On May 21, Antiwar.com announced that Founder and Managing Editor Eric Garris, along with Editorial Director Justin Raimondo, filed a lawsuit against the FBI in federal court demanding the release of FBI records related to the organization. The news of this lawsuit came barely one week after it was revealed that the Department of Justice has secretly obtained phone records from the Associated Press.
Kelley B. Vlahos reports for Antiwar.com, “The lawsuit is particularly timely, considering recent scandals in which the Department of Justice secretly seized months of journalists’ phone records at the Associated Press, and did the same and more to a FOX News reporter, while the IRS is acknowledging it singled out conservative groups that criticize the government for extra scrutiny.” The lawsuit alleges that the FBI began monitoring Antiwar.com’s activity in 2004, roughly a year after the invasion of Iraq.
According to the suit, the ACLU has made several futile attempts to obtain the FBI files since a reader alerted Garris and Raimondo to a lengthy FBI memo in 2011. The suit also alleges that it is clear that the FBI has files on both Garris and Raimondo. Vlahos also reports, the FBI agent writing the heavily redacted 94-page “memo on Antiwar.com recommends further monitoring of the website in the form of opening a ‘preliminary investigation …to determine if [redaction] are engaging in, or have engaged in, activities which constitute a threat to national security.’”
In a May 23 interview, Director of Operations Angela Keaton said that the investigation likely began after Antiwar.com posted a link to a terrorist-watch list in April 2004. She also stated that “people in the antiwar movement have been under investigation since World War 1, this is nothing new.” However, what happened with Antiwar.com is different in that it has been an ongoing investigation over at least a 9 year period. Julia Harumi Mass, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, which is representing Antiwar.com in the case said, “FBI surveillance of news organizations interferes with journalists’ ability to do their jobs as watchdogs that hold the government accountable.”
The lawsuit states, “In October 2011, one of Antiwar.com’s major donors withdrew his financial support from Antiwar.com out of concern that the FBI would monitor him if he continued to provide, as he wished to do, financial support to Antiwar.com. Since then, three significant donors have also withdrawn financial support, citing their fear that FBI interest in Antiwar.com would lead to surveillance of the donors as a reason for withdrawing financial support. As a result, Antiwar.com has lost about $75,000 per year since 2011 in otherwise expected contributions.” Mass says, “This illustrates the troubling, continuing efforts of the federal government to monitor protected speech activity without evidence or even allegation of criminal activity.”
Despite fears by at least three (former) donors to Antiwar.com, it is unclear, at this time, if the FBI is keeping tabs on any or all of Antiwar.com’s donors, though that information may come out in the trial. Mass concludes, “The government cannot keep records about people’s exercise of free speech unless it is related to a criminal investigation.”
Despite Mass’s objection that the “government cannot keep records about people’s exercise of free speech,” it is clear that governments do monitor activists who dare speak out against the violent and unjust actions perpetrated by The State.