Latest outrage is the FBI’s use of flash-bang grenades and drones to startle 80-year-old leader of Black Nationalist organization who was accused of being a Russian agent—on the grounds that he attended a meeting on self-determination in Moscow seven years ago.
FBI also accuses alleged Russian agent of trying to support California’s secession.
At 5 a.m. on the morning of July 29, eighty-year-old Omali Yeshitela and wife, Ona Zené Yeshitela, awoke in mortal terror as combat-clad FBI agents equipped with automatic weapons smashed their windows, broke down their door, and set off deadly military-grade flashbang explosives (aka “concussion grenades”) as they invaded the couple’s home in a quiet residential neighborhood of St. Louis.
The FBI made a big show of the raid before the entire community, occupying a neighbor’s yard and smashing down his door as well. Then they humiliated Yeshitela and his wife by dragging them outside at gunpoint, handcuffing them in front of their neighbors, and forcing them to wait as the FBI agents ransacked their home and removed computer equipment and their phones.
What imminent threat to the peace and security of the American homeland justified this military-style assault on the home of an eighty-year-old scholar (Yeshitela has written numerous books) and respected community leader? Sources had accused him of being a Russian agent—on the grounds that he had attended a meeting on self-determination in Moscow seven years ago!
The FBI used similarly heavy-handed tactics across town during a raid on the African People’s Socialist Party Solidarity Center on Gravois Avenue in St. Louis and on the party’s radio station and newspaper office, and on the African People’s Socialist Party offices in St. Petersburg, Florida, which federal and Florida agents allege was influenced by Russian intelligence to spread propaganda and influence a local election.
The raids were connected with the FBI’s issuing a warrant for the arrest of Alexander Ionov, a Moscow resident and alleged employee of the Russian intelligence services (FSB), who was reportedly close with accused Russian agent Maria Butina and Yevgeny Prigozhin, “Putin’s chef,” who is under U.S. sanctions for the Kremlin’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Ionov is accused of working with members of the African People’s Socialist Party on a “malign influence campaign” designed to “shape foreign perceptions and to influence populations in a number of ways,” U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg said during a press conference in Florida.
The “malign influence campaign” included efforts allegedly to foment protests aimed at sowing divisions within the U.S.—including a four-city tour in 2018 by the African People’s Socialist Party in St. Petersburg supporting a “Petition on Crime of Genocide Against African People in the United States.”
Ionov was further accused of a) collaborating with Prigozhin’s Foundation for Battling Injustice (FBR) to support candidates in a 2022 gubernatorial election; b) working to “disseminate and promulgate disinformation that would influence the U.S. election process; and c) “supervising” political candidates for local office in St. Petersburg who were not named in the indictment.
Ionov was additionally accused of promoting California’s secession by paying for posters advertising a pro-secession rally that took place in Sacramento on Valentine’s Day in 2018.
Ionov’s indictment alleged that he had paid the founder and chairman of the St. Petersburg African People’s Socialist Party—identified as Unindicted Co-Conspirator 1—to travel to Moscow in 2015—after he said that he wanted the group to be an “instrument of the Russian government,” which the unindicted co-conspirator said “did not disturb us.”
Ionov continued to push the Kremlin’s line through his Florida contacts in the early stages of Russia’s war in Ukraine, claiming “anybody who supported Ukraine was also supporting Naziism [sic] and white supremacy,” according to the indictment.
What Kind of Democracy?
Mr. Ionov has denounced his indictment on Facebook, saying that “I have never met such nonsense and deception. There are no specific names of officials, there is no evidence of funding and there are no intelligible arguments.”
He went on: “The Ukrainian crisis has driven American officials crazy! Comrades, now you see what kind of ‘democracy’ exists in the USA!”
Yeshitela knows from experience the hollow nature of this “democracy”—particularly for Black people.
Working as an organizer with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s when he went by Joe Waller, Yeshitela was arrested for tearing down a racist mural on the St. Petersburg, Florida, city hall building during a demonstration.
When Yeshitela got out of prison, he organized a Black Power organization that became a victim of the FBI’s notorious counter-intelligence operation (COINTELPRO).
Inspired by the teachings of Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party, the African People’s Socialist Party was officially founded in 1972 with the goal of liberating Black people from the scourge of white supremacy, colonialism and neo-colonialism in the U.S. and around the world.
In the 1980s, the group set up successful African-American controlled economic institutions such as the popular Uhuru Bakery Café in Oakland, and established the first tribunal demanding reparations for people of African descent.
The group has also built basketball courts, and established a program to train African-American women as midwives to help try and offset high infant mortality rates in North St. Louis along with other job training programs to help former Black prisoners reintegrate into society.
In 2019, Akilé Anai, a 23-year old leader of the African People’s Socialist Party in St. Petersburg received about 18% of the vote running for the city council on a reparations platform.
Having her car seized during the FBI’s July 29 raid, Anai said that the African People’s Socialist Party “can have relationships with whomever we want to,” and that the FBI’s actions were part of a “propaganda war being waged against Russia every single day throughout the news.”
After the raid, Ajamu Baraka, leader of the Black Alliance for Peace, tweeted that “as predicted, black radicals are targeted again for not falling in line with the U.S. imperial agenda on Ukraine.”
Attorney and organizer Kamau Franklin stated: “This is a COINTELPRO operation. One meant to destroy Black organizations.”
In an exclusive interview with CovertAction Magazine, Omali Yeshitela concurred, stating that the government’s charge that the African People’s Socialist Party were being used as pawns of Russian interference in U.S. elections was “ridiculous” and “bogus,” and that the raid was “an attack on the Black liberation movement” and the work that the Black People’s Socialist Party was doing to uplift the impoverished people of North St. Louis (and St. Petersburg), former slaves who live in extraordinarily bad conditions.
Noting that during the raid, the police targeted him with a laser beam and that his wife was nearly knocked over by a drone, Yeshitela pointed to a plan in the 1970s promoted by St. Louis city leaders such as future House Majority leader Richard Gephardt (1989-1995) that aimed to build up South St. Louis, where Whites lived, and demolish thousands of homes in North St. Louis, where the Blacks lived. The rehabilitation of decaying buildings there was considered “uneconomical.'”
Besides shooting down Black youth like Michael Brown, the city has since taken over more and more of the Blacks’ land, Yeshitela said. They destroyed whole communities by driving up taxes to levels Blacks could not afford, building such monstrosities as the National Geospatial Intelligence agency, a military installation involved in U.S. wars in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere.
The government today very clearly, Yeshitela further notes, is trying to create fear in the White population by linking Blacks to the Russians so as to discredit their efforts to fight back. “By defining us as enemies of the state,” they could justify “seizing our communications and computers [of the Black People’s Socialist Party] and stealing forty years of our archives, which wipes out part of our history.”
As If Black People Have No Agency
After the police raid on July 29, Yeshitela posted a video on Facebook in which he acknowledged meeting Ionov—the head of a Russian human rights group—in 2015 in Moscow at a conference involving questions of self-determination and colonialism.
Yeshitela said that he supports Russia against Ukraine, as it was the U.S. which provoked the conflict by overthrowing the elected government of Ukraine which, since the coup in 2014, has “killed 13,000 to 14,000 Russians or Ukrainians who supported Russia in Eastern Ukraine.”
According to Yeshitela, it was hypocritical to condemn him for going to Russia when Whites were never condemned for going to Israel, which occupies Arab lands in historic Palestine. The African People’s Socialist Party “supports Russia in Ukraine just like it supports the self-determination of the Palestinians; and the people of Nicaragua when they made a revolution against U.S. puppets there, and people fighting against oppression everywhere.”
Yeshitela reminded his audience that “it was the U.S. government—and not the Russian government—which overthrew democratic governments in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s, which mounted a coup against Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, and which killed Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as 30 members of the Black Panther Party—including Fred Hampton—in one-year alone.”
The FBI’s July 29 raid, in Yeshitela’s view, was part of a renewed “ideological war by the U.S. government directed against Black people and Russia,” whose purpose was to discredit Black political activism and further U.S. support for its war by proxy against Russia in Ukraine.
Yeshitela said that many Whites across the U.S. had now “come to support the demand for Black reparations,” which has “made people in power nervous,” so they “have to attack us and try and link the leaders of our movement to Russia.”
When “home-grown American Whites—having nothing to do with Russia—tried actively to overthrow the U.S. government on January 6 and threatened to kill the Vice-President, the government did not respond by raiding the culprits’ homes with flash-bang grenades and drones like they did his.”
Most insulting, Yeshitela said, was the insinuation that Blacks could not lead their own struggle—that somehow, they had to turn to Russia and to “wait for Russia to tell us we’re oppressed,” especially when conditions in their community were so bad. As if Black people “have no agency or will of their own.”
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About the Author
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine.
He is the author of four books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019) and The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018).
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.