One early morning last fall, professor Masao Suzuki was in the driveway of his west San Jose home. As he tells it, his daughter was in the car, waiting to be driven to Prospect High School. Suzuki had just finished loading the things he’d need that day to teach economics classes at Skyline College into his trunk when a man walked up to him.
“’He said, ‘Are you Masao Suzuki? I said, ‘Yes I am.’ And he said, ‘I’m from the FBI,’ and he showed me his badge.”
Suzuki, a longtime local political activist, says the man tried to question him, but he refused. He says the man told him he would have to instead question his neighbors and co-workers.
“I just said, ‘I don’t want to talk to you,” Suzuki recalls.
Although he never heard from him again, there’s no doubt in Suzuki’s mind that the young dark-suited man was an FBI agent. Suzuki believes the visit was part of an FBI investigation seeking to convict him and other anti-war activists of terrorist activities under the PATRIOT Act. He believes this because on that same day—Sept. 24, 2010—the FBI raided the Chicago and Minneapolis homes of several of his colleagues—activists who’d organized protests at the 2008 Republican National Convention. In those raids, the FBI seized computers, cell phones and documents, and served federal grand jury subpoenas to 14 people.
In other parts of the country that day, at least 20 others were questioned. Last month new subpoenas were served on another group of activists. A total of 23 people have been ordered to appear at a Chicago Grand Jury on Jan. 25.
The search warrants issued by the U.S. District Court on Sept. 23 indicate that the FBI was looking for evidence related to a law prohibiting “material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations.” Suzuki is named on the search warrants issued to the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee along with others who were subpoenaed.
Suzuki is a 20-year member of San Jose’s Nihonmachi Outreach Committee (NOC), whose mission is “educating the public about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.” In 2008, representing NOC, Suzuki joined a coalition of peace organizations who demonstrated at the September 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.
A flier promoting the protest, which proclaims “U.S. Out of Iraq Now!,” names Suzuki as the contact and includes his cell phone number. This flier lists the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee and dozens of other participating organizations including CODEPINK, Veterans for Peace, the War Resisters League and dozens of Midwestern student groups, labor unions and peace centers.
FBI spokeswoman Julie Sohn says that according to Department of Justice policy, the agency cannot confirm or deny any aspect of the investigation, including whether or not Suzuki was tagged for questioning.
Following the alleged encounter in his driveway last September, Suzuki says, he was shaken. He soon got wind of the FBI’s activities in Chicago and St. Paul. He says he warned his neighbors, his students and the vice president of his union—the American Federation of Teachers—that the FBI might be calling on them. He also contacted an attorney, Dan Mayfield of San Jose.
Mayfield is a member of the National Lawyers Guild, a civil rights advocacy group that, along with the ACLU, is closely following this grand jury and the FBI’s activities. He says Patrick Fitzgerald, a high-profile U.S. attorney for northern Illinois, is taking the PATRIOT Act’s definition of “terrorist act” and a change in the definition of “material aid” from a recent Supreme Court case and putting them together to intimidate people and organizations.
“It’s unclear whether Fitzgerald wants to use this to run for higher office but we’ve seen this type of thing before—Rudy Giuliani started out as a U.S. attorney,” Mayfield says, adding: “Isn’t it interesting that Fitzgerald, a politically savvy holdover from the Bush administration, is interested in people who organized demonstrations against the RNC that was held in his backyard?”
On Dec. 2, Suzuki and representatives from the South Bay Labor Council, American Federation of Teachers, Council on American-Islamic Relations and the San Jose Peace Center met with Rep. Mike Honda’s aides. They had Honda send a letter of inquiry to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Honda’s office says it’s still waiting to hear back from Holder.
Mayfield says that since Sept. 24 there’s been a lot of push-back to the FBI’s moves. The National Lawyers Guild, the ACLU and hundreds of labor unions, state and federal legislators, and human rights groups have asked Holder to stop this grand jury. A new national organization, the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, is organizing demonstrations in 20 U.S. cities on Jan. 25.
Suzuki and Mayfield have organized an affiliate, the South Bay Committee Against Political Repression, which is holding teach-ins and a rally on Jan. 25 from 4 to 6 pm at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library at Fourth and San Fernando streets in San Jose.