Members of the Uhuru African Socialist Party speak after the FBI raided their home Friday morning. Members of the Uhuru African Socialist Party speak after the FBI raided their home Friday morning.
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In July, the FBI raided Uhuru House, in St. Petersburg, Fl. That's about 250 miles away from me in Hollywood.
The raid occurred after a federal indictment was unsealed. In a statement, a high-ranking Justice Department official said Aleksandr Ionov, a Russian national, "orchestrated a brazen influence campaign, turning U.S. political groups and U.S. citizens into instruments of the Russian government."
Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department's National Security Division, added, "The Department of Justice will not allow Russia to unlawfully sow division and spread misinformation inside the United States."
Other groups in Atlanta and Sacramento were also caught up in the probe. What's more, Omali Yeshitela, the chairman of a socialist organization, said the Uhuru House in St. Louis was searched.
But the big charge, to this legal layman's eyes, appears to be that the Russian national, working with the FSB, and possibly American citizens who already agreed with him, failed to register with the federal government as foreign agents representing Russia. That's a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act which the government alleges was part of a "conspiracy" that harmed our country.
I view it as being the most significant charge because it is not unlawful for Americans to disagree with their government, run for office and take positions that may not inspire many voters. Alleged failure to register as a foreign agent, though, lets prosecutors neatly link American critics to a conspiracy.
But that is not the end of the story. At a press conference after the three-hour search and seizure operation, federal officials said the investigation was ongoing and more indictments were expected. Unfortunately, though, the prosecutor and FBI agent who spoke refused to answer press questions.
That is standard practice, I suppose. But it is unacceptable, especially considering the heated political climate in our country. We need more information, not less.
More importantly, though, we need to protect the First Amendment rights of American citizens possibly ensnared in this investigation. And based on what I've read, some of the American citizens apparently linked to the "conspiracy" already had well-established disagreements with the U.S. government.
Here is an example, as reported by WFLA-TV. The tv station gave air time to a St. Petersburg woman who was not named in the indictment. But she may have been referred to anonymously as a local political candidate who got Russian support.
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