Subpoenas to appear before a grand jury in Chicago have reportedly been canceled. What's next is anyone's guess.
Thistle Parker-Hartog originally was supposed to testify before a grand jury in Chicago Tuesday. She didn't go. Mick Kelly was scheduled to make the same trip next week. Don't bet on it.
In all, 14 antiwar activists and several organizations from the Twin Cities and Chicago who are being investigated for alleged support of terror groups received subpoenas to appear before the grand jury this month. All -- including five who were to appear last week -- have told the U.S. Department of Justice that they are not going. Instead, several were among about 60 people gathered in front of the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Minneapolis Tuesday to protest what they consider harassment and intimidation because they oppose U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere.
So far, it seems, the Justice Department has acquiesced. All the subpoenas have been canceled, according to a Chicago attorney working on the case. Instead of being encouraged by the inaction, they are left wondering when the other shoe is going to fall for a growing number of people under investigation.
"No one knows what will happen. That's sort of the problem with all this," Parker-Hartog said. "The net is definitely getting wider. We are hearing from more of our brothers and sisters around the country that they, too, are being looked at."
On Sept. 24, the FBI raided the Minneapolis homes of five antiwar activists, including three leaders of the Twin Cities peace movement, as part of what it called a probe of "activities concerning the material support of terrorism." The Minneapolis office of an antiwar organization was also raided, protest leaders said. Raids were also conducted on two homes in Chicago.
No one was arrested in any of the raids.
Computers, cell phones and documents were seized. FBI officials said the federal search warrants in Minneapolis were related to an ongoing Joint Terrorism Task Force.
The people whose homes and offices were searched have denied being involved in any illegal activities. Meredith Aby of the Anti-War Committee, whose home and offices were raided, said Tuesday that the federal government has "given itself more power since 9/11. The federal government is doing this, I think, because they can do this."
According to the warrants, the FBI is seeking travel and financial information regarding the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Colombia.
It is against federal law to provide "material support" to organizations that have been defined by the U.S. government as terrorist. But attorneys argue that the law's interpretation can be dangerously broad. Activists are asking: Who defines a terror group? What constitutes material support?
Over the past two years, several local men of Somali descent have been indicted, and some convicted, for providing material support for Al-Shabab, an Islamist group fighting for control of Somalia. Some traveled to Somalia to fight, some recruited fighters, some allegedly provided money.
Those being investigated in Minneapolis and Chicago deny doing anything like that in this case. What happens next is uncertain. The U.S. attorney in Chicago could reissue subpoenas. Prosecutors could even grant some of the people being investigated immunity to prod them to testify. Everything could be dropped.
All that is known for now, said attorney Jim Fennerty, is "that nobody is going to appear before the grand jury."
James Walsh • 612-673-7428