FBI stages COINTELPRO-like raid on Black socialist group, alleges Russian government connection

August 4, 2022 10:30 AM CDT  BY PEOPLES DISPATCH

FBI stages COINTELPRO-like raid on Black socialist group, alleges Russian government connection

U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg, alongside St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway, left, and FBI Special Agent David Walker, speaks to reporters at St. Petersburg Police Department headquarters, July 29, 2022. Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov, a Russian operative allegedly under the supervision of one of Russia’s main intelligence services has been charged with recruiting political groups in the United States to advance pro-Russia propaganda, including during the invasion of Ukraine, the Justice Department said. In this case, the authorities say, Ionov from 2014 through last March recruited political groups in Florida, Georgia, and California and directed them to spread pro-Russia talking points. Among the political groups raided in connection with the charges is the African People’s Socialist Party. | Martha Asencio-Rhine / Tampa Bay Times via AP

On July 29 at 5 a.m., the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted a violent raid on the home of Omali Yeshitela, chairman of the U.S.-based African People’s Socialist Party (APSP), in St. Louis, Mo.

In a video posted the next day, Yeshitela claims the FBI deployed flashbang grenades, carried automatic weapons, damaged the property of his neighbors, including smashing windows, and handcuffed himself and his wife. Yeshitela also claims that the FBI refused to show him a search warrant and that they took his cell phones and all other devices from his home.

It was only later that Yeshitela learned that the raid on his home was one of several carried out across the country against locations affiliated with the APSP. That same day, the FBI raided the Uhuru Solidarity Center, also in St. Louis, and the Uhuru House in St. Petersburg, Fla., both locations of the Uhuru Movement, led by the APSP. According to Yeshitela, the FBI also raided the APSP’s radio station, Black Power 96.3 FM, and reportedly detained a prominent APSP leader.

The raids came as a result of a Justice Department indictment of a Russian man, Aleksandr Ionov, whom the U.S. government alleges funded and supported Black organizations as part of a “foreign malign influence campaign against the U.S.” The indictment never specifically names any organization but refers to a “U.S. Political Group 1,” in St. Petersburg, which allegedly partnered with Ionov.

A photo from an African Liberation Day event hosted by the African People’s Socialist Party in 2019. | African People’s Socialist Party USA via Facebook

“Ain’t no Russian been responsible for what we face every day in our lives,” Yeshitela stated in response to the indictment. “[The government] is going to say that the Russians somehow had to tell us that we are being oppressed…[the government] telling the world that Black people don’t have enough sense to be able to lead our own struggle, but that’s not true.”

In response to the raid, Ajamu Baraka, leader of the Black Alliance for Peace, tweeted, “As predicted, Black radicals are targeted again for not falling in line with U.S. imperial agenda on Ukraine.” The APSP has been critical of U.S. involvement in the Russia–Ukraine war. Attorney and organizer Kamau Franklin stated, “This is a COINTELPRO operation. One meant to destroy Black organizations.”

COINTELPRO was an FBI program that existed from 1956 to 1971, which, in its own words, existed to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” revolutionary organizations. The FBI and local police conducted raids on offices of organizations such as the Black Panther Party (BPP). In a particularly harsh illegal raid in Philadelphia, Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo threatened, “If they break our law, we’ll be there. The police, we’ll be there, and we’ll see who wins.”

U.S. law enforcement also conducted raids on individuals, such as Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Chicago BPP, who was assassinated by Chicago police during one such raid. In his video, Yeshitela notes that the raid on his house was conducted one hour after Hampton’s assassination, which occurred at 4 a.m., Dec. 4, 1969.

COINTELPRO is a central reason that many U.S. political prisoners who were former Black revolutionaries in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s are in prison today. Examples include Mutulu Shakur and Mumia Abu-Jamal.

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