The Justice Department has indicted four Americans, including three members of the African People’s Socialist Party and Uhuru Movement (APSP), over their political views on Russia, a step that has grave implications for First Amendment rights.
The allegation against the Americans is that they were involved in a “foreign malign influence campaign” directed by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). The DOJ also indicted three Russians related to the case, including Aleksandr Ionov, who was initially charged last year.
Ionov is a Moscow resident who founded the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR), a non-governmental organization. The DOJ claims that Ionov used the AGMR to conduct Russia’s “malign influence campaign” and recruited Americans to spread “Russian propaganda.” The indictment alleges the Russians were involved in a 2019 local election in St. Petersburg, Florida, one city where the APSP is based.
“Russia’s foreign intelligence service allegedly weaponized our First Amendment rights – freedoms Russia denies its own citizens – to divide Americans and interfere in elections in the United States,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen.
Offices and homes affiliated with the APSP were raided by the FBI in 2022 over the group’s connections to the AGMR. Omali Yeshitela, the leader of the APSP who was indicted by the DOJ, pointed out after the raid that his group has worked with organizations around the world for decades.
“At our First Party Congress held in Oakland, California in 1981, we received solidarity statements from organizations and governments from around the world,” Yeshitela wrote in an article published by Antiwar.com in March 2023.
“This helps to give lie to the notion that our connection to a Russian NGO is evidence of an illicit relationship that we would have with a ‘foreign power,'” he said.
Yeshitela strongly denied that his group was working for Russia, and they appear to have been targeted for their political beliefs. The APSP has expressed support for Russia and denounced US involvement in Ukraine, but the group has been speaking out against US foreign policy since it was formed in 1972.
Yeshitela said in the article that he expected to be indicted and that the government would likely use the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) to go after him and his group.
“This is selective prosecution. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other Israeli lobbying organizations are seemingly immune from prosecution under the FARA law despite their obvious public function as agents of the Israeli government,” he wrote.
The DOJ’s press release says the Americans and Russians are charged with “conspiring to have US citizens act as illegal agents of the Russian government within the United States without providing prior notification to the Attorney General, as required by law.” If convicted, they face up to five years in prison.
Yeshitela and two other Americans are also charged with “acting as agents of Russia within the United States without such prior notification,” which carries a maximum penalty of up to ten years in prison.
The APSP said they are not making a statement on the indictments at the advice of their attorneys and are looking for donations to fund their legal defense.