Chairman Omali on Glenn Greenwald’s show: “I’m not surprised that the U.S. government attacked me.”

The following is a transcription from Glenn Greenwald’s interview with Chairman Omali Yeshitela broadcasted live on Jan. 31. Questions from Greenwald are paraphrased for brevity.

Tell us a little bit about the Party–when was it formed, and for what ideology and reasons was the Party created?

The party was founded in 1972, but I was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) that made a significant move within the Civil Rights Movement in 1966 to call for Black Power. This was a major change and development within the Civil Rights Movement itself, where one trend of our movement–which is historical, has been there all along–moved toward accomplishing self-determination, as opposed to simply trying to integrate into American society. And [it was] based on the struggle to be able to have self-reliance–feed, clothe, house ourselves–just be a self-reliant people.

In 1972, after many years of involvement first with SNCC, I spent time in prison in St. Petersburg, FL, for having removed a horrible, offensive mural that was on the city hall wall–an 8×10 foot mural that depicted African people in grotesque caricature. After pleading with the mayor for a while, I led a demonstration in the city hall that resulted ultimately in our taking the mural down from the wall. And I was sentenced to five years in prison for that act, after having been charged with eleven different offenses. I spent time in prison as a consequence of that–in and out of prison for a while. I got out of prison on bond four days before the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

I participated in a demonstration in Gainesville, FL, and on my way to Florida, on the Greyhound bus, I arrived and learned that King had been killed. The demonstration I was going there to attend was to help defend some young African men who had been imprisoned there, and when I got there, I learned that King had been killed and the character of the demonstration changed–revolving around his assassination. I was arrested there–one of the first two persons who was arrested on a law that had just been created called “incitement to riot” that did not require a riot to occur. It simply was a thought crime, in that it required me to have wanted a riot to occur after having made a speech. So I spent some time in jail through that.

And in the process of all of this, we concluded, after a period, that it was not good enough just to be involved in protest–that we had to be able to build a movement that was about achieving power over our lives. And we determined that the best vehicle for doing that was a political party; that was the basis for the founding of the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP).

At some juncture during this work, we also concluded that the struggle of black people in this country was part of a much broader struggle of black people around the world, when we were first introduced into this country–that is, black people–at gunpoint. So we began a movement to connect this struggle of Africans here with Africans everywhere, and with the struggle of colonized peoples around the world. That’s kinda sorta the history and motivation of the APSP and of me.

In this case, of your advocacy against U.S. involvement in Ukraine, where you end up siding with Russia, do you see that as consistent with the activism and ideology you’ve been pursuing and defending for decades?

It is very much consistent with it. The fact is that it is very disingenuous for the U.S. government to charge us with not having agency, that we are working on behalf of a foreign government. The fact is that I was in Belfast, Ireland in 1983 and working in solidarity with the Irish people in opposition to British colonialism. I was in Nicaragua at the time of the Reagan inauguration in opposition to U.S. policy, in solidarity with the people of Nicaragua who had just won their freedom despite the policies of the U.S. government. In fact, it was a time of extreme turmoil that even changed some policies of the U.S. government in terms of how it would characterize people like me who are talking about freedom, and it had determined that people who were engaged in struggles like Nicaragua and El Salvador that had emerged would no longer be tolerated as freedom fighters–they would be characterized as terrorists.

I was in Spain, invited to speak by an NGO that was supported by the Spanish government–I was there in 2007. When I spoke there, I spoke also in opposition to the U.S. policies that were impacting people around the world. I was invited to speak at Oxford Union, and I spoke there in 2019, and I opened my presentation by expressing solidarity with the government of Venezuela that at the time was being challenged by U.S. policy as well. So this is historically what we’ve been about. And so [about] this whole notion that somehow we become an employee of Russia because I visited Moscow and got marching orders from Moscow at that point, and that’s been responsible for the fact that we ran and participated in elections–not gun-battles–but elections.

We participated in elections in St. Petersburg, FL for mayor and city council in 2017 and 2019. We ran candidates on reparations and things like that–that suddenly we’re learning is as a consequence of a relationship with Russia and not due to the agency of black people. Even the whole nonsense about Russia hiring us to talk about genocide–I mean we held a convention, a tribunal on reparations for black people in the U.S. in 1982 in New York City, and used international law as a basis for that. One of these laws was the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide–so it’s disingenuous. There’s nothing we’re doing now that we haven’t been doing for the last 50 years.

Did this attack come as a surprise for you?

It was surprising in terms of when it happened and how it happened, because it was a very violent attack on my home–threatened my life and the life of my wife. Tremendous amounts of resources were stolen, property damaged and things like that. It was a pre-dawn raid. And so we were surprised by that. But in the history of our struggle–they raided my home at 5 a.m., and when I came at their command out of my house, with my hands up as they commanded, and faced armored vehicles and assault weapons carrying camouflage-donned men who were pointing these weapons with the laser targeting devices bouncing off my chest–what came to my mind was 1969 when in December the FBI raided the home of Fred Hampton in Chicago where he was assassinated. And so I thought I was going to die when I walked out of that house. My point being that with the treatment of people like me, who moved from a particular politic that has prevailed for a long time in this country—especially since people like King, Malcolm X, and Fred Hampton and others have been assassinated—there is that history and there’s that tradition.

So I’m not surprised that the U.S. government attacked me. We have incredible programs where we’ve done incredible projects, particularly in the city of St. Louis where we actually redeveloped much of the north side of St. Louis, which is a predominantly African community that’s been left to deteriorate. Not just deteriorate, but a policy they characterize as benign neglect has been imposed on this community and so this is the work that we’ve been doing. We knew that it wasn’t something that the government was happy with, but the population—the community—was happy with it. So I’m not surprised. And we expect to be attacked by the government, but not because we committed a crime. And this is the thing that makes this extraordinarily interesting to us, is that we find ourselves in the position of having to fight in defense of the U.S. constitution and the right to free speech against the very government that says it’s about free speech; and upholding the constitution against the institutions like the FBI, and the presidency of this country that’s supposed to uphold the constitution—I think they have to take vows to that effect. So here we are as an organization that has come to the conclusion some time ago that we have to be free from the colonial domination of the U.S. government, and are in the position of fighting fiercely—and have fought fiercely—for the rights to free speech as according to the constitution and freedom of assembly according to the constitution. So I’m not shocked by the attack—as I said the way the attack occurred on this occasion was shocking and unexpected.

My wife and I were sitting up at the table and she was preparing to come to our headquarters, here in St. Louis, to preside over a program where we are training black women as doulas, to be able to help women and children have safe births in a city that has a situation where enough black babies die every year to fill fifteen kindergarten classes. We were talking about this, when this noise came out of the dark telling us to come out with our hands up and flash-bang grenades exploding all around, ultimately coming into the house and things like that. And then to be confronted with this armed force out there, that was a surprise.

So where has the media coverage been in terms of this prosecution against you?

It has not been that much. That’s one of the reasons we’re glad to be here with you. We were glad to see Tucker Carlson mention it; we have seen some coverage from some other kinds of independent platforms that are not typically recognized as mainstream. But the media, it seems to me, either intentionally or otherwise, is collaborating with this entire process. And it’s really interesting to see much of what is often characterized as leftist or left-wing media—not all of it (but when I say characterized as left-wing media, I think much by itself isn’t that, they’re not forces that I would necessarily characterize as left-wing) but they seem to collaborate. And others have been made fearful themselves because of what is happening to us. And that’s one of the issues that we have: that it’s a very slippery slope, that this has a chilling effect on free speech, even some things that we don’t talk about anymore. Because if they can concoct this tale that they have already and threaten me with a life sentence, which a 15-year prison sentence is all about, if they can do what they’ve done—take my passport, make it necessary for me to report on a weekly basis to something like a parole officer, who can come to my home anytime they want to—this has a chilling effect on a lot of forces of media. But there has been media support from some independent sources, that’s been good—but nothing that reaches the magnitude of the traditional establishment media.

Is there a defense fund that you have, or how else can other people help in and contribute to you, to your party as you navigate this criminal proceeding?

Thank you so much for raising that. People should go to www.handsoffuhuru.org. The issue of lawyers and what we are going to have to spend on witnesses and things like that is very expensive. I’m very happy to see that Attorney Goodman here is working on this case, pro bono. He’s been able to do it pro bono. He’s a firm advocate of free speech and that’s the basis for his jumping into this with us as well. So that’s www.handsoffuhuru.org.

Watch the full segment on YouTube and Rumble @GlennGreenwald

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