms of electronic infrastructure. They have the agents on the ground. They have the political—
AMY GOODMAN: Bruce, we’re going to have to leave it there. Bruce Nestor, past president National Lawyers Guild, and Carlos Montes, thanks for joining us. We’ll be in Chicago covering the anti-NATO protests.