WW interviews Stop FBI spokesperson
Published Feb 17, 2011 9:55 PM
WW photo: Bryan G. Pfeifer
Bryan G. Pfeifer, Workers World newspaper contributing editor and
member of the Detroit Committee to Stop FBI/Grand Jury Repression, interviewed
Tom Burke of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization and spokesperson for the
Committee to Stop FBI Repression, in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Jan. 28. Burke was
one of the 23 international solidarity activists issued subpoenas by the FBI
since September 2010. The committee is sponsoring conferences on Feb. 19 in
both New York City and North Carolina. On Feb. 12 there were conferences in
Chicago and San Francisco. For more information: www.stopfbi.net.
WWP: There has been and continues to be resistance against the
FBI and other agencies of the U.S. government for this most recent attack on
international solidarity activists and other progressive individuals, including
union staffers and members. Would you expand?
TB: Nine of the 23 solidarity activists subpoenaed were due to
appear on Jan. 25, and I’m happy to say all nine of those declined to
appear at that time. There were more than 50 protests on Jan. 25 throughout the
U.S. and a handful of places like Dublin, Ireland; Kiev, Ukraine; Canada; and
Australia too. Hundreds of groups participated, and thousands of people came
out to support the people who are anti-war and international solidarity
activists who are being targeted by this government repression.
WWP: There was a press conference on Jan. 12 by the Committee
to Stop FBI Repression that revealed government infiltration into progressive
and revolutionary organizations.
TB: We don’t think who is paid and trained by the
government to lie can really make an effective court case but that seems to be
what U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s office is out to do, which is to
attempt to criminalize our activism and criminalize our politics. And to
intimidate people who have a different ideology or different views. And
particularly a view that says the U.S. empire is doing bad things to people
around the world, and the U.S. empire is in fact bad for poor and working
people in the U.S. too. They are trying to criminalize the fact that
that’s our belief. And this is what we express in our websites, in
FightBack newspaper, in our anti-war activism and in our organizing and
So it’s really the case that the thought police raided homes and
we’re going to be put on trial for our ideas because there is no material
aid for terrorism. We understand that they are claiming that their
investigation is to look at material aid to groups on their list, but we say
there isn’t any evidence because we haven’t done anything like
that. And they had more than two years to find that evidence, but it
WWP: What has this done to the personal lives of those
who’ve been attacked, and how are you dealing with the attempted
TB: Well, we understand that the government is going to try to
disrupt and repress the anti-war movement as well as participate with companies
that disrupt labor unions. The government has been oppressing Muslim and Arab
groups, putting individuals in jail and setting them up in sting
So we understand that the government is of the rich, by the rich and for the
rich and that anyone who challenges that idea with a democratic movement
against the U.S. empire is going to come into conflict with the government. But
quite frankly we were shocked at the raids, and it turned people’s lives
upside down, especially those whose homes were gone through and had their
things taken away. It’s like being robbed; robbed of your dignity; robbed
of your actual things. And so it really disrupted people initially.
At the same time, because we understand that the government is repressive
towards people who want social change in the U.S. and really targets people
that are revolutionary and is targeting from the White House and from the
Justice Department; targeting people who believe in actual socialism, we were
and are prepared to fight back.
Because what the White House is promoting is something called corporatism. And
the Tea Party might call it socialism, but they know that’s not true
either. They know that it’s corporate control and corporate power
that’s being reinforced by Wall Street and the White House and that
socialism is driven by working people having more and more democratic control
And this is what we stand for: socialism, socialism from below. And so they are
in the midst of this economic crisis and are trying to slow down our ability to
organize in the movements against the economic crisis whether it’s
low-income people or union workers or any other forms it takes trying to
prevent and slow down the economic crisis.
The movement since the raids has been overwhelming. We as leaders are
attempting to keep up with the movement at this time. We saw over 70 cities
protest in the two and three weeks following the raids. And we have over 500
solidarity statements from big unions; from student networks such as Students
for a Democratic Society and Students for Justice in Palestine; churches like
the Presbyterian Church have made statements; and many others from the
religious sector including Jewish, Christian and Muslim denominations of all
kinds have made statements supporting us.
Internationally we’re beginning to gather steam and are getting more
contacts internationally to shine a light on U.S. repression at home. We think
the repression at home is a result of the decline of the empire overseas. The
“American century” is over, and it’s not coming back. So they
are beginning to treat people who want social change in the U.S. as an internal
enemy. Maybe they’re not just beginning, but they’re intensifying
that and we’re returning to a period like we saw in the sixties with
Cointelpro. We think Patrick Fitzgerald is like the new McCarthy figure who
wants to target activists for their beliefs and put them in jail.
WWP: Many of those targeted by the U.S. government are
Palestinian solidarity activists. Why do you think they are being targeted?
TB: The original infiltration began during the Republican
National Convention, and we were able to unite all the groups in the anti-war
movement and all the different kinds of trends that wanted to protest against
the Republicans. We think that had an impact on the outcome of the elections.
Our view was that McCain and the other warmongers of the Republicans should be
defeated, and we organized to help make that happen. The night McCain was
nominated he had to share a split screen [on major media outlets] with our
protest, and that sent a clear message against war and against the occupation
of Iraq and the continuation of the war in Afghanistan to the people of this
country who were going out to vote.
And then you update it to now. I think we are the people who are effective at
organizing solidarity with Palestine. Along with others, we are able to unite
many groups and individuals to protest the Israeli occupation, to protest U.S.
funding of Israel and its occupation of Palestine and war making in
And Israel is becoming more and more isolated in the world as young people
around the world see that it’s an apartheid state the way South Africa
used to be, and there’s no turning back now. There’s all these
young Jewish Americans who are anti-Zionist, and they’re speaking out
against it, and it’s terrific. They’re standing against oppression
and standing for the freedom of the Palestinian and other Arab peoples, and
they know we can live in a world where Jews and Muslims and Christians and
Palestinians and people who are their neighbors can all live in peace together,
but it can’t be under the boot heel of the U.S. empire.
WWP: Why are the regional conferences being held this month,
and what’s their focus?
TB: On Feb. 12 we’ll be having regional conferences for
the West Coast in Oakland at the Humanist Center, and in Chicago at
Teamster’s City. The following weekend on Feb. 19 in New York City and in
Durham, North Carolina, there’ll be an Eastern and Southern regional
If the government is allowed to say that a humanitarian donation to refugee
camps is a crime, it’s going to affect not just hundreds of groups but
thousands. Church groups that are sending warm clothing to a refugee camp in a
war zone will have to figure out first whether the U.S. government is going to
approve of that or whether they might go to prison for it. And people who do
medical projects, people who do education projects, will all have to question
their solidarity work.
Whatever ideas they’re motivated by, they are all threatened by this
court case that’s coming up. We think the Obama administration should put
a halt to it and say international solidarity is not a crime, free speech is
important and the right to organize is a right that we cherish.
WWP: Many of those raided by the FBI and subpoenaed by the
government are affiliated in some capacity with labor unions or labor-related
organizations. What has been the response from the labor movement to the
attempted government repression? And why do you feel it’s so important
that the labor movement responds strongly against the attempted repression -
especially during this time of economic crisis?
TB: Ten of the original 14 activists subpoenaed either
belonged to trade unions or are or were members of trade unions. Many of them
are elected as stewards or officers of the local unions that they belong
The outpouring of support, especially those unions that we’re directly
connected to, such as AFSCME and the SEIU, has been terrific, which shows we
think that people know who we are, and they know the government is trying to
criminalize our activity. And they are willing to come out strong and stand
with us. The Chicago Teachers Union and the United Electrical Workers have
passed resolutions supporting us.
The San Francisco Labor Council I have to mention too, and their resolution was
probably the strongest so far, and it came within days of the raids. And
honestly we didn’t know anyone in those unions or on that council, but
they saw what happened and sent us a solidarity statement, and four other
unions in the Bay Area sent individual statements too. So the outpouring from
labor has been terrific.
We think that the government is more and more getting involved in the
repression of the labor movement, especially given that there’s such a
deep economic crisis, and unemployment is not going away anytime soon. And
people are being threatened with being kicked off the rolls, not hundreds or
thousands but millions of people threatened with a loss of income in this
country, and they are right to be angry about it.
People not getting raises are right to be upset when the bankers who were
bailed out by Bush and the new administration are bringing in huge profits
again and giving out Christmas bonuses of tens of thousands and hundreds of
thousands and millions of dollars while ten percent of America is jobless.
People don’t need to be told that this is unjust. They know it. When
their houses are being foreclosed on, they know it. When they’re being
made homeless, they know it. And we know it, and we are able to organize. So in
some ways this attack by the government has prevented us from focusing our
efforts there. So we’re asking the labor movement to stand with us.
WWP: Any other comments?
TB: International solidarity is not a crime and we will
continue to organize. We think we’ve done a good job so far, and we
appreciate all those people who have turned out and are helping us to build a
leadership across the country. We’re not in this fight alone, and we
don’t plan to move forward alone, and we thank our friends and comrades.
I also want to encourage people to turn out for the protests on April 9 against
the war in Afghanistan and the occupation of Iraq and to continue building the
movement to stop U.S. aid to Israel.
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