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Government Repression in Iowa Backfires

#media_381;right# Anti-war activists in Iowa have fended off an attempt by a federal judge to subpoena documents about an anti-war conference that happened last November at Drake University.

Government Repression in Iowa Backfires

Anti-war activists in Iowa have fended off an attempt by a federal judge to subpoena documents about an anti-war conference that happened last November at Drake University. The university and the local office of the National Lawyer's Guild had been targets of the grand jury investigation. On Wednesday, about 200 people turned out in Des Moines to protest the government probe. Students at Iowa State University protesting the government investigation created protester snowpeople.

The National Lawyers Guild had announced that it was going to fight the subpoenas and that it would not divulge the names of its members, but it declared victory after the reversal and had the following to say: "The government was forced to back down in this case and it shows that people can and should stand up to the government when it is abusing its powers. The Lawyers Guild is grateful to our many friends and allies who supported us in the face of this attack by the government. This experience demonstrates that the American people cherish their right of free expression and the right of political groups to dissent from government policies."

The government's attempts in Iowa to intimidate activists have been criticized in editorials from around the country. San Francisco Examiner | Des Moines Register | Nashville City Paper

Petition to support Drake Students
National Lawyers Guild - UMKC
Democracy Now interview with Michael Avery, president of the NLG

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Re: Government Repression in Iowa Backfires

The US military is now acting similarly:


Re: Government Repression in Iowa Backfires

By Tim Schmitt From Pointblank, Des Moines Metro Area Alternative
weekly, 2/18/04

Brian Terrell sits in the office of the Catholic Peace Ministry, a
drafty and chilly corner of the basement in the house occupied by the
American Friends Service Community (AFSC). The building's circuit box sits
on one wall, half hidden by a strategically hung tapestry. Pipes and
conduits criss-cross the low ceiling, betraying the makeshift nature of
the organization's headquarters. The small office is abuzz as Terrell
busily fields calls from local reporters and several national news
magazines. He's been playing phone tag with Bill Moyers for a couple days; a
clipping from the current edition of The New York Times sitting on his
table prominently features a picture of Terrell standing against a small
bookshelf in this very office. The AFSC, a Quaker organization
committed to non-violence and the promotion of peace and justice is not
officially affiliated with Terrell's organization. The same is true of the
Iowa Peace Network, which keeps offices in the building upstairs. The
organizations are friendly, though, and support each other, even
when, ideologically, they might not be exactly in line with one another -
which doesn't seem to be very often. Last week, this large white house
at the corner of 42nd Street and Grand Avenue became the focus of the
national media as Terrell, along with a former director of the Iowa Peace
Network, two other individuals and the Drake University chapter of the
National Lawyers Guild were subpoenaed by law enforcement officials to
appear before a grand jury. The subpoenas concerned an anti-war protest
on Nov. 16, during which 16 people were arrested, as well as a
conference at Drake University the day before the protest that was attended by
many of the same people. The subpoenas were issued by a Polk County
Sheriff's deputy who left behind a business card identifying him as a
member of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force. This was enough to make
everyone believe the federal government was involved and that the in
vestigation was taking place under the authority of the Patriot Act.
"It sends a chill down your spine immediately," says Kathleen McQuillen,
Iowa Program Coordinator of the AFSC. "You think, 'my God, this is
happening here in Des Moines?' This was very scary stuff." That the protest
had attracted the attention of authorities was no surprise to Terrell.
An investigation of the protests he expected, but a grand jury
investigation, he says, indicates a level of fear and distrust that just hasn't
been present - or necessary - at the dozens of actions Terrell has
helped organize in Central Iowa in the past few years. Terrell, no newcomer
to the peace and justice community, first walked a picket line in 1975
with the United Farm Workers in New York City. Since then, he's been
arrested several times for acts of non-violent civil disobedience. He's
spent time in the Catholic Worker Community in New York and in federal
prison for his protesting - time he served while simultaneously
serving as mayor of Maloy, the town he calls home. In his years as an
activist and non-violent protester, Terrell has never himself
experience such an effort to squelch dissent as that which took place in Des
Moines last week. It appeared the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force was
poking around, trying to find out who in Central Iowa was involved with
planning the protest and the conference, and who exactly was in
attendance. Terrell knew several people who were part of grand jury
investigations in the 1970s for activities similar to the protests in Central Iowa,
and he's seen the effect such an investigation can have. "I know how
devastating it was to communities at that time," says Terrell. The
result, he explains, was a sense of fear and distrust that spread throughout
the peace and justice movement and eventually destroyed friendships and
broke organizations apart. That, he believes, was the goal here. And it
could have ended badly. Drake University could have washed its h
ands of it all and quietly turned over the requested records. The four
activists could have remained quiet and fearful and then merely given
their testimony before the grand jury and gone home, hoping to avoid
prosecution. It could have ended with the U.S. government exercising the
power it's granted itself under the Patriot Act to declare all involved
terrorists and locking them away indefinitely. But it didn't. Somehow,
this group of peace activists beat the federal government. They didn't
back down. The subpoenas were withdrawn and the investigation seemingly
called off. At least for now. Last Tuesday, more than 150 people
gathered outside the federal courthouse on the city's near East Side to rally
around those subpoenaed. As speaker after speaker took to the podium
and proclaimed victory over tyranny, police detectives across the street
videotaped the proceedings from a second story room in the Embassy
Suites Hotel. The underlying message of all the speakers was that th
is was a tremendous victory for civil liberties, for the right to
dissent and for the Constitution of the United States. Privately, however,
each of the speakers was less optimistic, and expressed concern that
the events of the last week were merely the tip of the iceberg. No one
believes this is over, not by a long shot. And though happy to have
earned this rare victory, they fear this is the beginning of things much
more sinister yet to come. But they know it's coming now. And after
winning this battle, they're preparing for the war. The right to disagree
with government and to express that dissent is an inherent right of all
U.S. citizens - one which conservatives and liberals alike tend to agree
is vital to Democracy. Yet the U.S. government has developed a
reputation for doing whatever it could to prevent such dissent from being
heard. The most obvious of these efforts to stifle opposition was the FBI's
Counter Intelligence Program, known as COINTELPRO. The program was
active from 1956 to 1971, when it was officially discontinued after
the public became aware of the scope of the program and the abuses of
power that took place under its auspices. The stated purpose of COINTELPRO
was to neutralize political dissidents. Targets of the program included
the USA Communist Party, the Black Panthers, the Ku Klux Klan, the
National Lawyers Guild, civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.
and all manner of left-leaning student and activist groups. But even
after COINTELPRO was officially disbanded, few serious activists believed
that the government was out of the business altogether. "I have lived
for years presuming that everything I say on the phone or type on the
Internet is being seen by the government," says Frank Cordaro, a member
of the Des Moines Catholic Worker Community and a former Catholic Priest
who has spent more than four years in prison for non-violent acts of
civil disobedience. "That's what 25 years of activism in this co
untry has taught me." Last October, in the early planning stages of
the Nov. 16 rally, Cordaro sent an e-mail to supporters in which he
incorrectly stated the location of the Nov. 15 conference as the Drake Legal
Clinic. Soon thereafter, the e-mail was forwarded to clinic employees
from a third party. The e-mail, says Cordaro, had been intercepted by
someone keeping tabs on peace groups in the area. And he's not just being
paranoid. After Sept. 11, Attorney General John Ashcroft issued new
guidelines that effectively threw out the rules which were put in place to
prevent the abuses that took place under COINTELPRO. And a confidential
FBI memo dated Oct. 15 2003, which was leaked to the press last year,
calls on law enforcement to monitor anti-war groups and report to the
Joint Terrorism Task Force. And there's been several documented instances
of this happening recently. Last March, a woman who attended
non-violence training and was arrested with members of an anti-war group
in Colorado was discovered to be an undercover police officer sent to
monitor the group. This was discovered only after she was the only
"activist" not charged with trespassing. Peace Fresno, a California-based
anti-war group found out that a man who had been coming to meetings for
several months was actually a police officer. They found this out only
after he died in a motorcycle accident in August and his obituary was
placed in the local paper. Reports of similar undercover work have also
come to light in Michigan and New Mexico. Still, no one knows the
extent to which the U.S. government is again actively spying upon such
groups, mainly because if they are doing their job well, no one would know.
It seems, though, that there has been some monitoring of groups in
Central Iowa as well. Cordaro is certain that two people who attended the
conference and non-violence training that took place Nov. 15 were not
who they said they were. The couple signed in as Jim and Teri Dawson
and gave an East Side address and phone number. Despite expressing
serious interest in participating in the protest, the couple has never
been seen again. The address given, it turns out, does not exist, and the
person answering the phone number given has never heard of either Jim
or Teri Dawson. Sally Frank, a member of the Drake Legal Clinic and an
attorney who has represented several anti-war protesters in Central
Iowa, says the effort to spy on peace groups in Des Moines was not a
surprise. "We've been suspicious of something since the Fall," she says. "I
was not surprised (by the subpoenas) because it confirmed our
suspicions, but to use the hatchet when a pair of scissors would have worked is
overkill." She's referring to the use of a grand jury to investigate
what appears to be, at worst, a simple misdemeanor, a measure most
activists here believe was meant to intimidate the Iowa peace movement and,
perhaps, silence them. "They don't want to shut us up in general," s
ays Terrell. "They want to shut us up now." Adds Sally Frank: "This is
greatly reminiscent of COINTELPRO. This is nothing really new." Des
Moines School Board Member Ako Abdul-Samad experienced the effect of
COINTELPRO firsthand 35 years ago. In 1968 and 1969, Abdul-Samad was a
member of the Black Panther Party in Des Moines. The focus of the party
here, he insists, was community building and he speaks with pride about the
free breakfast program for children the Panthers established which
still exists today. But, Abdul-Samad says much of the community never
realized the true nature of the organization because the police and the
federal government, using COINTELPRO, consistently disrupted and
infiltrated the organization and made them out to be a violent and hateful group
to the community. "Locally and nationally, it had the effect of us not
knowing what was being done to make us look bad," recalls Abdul-Samad.
"I know we weren't building bombs, we were serving the needs of t
he community, but they made it hard for us to do what we wanted to do.
"It was very effective," he adds. "A lot of crap that went on we found
out later was done by agent provocateurs." Abdul-Samad was in the Black
Panther's Des Moines headquarters on the city's North Side when an
explosion destroyed the home in 1969.The police insisted that the Panthers
were building a bomb that went off unexpectedly, a charge Abdul-Samad
has always denied. Even more frightening than the explosion to
Abdul-Samad, though, may have been the realization of the scope of the
government's spying on them that was discovered years later when his fellow
Panther got a hold of his FBI file. "They taped or monitored a conversation
we had in a car from Madison, Wisc. to Des Moines," he says. "The whole
conversation was there, typed out. It made us realize what kind of
reach they had." Though not involved with the protest of Nov. 16, or with
any of the people subpoenaed recently, Abdul-Samad says the gove
rnment's response was no shock. "I was not surprised at all," he says.
"It fits perfectly into the Patriot Act. The language we use when we're
talking about saving America is all about taking away our freedoms.
"Back then, their goal was to destroy us, to take us down and that
thinking still exists," he continues. "And we're seeing a return to that now
at levels not seen before." The main difference between what was
happening then, in the hey-day of COINTELPRO, and now, says Abdul-Samad is a
community that is aware it's happening and understands why it's
dangerous. "In retrospect we didn't fully understand what was happening then,"
he says. "It's the same scenario now, but the difference is you have a
community that says we're not going to allow business as usual." It's
because of this that - even though the federal government has seemingly
returned to its spying and conniving ways - Iowa's peace and justice
community has faith in its future. "We've learned," says Frank. "I
hope people will remain vigilant." On Tuesday, Feb. 10, the day the
Grand Jury was to convene in Iowa, The AFSC held a prayer service at its
office at 9:30 in the morning. People arrived at the house that day
from Minnesota, Chicago, Wisconsin and across Iowa to show their support
and express their outrage. The AFSC was not an official sponsor of the
protest or the conference that took place the day before. It supported
the idea, but didn't have the resources to commit to it at the time. Yet
when the subpoenas were issued, it was the AFSC that helped rally the
troops to the cause. It's members helped to organize the prayer service
and rally later in the day and provided a focus point for the anger and
disappointment many people felt. It was during this prayer service that
the calls came in notifying everyone that the subpoenas had been
withdrawn. "I think people saw a victory here," says McQuillen. "It was
empowering, which was exactly what they didn't want to happen here."
The actual legal purpose of the grand jury that never convened may
never be known, though there's been plenty of speculation. All concerned,
though, say they understand perfectly the real intent. "They're coming
at us because we're against the war and we've been effective in voicing
our opposition," says Terrell. "Everything else is an excuse to hang a
grand jury on. What it comes down to is we're effective, and we're
effective because we use direct action. We use what worked for (Martin
Luther) King. This was obviously intended to shut us up and it ended up
giving us such a voice. "Nothing worked as they planned because we pulled
together as a community," he adds. "We met their best weapon with our
best tool - community - and won." Terrell's words echo the thoughts of
everyone involved. The coalitions between groups that have been built
over the years, the relationship with the press, politicians and the
larger community all played a role in the victory the Iowa peace commu
nity shared. "I've never seen the kind of response we got," says
McQuillen. Activists from across the country called her and asked how they
were able to rally so many people and build a coalition between so many
groups so quickly. "It didn't take any building," she explains. "It was
a response to what we all feared could happen. The coalitions already
existed. The one lesson about this whole ordeal was the importance of
relationships." The feds, adds McQuillen, underestimated the strength of
Iowa's activist community. She says the AFSC and other groups have
spent years developing a network of support and have always been in contact
with their elected officials. And because of this, when the trouble
started, their elected officials didn't think twice about expressing their
support. Senator Harkin's office responded immediately and went to
work. Harkin himself sent a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft urging
him to tread carefully. Senator Grassley also expressed concern
s about the investigation, as did state representatives from the far
left to the far right of the political spectrum. Years of working with
the media paid off as well. Terrell and many others active in Iowa are
often critical of the local media, but they are never inconsistent about
what they believe are the important issues and are quick to point out
shortfalls in coverage. "I think the press responded admirably," says
Terrell. "For the first time ever I was able to tell people 'look at The
Register's Web site and you'll get all you need to know.'" And Terrell
believes that the daily's extensive and thorough coverage of the events
as they unfolded were due in no small part to the movement's consistent
message over many years. The protests, rallies and arrests had become
so familiar to the media, that such a strong response from the federal
government was immediately recognized as unnecessary. "This was an
extremely big blunder on the feds' part," says Cordaro. "You have to
wonder what planet those guys are from." Terrell agrees: "They
miscalculated. If this would have happened in another community, who knows how
it might have turned out?" Probably quite different is the general
consensus. "We're like family," says Cordaro of the many peace groups and
individual activists in Central Iowa. "We don't have the ideological
edges that you see among groups in bigger cities. If we don't come
together, then there are only two people standing on a corner instead of
eight. We don't have the ability to stand alone, and that paid off for us
last week." And such support is not just found among the varying activist
groups, Frank says, but among the community at large. "What they didn't
realize is that this community knows these activists," she says.
"Whether they agree with us or not, they know us. The community support was
wonderful, it was a firestorm of support that stopped it." Abdul-Samad
didn't receive such community support back in the days when the f
eds were breathing down the necks of the Black Panthers. But he was
not surprised to see the city rally behind these people. "One of the
things is that people have been longing for a cause," he says. "What
happened here last week gave them a cause again. I love this country and
these people love this country and don't want to live anywhere else. It's
time to fix it and quit running." Though the attorney general's office
made the unprecedented move of explaining the purpose of the grand jury,
and denied that it had anything to do with the Patriot Act or the Joint
Terrorism Task Force, no one is buying it. And even after the office
dropped the matter entirely, none of Iowa's activists believe the
investigation - whatever it was about - has ended. "I don't think this is
over," says McQuillen. "They will take the same lessons from this as we
will. We know what's coming now." Cordaro says this may have just been a
trial balloon - an effort on the part of the federal government to
learn what to expect from such an action. If so, the activists have
learned a lot as well. "For a week, Des Moines was the center of the
peace movement in this country," says Cordaro. "We just got a preview of
what's coming down. Des Moines should be an example of how to put a full
court press on and beat this type of thing. What prevents the feds from
doing what they tried to do is the vigilance everyone here showed."
This vigilance is the lesson taken, say Central Iowa's activists, not just
from the last couple weeks, but also from years of dealing with
government efforts to destroy their credibility, and plenty of looking back at
where the movement failed in the previous years. "There was a response
to this type of thing in the past and it was set aside," says McQuillen
of the COINTELPRO era. "I think the public reacted and people saw that
the government needed to get out of our personal lives. "But now," she
adds, "this administration has been very brazen about its lack
of respect for the law, both international law, and the international
community and now our own constitution. I hope this sent a clear
message to them that this is not acceptable, because they've been operating
as if they can do whatever they want in the world and in this country."
Whatever comes next, those in the middle of the controversy say they
will be better prepared. In fact, they're not waiting to see if more
harassment is forthcoming, but are taking the offensive hoping to figure
out exactly what happened here and whether it was an isolated event.
"Their investigation is over," says Ben Stone, executive director of the
Iowa Civil Liberties Union. "Now it's time to investigate their
investigation. We're curious as to whether or not this might be happening
elsewhere." Frank adds that the Lawyers Guild at Drake has not ruled out
filing a civil lawsuit against the federal government, and they will be
calling for a Congressional investigation to learn the purpose of the
investigation, why it was launched and whether it is happening
elsewhere. "Was this a one time thing or is it the tip of the iceberg?" asks
Frank. "That's what we need to know now." More information about the
feds' investigation into the protest may become available as the trial of
those arrested on Nov. 16 draws closer. Frank has filed for discovery
and believes any information about an investigation should be made
available. Most of those arrested at the November protest will stand trial
on March 21. On March 20, the day before the scheduled trial, another
demonstration is planned at the Starc Armory and more arrests are

Re: Government Repression in Iowa Backfires

When this came out last week, I set up a Google News Search using the terms "activist arrest," as I wondered if it would show up in the news. Oh, my gawsh! May I suggest we all need to set that up? Why? It is absolutely amazing that these stories are coming out of everywhere--Texas, Main, NYC, California... It's time to start tracking these and be prepared to stand with each other no matter where someone's being harassed. This time through personal contact it was brought to our attention in Kansas City, and I believe the pressure of the people paying attention brought victory to the Iowa 4. We must be prepared to do it again and again, and find a way to become notified when a brother or sister needs us.

Stand Up! Be Heard!
We ARE the people!

Toward peace through truth,

Re: Government Repression in Iowa Backfires

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