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“Bogus Charge”: FBI Raids African People’s Socialist Party; Group Dismisses Russian Influence Claims

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Image Credit: Burning Spear Media (photo right)

Leaders of the African People’s Socialist Party say the FBI carried out a violent raid on its properties with flash grenades and drones early Friday morning in Missouri and Florida. The pan-Africanist group has been a longtime advocate for reparations for slavery and a vocal critic of U.S. foreign policy. The raid appears to be connected to a separate indictment of a Russian man accused of using U.S.-based groups to spread Russian propaganda and tampering with U.S. elections. We speak with Omali Yeshitela, chair of the African People’s Socialist Party, who describes how he was zip-tied while his home was raided. He says the FBI’s implication that their group was taking orders from the Russians is “the most ridiculous, asinine” narrative. “It’s an attack on the right of Black people,” says Yeshitela. “It’s an attack on our struggle for the absolute total liberation of every square inch of Africa.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: “Police State” by the hip-hop duo Dead Prez, featuring the words of our next guest, Omali Yeshitela. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we turn to look at the FBI raiding several properties in late July in St. Louis, Missouri, and St. Petersburg, Florida, tied to the African People’s Socialist Party, which leads the Uhuru Movement. The pan-Africanist group has been a longtime advocate for reparations for slavery, a vocal critic of U.S. foreign policy.

The raids came as the Justice Department indicted a Russian man living overseas named Aleksandr Ionov using U.S.-based groups to spread Russian propaganda. The groups were not named in the indictment but reportedly include the African People’s Socialist Party. One of the FBI raids targeted the home of Omali Yeshitela, the founder of the African People’s Socialist Party. He accused the FBI of targeting his group for their political work. He’s joining us now from St. Louis.

Omali, welcome back to Democracy Now! We actually spoke to you first in about a quarter of a century ago, in 1996, when Democracy Now! just began. Can you, though, go back to the end of July and talk about what happened? Talk about that day of the raid. Where were you?

OMALI YESHITELA: My wife and I were awake. We were sitting at the dining room table discussing how we were going to be moving for the day. She is responsible for, has organized a doula program to train African women, young women, in becoming doulas. This is in a city where in the first year of life, enough Black babies die to fill 15 kindergarten classes every year. So, we were talking about that. And I actually was preparing to go to the gym.

And then we heard this loud racket outside, this noise from loudspeakers demanding that the residents of this property should come out with our hands up and nothing in our hands. And as this was being said, loud flashbang grenades were exploding all around the house and, I was later to learn, in the back stairwell of the house. So, I asked her to allow me to leave first, and to get on the phone to call people to let them know that we were being raided. And she tried but was unable to do it because they had jammed our phones.

So, I went down the stairwell, and when I got to the bottom of the stairwell, these laser dots from automatic weapons were bouncing off my chest. And I heard these commands to move toward them, toward the light. There was a large armored vehicle in front of my house. There were camouflage-clad troopers, FBI agents, and I don’t know who else, with flak jackets and automatic weapons. My wife followed me down. And on her way down, a drone went past her head going up the stairwell into the house. So, I went outside and was zip-tied at the side of the house. There were — I don’t know how many FBI agents there were, but there were a lot of them and a lot of different vehicles. And my wife came downstairs. She was handcuffed behind her back.

And I’m asking them, “Why? What’s going on?” They said that they had a search warrant for my house. And I asked them to see the search warrant. And they conveniently didn’t have it on them, but it was somewhere in the vicinity, and they’d get it. We were told to sit on the curb, which we didn’t comply with. And they said, “Well, you can sit in the backseat of the car.” And we were saying, “I don’t to sit anywhere. I want to leave. I don’t even want you here. I don’t want to be here with you.” I said again, “Why are you here? Why are you attacking this house?” They took my cellphone. They said that they were there because later that morning there was going to be an indictment out of Tampa, Florida, against a Russian national, and should he ever come to the United States, he would be arrested, that somehow my name was involved in this indictment. And so, that was the basis they gave for the arrest.

I didn’t know it at that time, but across town one of our offices was being attacked. This was an office of the African People’s Solidarity Committee. And they used battering rams to go into that house, into that center. And upstairs there were two residents — these were white people — who were also handcuffed at gunpoint.

They had already knocked out the windows in the house, in my house. They had knocked some doors loose from the hinges. They had come to the back stairwell, as I mentioned. They used flashbang grenades in the rear of my house, plaster all over everything.

And in St. Petersburg, Florida, 27 days after they had done what appears to us now to have been a test run with — on July 2nd, with someone pulling into the parking lot in broad daylight and from his trunk, car trunk, pulling a military-grade flamethrower to torch the 15-by-25-foot red, black and green flag that was on this 50-foot flagpole. And this had occurred. FBI, Homeland Security, local police came out. They refused to charge the guy with anything except some kind of misdemeanor mischief. They refused to characterize it as arson. And so, it’s upon trying to understand that initially, it clearly suggested to us that it was not just some casual guy who just happened to have a flamethrower in his trunk, who didn’t like us, who did this, but that the state was somehow involved.

And then, 27 days later, as I mentioned, they would attack that same building, the same building, by the way, that you referenced, where we came under attack in 1996 with 300 local, county, state and federal forces. So it’s the same building. And this time they didn’t say anything about Russians or indictments. In fact, nobody was arrested. They used all the tear gas at that time that they had in the city of St. Petersburg against us.

So, clearly, you know, we’ve been targeted. They stole cellphones. They stole laptops. They stole iPads. They stole something like 40 years of archives that we have in that building in St. Petersburg, Florida, of the history of our movement, of our party and the struggle there in St. Petersburg. And they also detained — they went to the residence of Akilé Anai, who is a young woman who oversees most of our communications work. And they told her a lie that someone was breaking into her car, to draw her outside of the house. And then, at that time, they forced their way into her car as she opened it to check the car. They stole her cellphone. And she is one of those persons who was also a so-called unindicted co-conspirator, along with me, Penny Hess, Jesse Neville. And so, you know, we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Omali, this is an astounding story. I mean, here we — for those of us who are familiar with the radical movement in Black and Brown communities in the United States, the African People’s Socialist Party has been in existence for more than 40 years. It’s part of — it arose out of the Black community and is one of the few organizations that has consistently maintained an anti-capitalist and a socialist and internationalist perspective. And now suddenly you’re being accused of being pawns of the Russian government? What sense can you make of this attack?

OMALI YESHITELA: I think that what we’re experiencing — and by the way, this is the — May was 50 years of existence for the African People’s Socialist Party. But you’re right, we came out of — I was a SNCC organizer. We came out of the whole civil rights movement.

And I think that we’re dealing with the fact that the United States is facing an existential crisis of sorts — the whole social system is — where it was this uncontested hegemony for the longest period of time. It is now being perceived by much of the world, and I think rightly so, as a force that’s losing its grip on the world. And, you know, having suffered military defeat in Afghanistan, having suffered humiliation in Saudi Arabia, the country that Biden had said that he was going to turn into some kind of a pariah, and then having to find himself slinking over — slithering over, I should say — fist-bumping the prince, I just think it’s an existential crisis.

And the African People’s Socialist Party — I want to invite you and all of your listeners to come and see the work that we’re doing in St. Louis. We’ve transformed an entire most oppressed African community. When they came to get us at our house, they came to Red Bud, 44 Bud, as it’s referred to. It’s the most depressed, economically depressed, politically neglected place in St. Louis. And we’ve transformed much of that, our party has done, in pulling the people into actual active political work to change that community. We’ve brought basketball courts where there were none. We built it ourselves, no city government, no help. We’ve initiated a doula program, where 20 young African women have just recently — even as we were being attacked, this was happening there. We’ve created programs for African men and women who are leaving prison, in workforce program. The opening — we bought properties, where we are opening a bakery cafe to train people coming out of prisons in culinary arts and things like this. We bought properties to house them once they get out. So, this, it’s our work. And when I say it’s our work, I mean the work we’ve been doing for 50 years as a party and that I’ve been doing for nearly 60 years is about the liberation of Black people. I want to be clear on that.

And the government is clear on that. They use Russia, they use this nonsense, even at a time when we’ve seen white people scaling the walls of the Capitol, threatening to kill the vice president, the feet on the desk of Nancy Pelosi. And you talk about we have some role under the Russians of contaminating the pristine elections that happen in this country? And I’m right now in a state where the guy who’s running for Senate, one of his most controversial, if you will, campaign advertisements or videos has him smashing through a door, just like the FBI smashed through our doors, having — with camouflage, carrying, people, flashbang grenades, and him stepping in with an automatic weapon, saying that he’s going RINO hunting. We, in the African People’s Socialist Party, are contaminating and undermining elections in this country? We are responsible for discrediting the United States around the world? It’s the most ridiculous, asinine issue.

But we, the African People’s Socialist Party, we are busy all over the world. We have actual political organization in South Africa, throughout the Caribbeans, in West Africa. We are there in the slums, in places like Everton township in Gauteng in South Africa, in various places like that. So, we are a problem. We are throughout the Caribbean as an organization.

And the United States has identified, obviously, three strategic enemies. And one of them, clearly, is Russia. The other is China, that it’s dealing with right now — very dangerous, very tense, serious situation. And Africa is one. That’s why you’ve got for the first time in its 246-year history of the United States Marines, they’ve created — they put forth their first four-star Black general, and they’ve given him the job of presiding over Africa Command, the organization from the United States military to control, contain Africa, that finds itself, it says, in a contest with Russia and China in Africa, and, of course, with Black people in Africa. That’s why you have the first Black secretary of defense, they call him, in its history. So, Africa is an enemy.

And Black people, if you remember, 1969, the FBI declared that the Black Panther Party was the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States. And it was an organization dealing in international affairs, and it didn’t have the kind of organizational presence that we have throughout the African world. So that’s why we came under attack. It’s an attack on the right of Black people. It’s an attack on our struggle for the absolute, total liberation of every inch, square inch, of Africa and its unification, along with the African peoples around the world, in solidarity with oppressed and colonized people elsewhere.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Omali, you mentioned that Russia identified as a prime enemy of the United States. What do you know about this guy Aleksandr Ionov, the one who supposedly you are unindicted co-conspirators with, and these allegations that he’s been spawning — he and others have been spawning dissident movements within the United States?

OMALI YESHITELA: You know, I don’t know if the Russians are spawning dissident movements in the United States. I just know the African People’s Socialist Party, as you mentioned earlier, we are 50 years old. We are on the same trajectory we’ve always been. And I find it extremely problematic for this suggestion that somehow the Russians — we needed the Russians to tell us. You know, it fits into the whole narrative about colonized people and Black people being too stupid to see our own future and control our own affairs, that we need somebody to come and tell us that America is treating us bad. George Floyd didn’t happen; it wasn’t the murder of Mike Brown that brought the African People’s Socialist Party into Ferguson and St. Louis, that somehow the Russians had something to do with it — it’s asinine.

And there are some things I will not talk about, just in terms of still pulling together our legal forces to deal with this, because they’ve stolen — so, people mention, and they mention that they took laptops and cellphones and other devices like that, but they took a lot more. They took years and years of communications with various people that we’ve had around the world and throughout this country. They’ve got texts. They’ve got emails. They’re constructing some narrative that will defend what it is they’ve done. They’ve created a political offense against us, and then they’re using the law — they’re constructing a case using the law to punish us for what they cannot characterize as a political crime. And the political criminal in this instance is the United States government.

So, I won’t say too much, you know, about that aspect of it, except to say that it’s a bogus charge. It’s a ridiculous charge. And anybody can see our history. There’s this assumption that somehow somebody paid us to say something about the genocide against African people. 1950s, Black people went to the United Nations charging genocide. In 1982, we held the first tribunal that ever happened in the world on reparations for Black people in this country, a world tribunal with international jurists playing a role in this. And we based it on international law. And one of the — the international law, one aspect of that was the U.N. Convention on the Punishment of — Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. We did that. And this was at a time that the United States had not even ratified —

AMY GOODMAN: And, Omali —

OMALI YESHITELA: — the Genocide Convention.

AMY GOODMAN: Omali, just to be clear, you haven’t been charged with anything, right? I mean, they raided your house. They handcuffed you and your wife. They used flashbang grenades. But you weren’t charged with anything.

OMALI YESHITELA: We haven’t been charged yet. We expect a indictment. We expect also an attempt to separate people from these incredible programs that we’ve been doing. But much of this has been, by the way, facilitated by white people who voluntarily pay reparations to the African community through us. I mean, we have 130-some-odd organization — organizers in — that is to say, 130 cities, that this white organization, under our leadership, is functioning in 30 states. So, they haven’t charged us yet, but that’s the thing hanging over our heads.

And we are convinced that part of this also is to represent a threat, terrorize people — you can’t communicate with us because the FBI is going to get your information — and to keep people from supporting the programs that we’re doing. And now we have to spend money buying communications capacity, you know, videos and laptops and things like that, and to get lawyers, because this thing about unindicted co-conspirators provides them an opportunity, anytime they want to, to file these charges. And we expect indictments to come.

AMY GOODMAN: And —

OMALI YESHITELA: We expect — yeah, go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: If you wouldn’t mind, your age, Omali?

OMALI YESHITELA: I’m 80. I’ll be — I’m 81. I’ll be 81 in October.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 seconds, but can respond to the raid on Mar-a-Lago? Some of your properties in St. Petersburg were also raided, also in Florida.

OMALI YESHITELA: Yeah, I haven’t heard a single — anything about flashbang grenades going off at Trump’s place. I haven’t heard any flashbang grenades going off on any of those people climbing the walls of the Capitol. And the fact is that the FBI is being used as a political instrument. And certainly that’s happened with us. And I can’t speak to the former president of United States, except to say that there’s an obvious contest that’s happening between different sectors of the colonial ruling class in this country. And they would, if they could, lump us into their beef, their struggle. But we are fighting for the liberation of Black people, the unification and liberation of Africa, and we ain’t gonna stop.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Omali Yeshitela, we want to thank you for being with us, chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party, located in St. Louis, Missouri, set up there after — well, it was eight years ago yesterday when Michael Brown was killed by police.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. When we come back, an update on how the Biden administration says it’s officially ending the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy, also how many children are still separated from their parents, separated by the Trump administration. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Heat Wave” by Martha and the Vandellas. It’s one of the many Motown classics co-written by the legendary Lamont Dozier, who died Monday at the age of 81.

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