On April 18, the Department of Justice announced the indictment of four leaders of the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP) along with three Russian nationals for allegedly working on behalf of the Russian government and Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in a “malign influence campaign” designed to “sow discord” and “advance Russian propaganda.”
The Department of Justice claims that the Russian defendants recruited, funded and directed APSP Chair Omali Yeshitela and three other APSP members (Penny Joanne Hess, Jesse Nevel and Augustus C. Romain, Jr.—aka Gazi Kodzo)—to act as unregistered (and therefore illegal) agents of the Russian government and that they covertly funded and directed candidates for local office in the U.S.
The charges carry a maximum of ten years in prison.
Kurt Ronnow, the Acting Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, said that the announcement “paints a harrowing picture of Russian government actions and the lengths to which the FSB will go to interfere with our elections, sow discord in our nation and ultimately recruit U.S. citizens to their efforts.”
According to prosecutors, one of the Russians charged, Aleksandr Ionov, operated an entity called the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, which recruited U.S.-based organizations to help sway elections, make it appear there was strong support in the U.S. for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and backed efforts such as a 2015 United Nations petition to decry the “genocide of African people” in the U.S, and a reparations tour by the APSP.Yeshitela allegedly traveled from Tampa to Moscow in May 2015 on an all-expenses paid trip to a conference on separatism and to meet with Ionov and other Russians in order to “communicate on future cooperation,” according to an Ionov email.
Ionov is allegedly 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, and promoted California’s secession by paying for posters advertising a pro-secession rally that took place in Sacramento on Valentine’s Day in 2018.
What followed from Yeshitela’s 2015 meeting with Ionov in Moscow, according to the indictment, was covert Russian funding and support for various activities in the U.S. until the summer of 2022, including demonstrations at the California and Georgia state capitals and at an unnamed social media company in San Francisco, which had placed restrictions on posts that supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.In August 2016, Ionov is said to have directed the APSP to publish a statement of support of Russia’s Olympic team as it faced a doping scandal. The article published in The Burning Spear, the APSP’s newspaper, was titled: “Imperialists Ban Russia from 2016 Olympic Games!” APSP says ‘let Russia play!’”
The APSP is said to have taken around $7,000 from Russian government sources overall, although it is not clear from the indictment how Yeshitela or anyone in the APSP would have known that Ionov’s group was a front for the FSB—if that is indeed the case.
After Russia launched its special military operation in Ukraine in February 2022, Yeshitela appeared at two web conferences with Ionov (“Live with Russia” and “Negating Colonial Lies”).
Ionov’s group additionally allegedly provided clandestine funding to an APSP candidate who ran for St. Petersburg City Council in 2019, Eritha Akilé Cainion, who held a news conference in 2022 in which she said—accurately—that “world colonial powers have been collaborating against Russia” for more than a century.
Flowing From the Russia Gate Hysteria—or Was it a Trap?
Mr. Ionov 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!
Grayzone Project founder Max Blumenthal tweeted after the announcement of the indictment:
Blumenthal appears to be correct but there is another possibility that Ionov is a double agent or asset of U.S. intelligence services, or was subjected to blackmail by them, and that Yeshitela and the APSP were lured into a trap.
this fake and racist case [against the APSP] flows from the Russiagate hysteria that convinced millions of Americans that Russia was paying dissident groups to destabilize the U.S. political system. The FBI was unable to find anything real, so it went after the African People’s Socialist Party.
Why otherwise would the Russians court, or prey on, an obscure African-American socialist organization in a decidedly capitalist country with little influence over anything? And support causes with no chance like California secession, or political candidates with no hope in a city council race?
Blogger Caitlin Johnstone pointed to the hypocrisy of the U.S. government in that it is constantly engaging in foreign influence operations through outfits like the National Endowment for Democracy(NED), which was set up to help foment coups and color revolutions and advance U.S. information interests overtly in ways the CIA used to do covertly. According to Johnstone, when foreign governments try to stop this activity, the U.S. State Department invokes “free speech,” which it evidently cares little about in the case of the APSP.
FBI Pre-Dawn Raid and Its Antecedents
As a prelude to the April 18 indictments, the FBI mounted a violent pre-dawn raid on Yeshitela’s home in the eastern part of St. Louis on July 29. Combat-clad agents equipped with automatic weapons smashed windows, broke down the door, and set off deadly military-grade flash-bang explosives (aka “concussion grenades”).
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 forcing 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, APSP files, and other electronic devices.
The July 29 spectacle was not Yeshitela’s first experience being targeted by police for his political activism. 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 APSP 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 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 try to help offset high infant mortality rates in the northern part of St. Louis along with other job training programs to help former Black prisoners reintegrate into society.
Building Relationships with Whomever We Want
Akilé Anai is the APSP leader in St. Petersburg named in the indictment as having received Russian money when she ran unsuccessfully for the city council in 2019 on a reparations platform (she received 18% of the vote). Having her car seized during the FBI’s July 29 raid, she said that the APFP “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.”
Ajamu Baraka, leader of the Black Alliance for Peace, tweeted after the July raid that Black radicals were being 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.”
The COINTELPRO operation has included the issuance of sanctions on the APSP, which has had loans withheld by Regions Bank, been blocked by Facebook from doing crowd-funding, had more than $9,000 in donations frozen by GoFundMe, been blocked from processing payments by Stripe, and had $36,801 in funding revoked by the Pinellas County Commission that had previously been approved for a Black community radio station.
Omali Yeshitela likens the economic aggression to that which the U.S. government and society directed against Marcus Garvey and his United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in the 1920s, and to the bombing of Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street” and the destruction of the Black Panther Party’s Black community survival programs.Yeshitela told CovertAction Magazine in an interview last August that the government’s charge that the African People’s Socialist Party was being used as a pawn for Russian interference in U.S. elections was “ridiculous” and “bogus,” and that the FBI raid on his home was “an attack on the Black liberation movement” and the work that the APSP was doing to uplift the impoverished people of the northern part of 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 the southern part of St. Louis, where Whites lived, and demolish thousands of homes in the northern part of 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 noted, 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 APSP] and stealing forty years of our archives, which wipes out part of our history.”
As If Black People Have No Agency
Yeshitela posted a video on Facebook after the FBI’s raid in which he acknowledged meeting Ionov 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 APSP “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 to 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 mine.”
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.”