Longtime peace activist Mick Kelly called last week's FBI searches "an attack on people who have spoken out for peace and justice."
Mick Kelly, front and center, was one of about 200 people who gathered outside the FBI office in downtown Minneapolis on Monday to protest searches conducted at the homes of several antiwar activists in Minneapolis and Chicago last week.
Obstructing legal process. Disorderly conduct. Unlawful assembly. Such arrests are occupational hazards for a man who has spent a lifetime protesting actions he sees as unfair, laws he views as unjust and wars he considers immoral.
But Friday's raid of his home has put local activist Mick Kelly, 53, on the radar for allegations far more serious. According to the search warrant, FBI agents were looking for evidence that local peace activists are supporting foreign terrorist groups.
Kelly said again Monday that he has done nothing illegal. He said he suspects that the raid, one of several searches carried out Friday at the homes of antiwar activists in Minneapolis and Chicago, is an attempt to chill his speech and activities.
"This is an attack on people who have spoken out for peace and justice," Kelly said Monday afternoon, minutes before he and about 200 others launched a rally at the Minneapolis FBI office to protest the raids.
Despite several arrests during protests over the years -- at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in 2008, at the State Capitol in 1995, at a power-line site in 1978 -- Kelly has no serious convictions in Minnesota, according to state records.
A cook by trade, he grew up in a working-class family that valued progressive causes. He was heavily influenced, he said, by the movement against the war in Vietnam.
His friend, Rosemary Williams, said Kelly learned to fight for "justice for the underdog." In 2009, he fought for her -- helping her combat foreclosure and eviction from her home of 23 years.
"He even went to jail for me," Williams said of the ultimately unsuccessful efforts to keep the sheriff from taking her home. "He's a good person. He's very compassionate and concerned about people being treated fairly."
But on Friday, according to Kelly -- who was at work at the time -- agents with guns drawn broke down the door of his second-floor apartment in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood looking for proof that he has supported terrorist organizations in Colombia and the Middle East.
No one was arrested in the raids. Kelly and the other subjects of the searches have been ordered to appear before a federal grand jury next month in Chicago.
Specifically, the warrant for the raid of Kelly's apartment sought notebooks, address books, photos and maps of Kelly's travels to the Palestinian territories, Colombia and in the United States on behalf of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO). It also sought information on his personal finances and those of the group, on his "potential co-conspirators" and recruitment efforts for the group.
Kelly has worked as an editor and writer for FRSO's Fight Back! news service.
The warrant also sought any information about efforts to support FARC, a guerrilla organization in Colombia, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Hezbollah, the political and paramilitary group based in Lebanon.
On Monday, Kelly said he has never gone to Colombia or the Palestinian territories and has never sent money. "I can barely pay my rent each month," he said.
On the morning agents raided his apartment, Kelly sat in a cafe downstairs and told the UpTake website that he considered the search to be "harassment."
"The reality is, the U.S. is intervening everywhere and has created an empire. As a result, all over the world, folks are dissatisfied and I am, too," he said. "I am speaking out for the right of people to determine their own destiny. I suspect that has something to do with why they're there right now."
Authorities admitted going too far with Kelly before.
The city of St. Paul agreed to pay him $5,000 to settle a federal lawsuit he filed after he was detained by police in June 2008.
He was outside the Xcel Energy Center, distributing fliers promoting a march during the upcoming RNC, when police stopped him. Officers put him in a squad car and drove him 10 blocks away before giving him a citation and releasing him.
Kelly filed another suit after the convention, alleging that he was struck at close range by a projectile fired by police during a Sept. 4, 2008, protest. That case is still active.
Jess Sundin, another peace activist whose home was searched, called Kelly a good friend who "cares a lot."
Sundin said of Kelly: "Mick and I have worked together for many years. He's taught me a lot of what I know."
What she knows, she said, is that while Kelly and she have been willing to stand in solidarity with people fighting oppression in foreign countries, they would never have sent them money.
"Really," she said, "that isn't our place."
James Walsh • 612-673-7428