Peace activists slapped with the foreign agent charge, again

December 14, 2023
Peace activists slapped with the foreign agent charge, again


Tom Fitzgerald of Fox 5 News and Jeffrey James, a retired secret service agent, recently mischaracterized a peaceful protest in D.C. at the DNC headquarters as being potentially funded or infiltrated by “transnational terrorist groups,” who may have snuck “sleeper cells across the border.” The reality, of course, is that it was police who escalated the situation and violently attacked peaceful protestors. Accusations of foreign infiltration, while outlandish, are serious ones, especially considering that this same rhetoric was repeated by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner. The rising popularity and increasingly mass character of the protests demanding a ceasefire, many of which also oppose U.S. aid to Israel, present a threat to imperialist interests in the Middle East. One of their central strategies in response has been this kind of fear mongering.

This accusation is not a new one. We saw it during 2020 as well when the FBI director opined about the potential of foreign influence from places like Russia and China fueling the Black Lives Matter protests. It is right out of the McCarthyite playbook, relying on historical red-baiting tactics to slander growing political movements. A favorite tactic of reactionary forces, it seeks to discredit and vilify mobilizations of the oppressed in order to weaken them and galvanize their base against them.

In addition to repurposing the arguments about Soviet influence that sought to paralyze the progressive struggles that had grown during the 30s and 40s, and to malign the Civil Rights Movement after that, this particular iteration of “foreign influence” scare tactics also relies on the rhetoric of the so-called War on Terror. Using appeals to racist stereotypes about Arab and Muslim communities, those in power attempt to paint these genuine expressions of the struggle for democracy as terrorism. This rhetoric seeks to obfuscate the violence of United States imperialism and its domestic expression, the police. Deflecting from ongoing U.S. support for Israel’s genocidal attacks on civilians in Gaza and from the violent suppression of protests by police, these claims try to redirect attention to a fantastical terrorist hidden among the masses. Raising alarms about a terrorist threat to the U.S., the ruling class aims to justify funding the indiscriminate killing of civilians in occupied Palestine and its crackdown on free speech. All of these are apparently justifiable in the name of allegedly fighting a terrorist threat.

These attacks are intended to minimize the broad appeal of growing demonstrations to stop Israel’s attack on Gaza. People from widely diverse backgrounds have participated in these mobilizations, including anti-Zionist Jews, progressive clergy of various faiths, Black liberation activists, labor leaders, and students. The charge of foreign intervention also suggests that Arab and Muslim people are not intelligent enough to understand injustice to their own people, domestically and abroad. But it does not take foreign influence for people to be outraged when they see parents holding the bodies of their dead children in Gaza. Nor is infiltration of terrorist “sleeper cells” necessary for people to feel horror at the shooting and serious injuring of three college students for wearing keffiyehs and speaking Arabic, or at the murder of six-year-old Wadea al-Fayoume in Illinois. These deaths are attributable to this very rhetoric. It is not difficult to see that the Biden administration has chosen to value the lives of some, and to ignore the humanity of others.

To discredit growing demands for peace and justice, academic and governmental institutions have begun to espouse this rhetoric about terrorism being the driving force of calls for a ceasefire and divestment from genocide. Just last month at George Washington University (GW), pro-Palestine projections done by students on university buildings were denounced as the “glorification of Hamas terrorists” in a bipartisan letter from GW alumni in Congress. Calls to divest from arms dealers and to honor the dead in Gaza are in no way a glorification of terrorism, but these accusations have had a direct effect on the safety of students at GW. Students report growing threats, violence, and repression toward those perceived to be Arab or Muslim. In doubling down on these accusations, the university has since suspended GW’s Students for Justice chapter for three months for using their free speech to protest university complicity in the occupation.

While these absurd claims may gather some support in the more conservative sectors of the Democratic Party and among the MAGA Republicans, the majority of U.S. people are not fooled. Protesting GW’s suspension of SJP, numerous other student groups have come together to show their solidarity with the disenfranchised group and to carry on their work in a new coalition. Similar actions are taking place all over the country, with thousands coming together to stand against the repression of pro-Palestine activists. What these increased mobilizations and panicked accusations ultimately illustrate is the desperation of corporate interests and their for-profit media to regain control of the narrative. Nothing makes this more clear than the wide disparity between U.S. voters’ overwhelming support for a ceasefire in Gaza on the one hand, and the continued refusal of most elected officials on the other to join in this call.

Mass ceasefire mobilizations are the expression of the democratic aspirations of working and oppressed people everywhere demanding an end to a status quo that has enabled nearly a century of violence towards the Palestinian people. We must be vigilant against attempts to suppress these democratic expressions of popular opinion. What these attempts at suppression represent is the rising fascist danger which seeks to crush any form of working class and democratic organization. It is imperative, then, that we continue to take to the streets, to confront complicit politicians and institutions, to build broad unity to end the United States’ complicity in apartheid, and to oppose attempts to dismantle the democratic freedoms of working and oppressed people.

Images: Man Holding Laptop Computer Typing While Dog Watches by Image Catalog (public domain)


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