On July 29, 2022, Omali Yeshitela and his wife, Ona Zene, awoke at 5 o’clock in the morning to the sound of flash grenades and drones, as heavily armed FBI agents stormed into their home searching for evidence of organizational ties to the Russian government. Yeshitela is the 80-year-old chair of the African People’s Socialist Party, a Pan-Africanist political party founded in 1972 and headquartered in Florida. His wife is the deputy chair.
Last week, nine months after the raid, the Department of Justice unsealed new grand jury indictments against Yeshitela, as well as Jesse Nevel, Penny Hess, and Gazi Kodzo—national chair of the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, chair of the African People’s Solidarity Committee, and cofounder of the Black Hammer Party, respectively—naming them as co-conspirators in an alleged plot to promote the political interests of Russia within the United States.
The FBI surveilled these Black liberation activists and their organizations for years before finally securing a search warrant for their personal residences and other locations connected to the African People’s Socialist Party and the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement. The FBI’s search warrants were based on a federal grand jury indictment, which charged an unrelated individual—Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov—with violations relating to a little-known statute called the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
The superseding indictment charges Yeshitela, Nevel, and Hess with conspiring to commit an offense against the United States—specifically, “to act as an agent of a foreign government and foreign officials…without prior notification to the Attorney General” as required by law under FARA. The specific acts they are accused of committing include attending an international conference in Russia, publishing a “Petition to the United Nations on the Crime of Genocide Against African People in the United States of America” after encouragement from Ionov, accepting financial support from Ionov for a speaking tour in the United States to discuss reparations, permitting Ionov to speak during an African People’s Socialist Party event, and publishing and speaking in support of the Russian government. It is worth remembering that African American activists have charged the United States with genocide since at least 1951, when the Civil Rights Congress submitted a similar petition to the United Nations, titled “We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People.”
Despite the sensational nature of the charges and the Department of Justice’s presentation of the case, we should be clear: The indictments against the defendants do not allege any intent to commit violent acts, nor espionage, fraud, nor even election interference. Because of FARA’s extraordinary reach, the Department of Justice has been able to selectively invoke foreign agent accusations as a way to silence criticisms of the United States’ role in international politics.