by Jeremy Miller
On Friday, July 29 of this year, the FBI conducted a series of raids on various entities pursuant to a subsequently unsealed grand jury indictment of one Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov, founder and president of the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia. The indictment is a solitary count of “conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud [the] United States.”
The primary allegation against Ionov is that he is an unregistered agent of the Russian Federation seeking to “shape foreign perceptions and to influence populations.” More specifically, Ionov is said to have recruited various US based groups allegedly holding separatist political stances via “Dialogue of Nations” conferences, and “thereafter [Ianov] exercised direction or control over these groups on behalf of the FSB.” FSB stands for Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsii, and is best understood as the successor agency for the no longer existent, but much more (in)famous, Soviet KGB.
If this sounds like intelligence work or spycraft, it is because this is precisely the impression that the United States government seeks to publicly convey about the alleged activity. Interestingly though, this is not what was charged. Despite referring to 18 U.S.C. § 951 (a) in the document, the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA,) neither this nor any other FARA related criminal statute is actually charged in the unsealed indictment. All that is charged is the one conspiracy count. The implication here is that in the absence of said conspiracy, the US government would not have enough evidence to charge a crime. Well, being that there’s no such thing as a conspiracy of one, who are the alleged co-conspirators?
The indictment itself only names Mr. Ionov, but implicates six other individuals representing three political groups therein rendered as “unindicted co-conspirators 1-6.” This pretense of anonymity is frivolous. Between the leading language of the indictment, testimony of those who were raided by the FBI, and the less than restrained corporate media, the identities of those alleged co-conspirators are easily discernible. For purposes here, I will only speak on the apparent identity of the political groups referenced and one of the individuals. It is unnecessary to put everyone on blast and, as I have stated, if one wanted to figure the rest out it only requires an internet connection and a little gumption.
The groups mentioned in the indictment appear to be the African People’s Socialist Party/Uhuru Movement, Black Hammer and Yes California. The first two groups are African internationalist formations, whereas the latter is a predominantly white California secessionist group. Notably, Black Hammer and Yes California are recent formations, with the latter claiming seven years of existence and the former only three. Also, both have exhibited right wing tendencies with Black Hammer associating openly with the Proud Boys and Yes California being run by a Trumpist whose ideological positions opportunistically shift with the frequency and severity of current European weather. In contrast, the African People’s Socialist Party has been around since 1972 and is unambiguously leftist in political orientation.
These brazen attacks by the FBI combined with the flimsiness of key aspects of the government’s conspiracy theory constitute a strident step forward in United States fascism, as well as an attack on Black people writ large.
According to the indictment, “Ionov provided financial support to these groups on behalf of the FSB; directed these groups to publish pro-Russian propaganda, as well as other information designed to cause dissension in the United States and to promote secessionist ideologies; coordinated and funded direct action by these groups within the United States that was designed to further Russian interests; and coordinated coverage of these groups’ activities in Russian media outlets.”
This is not a paean or ideological apologia for any of these political movements. Truth be told, Black Hammer and Yes California are so marginal politically in the United States as to be frankly insignificant in terms of geopolitics. And though the same cannot be said for the African People’s Socialist Party which, of the the three listed (albeit unnamed) entities, is the only so far to have suffered armed FBI invasion as a result of these allegations, an undue focus on their political positionality distracts from the more significant issue. Whether you love them, hate them, or just don’t know them, APSP/Uhuru is a significant constellation in the larger African liberation struggle and, as such, these brazen attacks by the FBI combined with the flimsiness of key aspects of the government’s conspiracy theory constitute a strident step forward in United States fascism, as well as an attack on Black people writ large.
Because alleged coordination between the FSB and the African People’s Socialist Party facilitated by Ionov rests at the core of the US government’s ludicrous theory, we shall focus on this. In brief, representatives of the APSP stand accused of attending two meetings in Russia and one in eastern Ukraine between 2015 and 2020, constructing and circulating a “Petition on Crime of Genocide against African People in the United States” and conducting a “reparations tour” in the service of this petition, receiving (with no published reply) an email requesting assistance in support for Russian prisoners in US custody arrested in third-party countries (which of course calls to mind the arrest of Viktor Bout in Thailand a decade earlier), receiving financial and other support for municipal elections in St. Petersburg, Florida, and providing sympathetic media to Russian accounts of the 2016 Summer Olympics doping scandal as well as, critically this year, to the Russian line on the ongoing war in Ukraine. Supposedly all of this, per the US government’s self-serving account, was under direction from Ionov and ultimately the FSB.
The first thing that should be patently obvious is that virtually none of this activity could stand alone as criminal or even morally turpitudinous behavior. If you are not a blacklisted individual, travel, regardless of how it is funded or to which destination, is perfectly legal as is meeting and conferencing with people at your destination. The rights to petition, receive electronic (or any) mail, or to express critical opinions of the United States or its foreign policy, are all to be found in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, not to mention other relevant international instruments. The only possible criminal behavior per US law implicated here would be minor campaign finance irregularities. This being said, the notion that the alleged acceptance of small financial contributions constitutes illicit commerce with a hostile foreign power is absurd.
The reality is that Africans who are colonized in the United States represent at least half of the largest prison population in the world.
Without even commenting on the facticity of the allegations (all of which have been denied by APSP), it should be noted that based on the information presented in the indictment, less than $15,000 was potentially contributed over the course of seven years. Of this amount, less than $2,000 is alleged to have anything to do with any electoral campaign. Even making the bold (and unproven) assumption that the government information here is correct as a result of these expenditures, the return on investment would amount to a little bit of pro-Russian media, increased circulation on a petition directed to the United Nations, a small amount of aspirational conferencing and a minor claim to have participated in two municipal level ultimately unsuccessful electoral campaigns. This is the alleged threat to “our democracy.”
Contrast that perhaps with the Canadian corporation Enbridge, which in 2022 alone has already spent $840,000 that we know of lobbying the US for a pipeline expansion set to threaten over two hundred bodies of water, exacerbate violence against women, and violate long held Ojibwe treaty rights. Or we could look at Australian based multinational Rio Tinto, which has already sent $660,000 in lobbying this year to the US government in order to buy favorable policy, despite having a well-documented history checkered by support of fascism, slavery, murder and atrocious labor conditions, who currently threatens Apache land in Arizona and, like Enbridge, operartes in an industry (open pit mining) that is a bludgeon against an already embattled global climate.
Maybe we should consider Swiss company Nestle, whose $521,000 in 2022 contributions grease the palms of members of the US government so that they continue to look the other way, despite credible claims of ongoing slavery in Côte d’Ivoire! The list could go on, but the point is simply that the definitions of corruption and “causing turmoil within the United States” clearly break along racial lines.
Speaking of race, an even deeper absurdity is the notion that the African People’s Socialist Party works for Russia. The main person implicated in the trips to Russia and Ukraine, officially “unindicted co-conspirator 1” aka Omali Yeshitela, chairman and founder of the party, has quite openly advocated for liberation from the noxious US white supremacist capitalist government for over five decades. The government will have to do miraculous logical gymnastics to explain how a 33-year-old Russian agro-engineer cum spy is suddenly the author of a political message that was delivered without fail for at least two decades before he was born! And then there is the ideological component.
Beginning with the idea of reparations for slavery, this demand emerged from Africans in the United States at least as far back as 1783, thus predating the Constitution of the United States of America. Considering the dearth of literacy amongst Black people at that time, if one were to consider oral appeals this might even be a late date. In any case, the call for reparations has existed in one form or another continuously since the ancien régime of US chattel slavery and has been openly promoted by many Black/New Afrikan formations prior to, concurrent with, and after APSP and Uhuru. To attribute this to the Russian government is madness and an insult to generations of Africans.
The idea of separatism being a Russian scheme is also risible. To begin with, many different groups of people from many nations attended the “Dialogue of Nations.” There was no particular connection between the various political movements short of the fact that they, in some form or another, had critiques of globalism and were at the same conferences. This is particularly significant when parsing out the US groups, as it must be made clear that self-determination for African people and the white supremacist California independence scheme are not politically aligned with one another.
The USA has never been civil or democratic for those who are not white heterosexual males!
Secondly and more significantly, separatism under different terms has long been mainstream United States policy. As Chairman Yeshitela pointed out in Oxford two and a half years ago, “The reality is that Africans who are colonized in the United States represent at least half of the largest prison population in the world. There are more Africans in prison in the United States than there are people in Djibouti or in Equatorial Guinea.” How is this not separation?
The fact is that the United States does not have a problem with separatism vis-à-vis Black people so long as the separation is predicated on structures of white power and control. The key difference between our position as African liberationists and that of the government is that they want us to be separate and disempowered, whereas we would call for separation with power. This has always been the essential contradiction with the integrationist position in the United States as well. The prescription was always integration into white power – or in other words, integration into a place of collective powerlessness. Integration with collective power was never institutionally conceived or allowed and in fact, to the contrary, those who attempted it were generally sidelined or murdered. This is precisely why mainstream integration has never taken hold as an ideology for large segments of the Black population in this country. Enough on this. Let’s get to the brass tacks and the boogeymen.
The brass tacks is that the FBI took it upon itself to assault and detain respected Black elders (the Chairman is eighty years old) while robbing them of personal belongings in multiple locations. During this process they used several weapons systems such as laser guided small arms and drones. They also accosted APSP’s communications director (a younger Black woman) and unarmed white supporters at gunpoint, commandeering possessions from them. All of these violations of privacy and person were in the service of the other “Big Lie,” that the mean Russian boogeymen are tearing at the sinews of an otherwise “democratic” world, and that but not for the grace of Biden’s administration and its FBI, US civility would fall apart at the hands of Putin and the FSB! Talk about a white echo chamber populated with Black bodies!
The USA has never been civil or democratic for those who are not white heterosexual males! Likewise, it has been established ad nauseum (including by white elite academics) that social disintegration into separate ideological bunkers cast along racial, gender and class lines is clearly a function of centuries of exploitation, abuse, genocide, confusion, imposed poverty etc. as well as the current policies that continue and exacerbate such ills, all of which are part of the DNA of the United States. Giving this strife a foreign origin story defies history itself.
Finally, we must remember that precedents are significant. We cannot expect this story to end here. If we in any way accept that sending commando units to rough up African liberationists in order to prevent Russia from winning a sharp power competition for the hearts and minds of white US residents is a legitimate policy, we are truly lost. As the famous confession says, “First they came for the communists …”
Jeremy Miller is co-director of the Idriss Stelley Foundation, part of the POOR Magazine family, an Organizer with the Black Alliance for Peace, and a graduate of San Francisco State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.