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DOJ vs. African People’s Socialist Party: Omali Yeshitela Blasts Charges of Being Russian Agent

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We look at a federal indictment of four U.S. citizens for alleged election interference that has received little press attention despite its major implications for free speech and activism in the country. In April, the Biden administration charged four members of a pan-Africanist group with conspiring with the Russian government to sow discord in U.S. elections. Omali Yeshitela, chair of the African People’s Socialist Party, faces charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, along with Penny Hess, Jesse Nevel and Augustus Romain Jr. Three Russians were also named in an indictment unsealed by the Justice Department on Tuesday. This follows a violent FBI raid on the activists’ properties in Missouri and Florida last summer. “It’s very clear that this is about more than what the government has said it’s about,” says Yeshitela, arguing the real objective in the case is “to destroy our movement.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

While the federal indictment of Donald Trump is making headlines around the world today, we end the show looking at another federal indictment that’s received little press attention.

In April, the Biden administration charged four U.S. citizens from a pan-Africanist group with conspiring with the Russian government to sow discord in U.S. elections. Omali Yeshitela, chair of the African People’s Socialist Party, faces charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, along with Penny Hess, Jesse Nevel and Augustus Romain Jr. Three Russians were also named in an indictment unsealed by the Justice Department. This follows a violent FBI raid on the activists’ properties in Missouri and Florida last summer. African People’s Socialist Party has been a longtime advocate for reparations for slavery, a vocal critic of U.S. foreign policy.

Omali Yeshitela joins us now, chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party, located in St. Louis, Missouri.

Omali, thanks for joining us again. We spoke to you after the FBI raid on your house in St. Louis. If you can now talk about the indictment, your response to what the government is alleging?

OMALI YESHITELA: Well, thank you very much.

First of all, I want to say we have to stop meeting like this. I think the first time we met was after the government attacked our Uhuru House in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1996, 300 strong. And then we’ve talked subsequent to that, the July 29th attack on the Uhuru House in St. Petersburg, Florida, and, as you mentioned, my home in St. Louis, Missouri, as well as offices and homes of our party members in two states, St. Louis and St. Petersburg, Florida.

So, as you mentioned, the indictment happened after something like nine months, after we were characterized as unindicted co-conspirators in some plot with the Russians, who it is said that we served in fighting for — around the questions of reparations and fighting to bring the United States before the United Nations for the crime of genocide against African people, and for our differences with the United States in terms of the Ukraine war, and our participation in elections.

It’s interesting that you just had two or three people who were talking about the electoral process and people celebrating the presumed victory of the Voting Rights Act with the decision in Alabama. But the fact of the matter is, in Alabama, where we saw in 1963 four Black children murdered at a church for participating in the electoral process, bombed; in 2022, on July 29th, my house was bombed because of our participation in the election — in this instance, they call it flashbang grenades and things like that — in our participation in the election. So, even characterizing this thing in Alabama as some great victory for voting rights, the fact is that whether or not you have — can participate within districts that are characterized as fairly drawn, if you’re going to be attacked for participating in what you do and how you do it, then there is no justice there. There is no democracy there.

So, we were — on April 18th, we were indicted — me, Jesse Nevel, Penny Hess — two white people who work on the solidarity part of our party were indicted. On May 2nd and May 8th, we had to turn ourselves in to federal court in Tampa, Florida — back to Florida again — where we were handcuffed, placed in leg irons, and then brought before — and in cells, and then brought before a judge, who, we are told, really was quite lenient with us, because we were released on something like $25,000 bail, and the only provisions associated with that is that we have to be open to investigation or visits at our home by forces who function sort of as parole officers. And we had to turn in our passports. And we couldn’t have any personal weapons on the premise. And if we go anyplace, we have to let them know. And we have to report once a week to the supervising officer. So, that’s where we are now in terms of the outcome of the indictment up to this point. And so, trial dates have to be firmed, but we expect that early next year.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Omali Yeshitela, what is the substance of the federal government’s indictment, in this allegation that you were involved in a conspiracy with Russian citizens? What are they saying that your organization did?

OMALI YESHITELA: Well, they say we participated in elections in 2017, 2019. They say that we participated in gathering petitions and doing a tour, where we were calling on people to support us in bringing the United States before the World Court for violation of the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. They said that I attended a conference in Russia, that was an international conference, where people from around the world attended the same conference, that talked about self-determination, etc. I mean, these are the things that we are claimed to have done that resulted in this indictment.

And so, what they’ve done is cover the fact that, generally, what I’ve just mentioned is something that presumably is covered by First Amendment rights, freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom from unlawful search and seizure, and these kinds of things, and said that, “Well, ordinarily that’s the case, but in this instance, he was functioning” — or, our party and movement and the people that they have indicted were functioning as agents of Russia.

So, it liquidates the fact that for 60 years, 50, almost 60 years, of political activity, we’ve been doing more or less the same thing. They liquidated the fact that in 2007 — and anybody can go and look at this — I was invited to speak in Huelva, Spain, before an international audience — that was supported by the government of Spain, where they provided transportation and resources for us — and said more or less the same things, except, in this instance, my condemnation was not around the Russia-Ukraine question, but it was around the United States’ involvement in Iraq and in Afghanistan. So, there is nothing new that I’m doing now that I haven’t been doing. I opposed the Vietnam War. I interceded in various kinds of attacks. I was in Ireland in the 1980s when the United States was supporting England’s effort to keep that people under colonial domination. So, there are various other places that I’ve traveled to, expressing unity with oppressed peoples and winning unity with the struggle of African people here and around the world.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned that your organization has existed for more than 60 years. For those people who are not familiar with the African People’s Socialist Party, could you talk about its origins and its platform?

OMALI YESHITELA: Yeah, I think that’s important, because it should be understood that I am product of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organizationally, SNCC. That SNCC was the organization that projected the Black Power slogan demand into public discourse and the political agenda of African people all around the world in the 1960s. I was a part of that. I was arrested for the first time politically in my history as a consequence of tearing down a racist — a vile, vicious, racist mural that was hanging on the wall of the city of St. Petersburg, Florida, that depicted Black people as ape-like forces, an 8-by-10 mural. I snatched that down. I was taken to trial. I was tried. I was charged with 11 offenses. I was charged, sentenced to five years in prison. And while out on bond for that, just a few days later, Martin Luther King is assassinated. I’m in Gainesville, Florida, four days after that, protesting his assassination. I was arrested again, this time because I said something that they said was an incitement to riot — the first person arrested in the state of Florida for a new charge called inciting to riot. And it didn’t require a riot to happen; I just had to want one to happen when I spoke — thought crime. There’s been that kind of history.

So, SNCC, from SNCC, we created the Junta of Militant Organization, a group called JOMO, that organized throughout the state of Florida and throughout Kentucky initially. And I was imprisoned various occasions, free speech issues all the time for that. And then we came to certain conclusions that it was not enough just to have protest movements. We have to move beyond protest and move toward the question of capturing and yielding political power.

So, in 1972, after working for a while with various organizations, we created the African People’s Socialist Party. And the African People’s Socialist Party is an organization that is — that was created for the purpose of continuing the Black revolution of the 1960s, that saw the attack on the Panther 21 in 1969, that saw the raid on Fred Hampton’s home in 1969 that resulted in his assassination, that saw — came as a consequence of the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, and a host of other forces like this. We said we were going to complete that movement that they had begun. And so, in 1972, the African People’s Socialist Party was created.

And we also recognized that the struggle for Black power, Black people, had run into its limitation as long as it was fought within the context of the borders that have been created for us, either in Africa and around the world. And so it’s an international organization. We exist in the Caribbean. We exist throughout Europe. We exist all over the continent of Africa and inside the United States, as well. And so, we are an international organization. We’re African internationalists. And our politic is informed by a revolutionary theory called African internationalism, that we have developed over the last 50 years of trying to find solutions for the practical contradictions that Black people are confronted with here.

We have created more than 50 different economic development projects, many of them centered right here in St. Louis, where we came under assault. And we have suffered as a consequence of this process. We were attacked first on July 2nd in St. Petersburg, Florida, by someone with a flamethrower, a military-grade flamethrower, that torched a 15-by-25-foot flag, red, black and green flag, that was perched atop a 50-foot flagpole. We were attacked, subsequent to that, July 29th, as most people now have come to understand who are familiar with this case. Subsequent to that, in August, a car was broken in, and a vehicle was stolen of — a vehicle was broken in and a computer stolen, passport stolen, various other things like that. The banks have now begun the process of sanctioning us, Regions Bank first. And subsequent to Regions Bank, we’ve had to deal with Chase Bank. We’ve had a church, right across the street from my home in St. Louis, that we had under contract to create other economic development programs. It was burned to the ground in January. It’s just been an array of assaults that’s been made against us since that time.

So it’s very clear that this is about more than what the government has said it’s about. And its objective intent was to destroy our movement and to make sure that what it was they began in the 1960s to push us back was something that was completed with the assault on the African People’s Socialist Party and the Uhuru Movement.

AMY GOODMAN: Omali Yeshitela, your point on Spain is you do accept money from, for example, if you’re invited by the government of Spain or the government of Russia, and you’re saying that doesn’t mean you’re an agent of them. They said one of your co-conspirators is Aleksandr Ionov, that he is involved with spawning — that he says that — that the government says, with spawning dissident movements within the United States. Your response?

OMALI YESHITELA: I’m saying that, as far as we knew, we never accepted money, first of all, from the Russian government. I used the Huelva presentation in Spain because we did go to a meeting that was sponsored by the Anti-globalization Movement in Russia, which is an NGO. An NGO invited us to Spain, as well. There was some noise being made by we accepted an expense-paid trip to Russia. The fact is that it was the Anti-globalization Movement that provided this transportation there. But in Spain, an NGO that was closely associated with the Spanish government, that was connected to people who were either currently or previously associated with the United Nations — there were governments from Mali and other places that also attended that. We were paid not just transportation, but we were given honorariums of significance. And it was an international conference.

I use the Spanish thing just to show the hypocrisy of the United States government, that’s saying that somehow, suddenly, we became agents of a foreign government because we attended a conference in Russia. This is most ridiculous, asinine. And the thing that makes it horribly —

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, Omali.


AMY GOODMAN: Omali Yeshitela, chair of the African People’s Socialist Party. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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