This Week in History: March 22-28

25 years ago: FBI confronting ultra-right-wingers in Montana

Jordan, Montana in 2009. Credit: Meridas (Vladimír Socha), Wikimedia Commons

On March 25, 1996, the leaders of the fascist Montana Freemen group were arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. An impasse ensued between the FBI and the group of supporters of the heavily armed far-right organization.

The event demonstrated the extreme sensitivity of politicians in big business and the federal government to pressure from neo-fascist elements. The stalemate came following public hearings on the 1993 Waco massacre and the 1992 shooting with white separatist Randy Weaver, where Republicans in Congress openly sided with the far right.

In this case, the FBI has adopted a low-key, non-confrontational policy. The Justice Department only intervened after repeated requests for federal assistance from Garfield County Sheriff Charles Phipps, whose two-man department had received death threats from the Freemen for two years. LeRoy Schweitzer, the group’s leader, had been indicted four years earlier on charges of tax and fraud, but federal authorities took no action until 1996.

The media monopolies gave the cover of the deadlock normally reserved for major political events, inflating the importance of the episode and giving legitimacy to the far-right group. It lacked any consideration of the historical significance of the emergence of groups like the free men, nor any serious consideration of their political views and influence. They have been described as tax protesters or participants in mail-order fraud schemes, but not as racists, white supremacists, anti-Semites or neo-Nazis.

Free men were part of a larger far-right trend called “constitutionalists,” whose ideology was a mixture of religious fundamentalism and Nazi-style racial theories. They believed in a different citizenship status along racial lines, with white Christian men receiving their rights from God through the preamble and the First Ten Amendments to the Constitution. Under this ideology, everyone else derives their rights from the 14th Amendment, to be revoked by “organic citizens” as they see fit.

They appealed primarily to farmers ruined by the agricultural depression of the 1980s, offering a series of legally worded but bogus measures to defend farmers against foreclosure and eviction, revolving around claims that the departure of the United States of the gold standard made all of them denominated in dollars. invalid bank debts.

Free Men, the Montana Militia, and similar groups have made significant inroads into the Montana Republican Party. Republican state lawmakers have introduced militia-sponsored bills to ban the presence of UN forces on Montana soil, to urge all residents to arm themselves for militia service and to d ‘Require federal agents to give 24-hour written notice to local sheriffs before taking state action.

50 years ago: Washington post releases details of FBI COINTELPRO espionage

Letter from COINTELPRO plotting to publicize the pregnancy of actress Jean Seberg, who donated money to the Black Panther Party, and thus ruin her career

On March 24, 1971, the Washington post published a front-page article publicizing for the first time the vast network of illegal FBI surveillance and infiltration activities against US citizens as part of the covert Operation COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence Program) . The FBI spy operation spied on, infiltrated and conspired to publicly discredit a wide range of individuals and organizations associated with the civil rights movement, opposition to the Vietnam War and socialism.

the To post learned of COINTELPRO’s existence after anonymously receiving files that had been stolen from an FBI office in Media, Pa on March 8, 1971. The files were accompanied by a letter explaining that the documents had been acquired by a group Calling itself the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI.

The group sent the FBI files to several newspapers and demanded that the information be released so that the public could learn about illegal government activities. Most of the major newspapers initially refused to print the story. However, after the Washington post broke the news, it grabbed the world’s attention and the next day made headlines around the world.

COINTELPRO’s activities have gone far beyond simply collecting information and writing reports on the activities of left-wing groups. As part of the operation, starting in 1956, the FBI plotted to infiltrate and destroy organizations and movements considered to be “subverting” the national interest. Among those targeted by the counterintelligence operations were virtually all socialist leanings, the civil rights movement and its leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement, and liberation groups. women and individuals as diverse as black nationalist Malcolm X, boxing champion Muhammed Ali and actress Jean Seberg.

A central element of the FBI’s strategy was to send agents to the targeted organizations and encourage internal conflicts that would cause splits. One of the government’s main methods was to promote violence or illegal activity which could then be used to justify arrests and violent attacks by the police. Many groups like the Black Panthers and the Socialist Workers Party found themselves overrun with agents. The Black Panthers have faced a savage crackdown through COINTELPRO. Many members were assassinated as a result of its operations, including Fred Hampton, leader of the Chicago Black Panther Party.

In April 1971, in reaction to overwhelming public opposition to espionage operations, COINTELPRO was officially fired by the FBI. However, espionage and infiltration activities continued under other program names.

75 Years Ago: The Bandung “Sea of ​​Fire” Incident in the Midst of the Indonesian Revolution

75 Years Ago: The Bandung “Sea of ​​Fire” Incident in the Midst of the Indonesian Revolution

On March 24, 1946, Indonesian troops fighting for independence oversaw the mass evacuation of Bandung, one of the country’s largest cities, and deliberately burned down much of its southern part in an act of defiance against the British authorities seeking to restore colonial rule. The incident, which sparked a massive fire, has come to be known as the “sea of ​​fire”.

In August 1945, Indonesian national leaders issued a proclamation of independence after the defeat of Japan in World War II, which had occupied the archipelago for three years. The British, along with the Dutch, the former colonial power, quickly intervened.

British troops arrived in Bandung at the end of September. In October, Indonesian independence militias, along with workers and peasants, launched attacks on the remaining Japanese troops, disarming them and seizing their property. At the end of November, British forces, who had taken over much of the city, were likewise besieged. The attacks were carried out simultaneously with an armed uprising against the British in the city of Surabaya.

The British responded by demanding that northern Bandung be rid of much of its population and serve as a base for wealthy European elites and its own military. The governor and the Indonesian national administration, who were seeking a compromise with the imperialist powers, accepted this request. The city was effectively divided into a northern zone, controlled by the British, and a southern zone, where a newly created Indonesian police force had authority. At least 100,000 residents of northern Bandung left in the space of several months.

In March 1946, after the resumption of clashes between colonial troops and nationalist forces, the British extended their demand, issuing an ultimatum that all Bandung be rid of the Indonesian militia. In statements to city officials, this would be accompanied by an operation to secure British control over all of Bandung.

Faced with the prospect of a bloody crackdown, as happened in Surabaya, nationalist forces led by radical independence leader Nasution retaliated by declaring a general evacuation of southern Bandung on March 24. an attempt to prevent their use by the British and Dutch. The fire quickly spread uncontrollably.

Estimates of the number of residents who have fled vary. It was estimated at the time that there were only 16,000 people left in northern Bandung, almost none in the south, compared to a pre-disaster population of 380,000. Eighteen months later, a guest reporter described it as a “dead town with grass growing in its streets.”

100 years ago: US rejects trade deal with Soviet Russia

Charles Evans Hughes, photographed in 1931

On March 25, 1921, Charles Evans Hughes, Secretary of State for Administration to Republican President Warren Harding, rejected the resumption of trade relations between the United States and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. In a telegram to the Soviet government, Hughes said that the trade discussion could not resume until there was “recognition of firm guarantees for the right to private property” on the part of the Soviets.

Hughes’ statement followed a March 22 letter to President Harding from the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of Soviets proposing a discussion on the subject.

the New York Times reported that Hughes’ position was the result of an extensive discussion by Harding’s cabinet during which Hughes did a two-hour review of the international situation. the Time noted the dire economic distress of Soviet Russia and that the decision of the Tenth Congress of the Russian Communist Party to loosen the reins of capitalist property (soon known as the New Economic Policy) to revive the Soviet economy had been carefully considered in the State Department.

US officials had been anticipating a trade proposal since the UK signed a trade deal with Soviet Russia earlier in March. In January, the US government expelled Ludwig Martens, an unofficial Soviet envoy who was trying to negotiate trade relations between the two countries.