Some liberals and progressives have been applauding the FBI for investigating Trump & Co. Maybe they’ve already forgotten how incompetently the FBI investigated Brett Kavanaugh before he ascended to the Supreme Court. Or how the agency has infiltrated and hounded countless social justice movements over the years. To hope that the FBI will do the right thing and save us from the far right is a grave mistake. A little bit of history about this law-and-order institution, and my own recent experience as a socialist feminist activist, will explain why this infamous agency is no friend to the struggle for human rights.
Knock, Knock: FBI calling. In the summer of 2018, Seattle Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party were organizing with other groups to counter-protest against the far-right Patriot Prayer organization. These thugs were planning an anti-abortion protest outside of Planned Parenthood in Kent, Washington. I was visited by a “friendly” female FBI agent who “just wanted to get some information.”
It’s important to note that we had not yet publicly announced our counter-protest. But obviously, ‘big brother’ had been watching. I gave her no information and clearly stated that I do not talk to the FBI. The same agent later visited — also unsuccessfully — the homes of two other leaders in Radical Women and one in Seattle Clinic Defense.
I alerted the rest of the organizing committee and six participating groups co-signed a public statement that called out this harassment and spelled out our legal right to refuse to speak to the FBI. Long experience has taught us that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is an agent of government repression.
The real role of the FBI. U.S. residents have a Constitutional right to freedom of speech and association, that is, to organize without government interference. In reality, the FBI intimidates, infiltrates and persecutes civil rights defenders. Its purpose is to squelch resistance and stop political challenges to the status quo.
For example, during the McCarthy era, around 1945 to1960, the agency infiltrated groups to spy on and create divisions within activist organizations. During the Red Scare, communists, anarchists, and people merely suspected of being leftists were under surveillance — lost their jobs, went to jail, were even executed. The FBI energetically purged gay federal employees. For decades, the agency cast a wide net in its efforts to take down vital resistance such as the Civil Rights Movement, Black Panther Party, American Indian Movement, Occupy Wall Street, and anti-war School of the Americas Watch. In the 1980s, it also spied on opponents of U.S. policy in Central America. In the late 1990’s the feds initiated a counter-terrorism campaign directed at environmental and animal rights activists, widening its powers and abuse of domestic activists.
When I was at Standing Rock in 2016, Native and other water warriors were confronted by FBI spies and police brutality as measures to defend energy industry profits. At Trump’s inauguration, over 200 protesters, journalists and medics were arrested and threatened with years in jail. Today, under the guise of anti-terrorist watch, the agency targets the U.S. Muslim community and anti-fascist movement. The FBI continues to track supporters of Palestinian rights, Black Lives Matter and environmental activists, and abortion clinic defenders. And as journalist Chip Gibbons puts it, attempts to “pin violence against police on those who protest police violence.”
The FBI is no friend. These historical and current examples show that the FBI has not and will not change its ways. Its job is to protect the inequalities of an oppressive system. It is no bulwark against Trumpism. Public exposure and militantly organizing for free speech and civil liberties is the best defense.
Gina Petry is the organizer of Seattle Radical Women. Send feedback to FSnews@mindspring.com.