Members of the Uhuru Movement in St. Petersburg are reportedly under investigation by federal authorities for possible ties to a Russian government official who, according to prosecutors, directed U.S. political groups in a campaign to sow discord, spread pro-Russian propaganda, and interfere with U.S. elections.
On Friday morning, federal agents searched several buildings, including the Uhuru House at 1245 18th Ave. S., in accordance with search warrants.
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On Friday, a Russian national was indicted on charges of conspiring with the Russian government and intelligence services to interfere in U.S. politics, and the searches appear to be related to the indictment.
FBI Is Looking Into Allegations of Russian Meddling
On Friday, the Department of Justice announced that a Russian national living in Moscow named Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov was responsible for a “foreign malign influence campaign against the U.S.” that lasted for years. Prosecutors claim he collaborated with American political groups to sow discord and spread false information.
Although the Uhurus aren’t specifically named, the indictment does make reference to a “U.S. Political Group 1” in St. Petersburg. Officials at a news conference on Friday did not disclose the group’s identity or the location where three federal warrants had been served earlier that day. St. Petersburg law enforcement, however, has verified that federal agents served a warrant at the Uhuru House on Friday morning.
After a press briefing on the indictment from law enforcement, Uhuru’s leaders held their own news conference.
“We can have relationships with whoever we want to make this revolution possible,” said Eritha “Akile” Cainion, later adding, “We are in support of Russia.”
The longtime leader of the St. Petersburg Uhuru Movement, Omali Yeshitela, claimed that he and his wife were forcibly removed from their home in St. Louis on Friday morning by agents brandishing firearms.
Although he admitted to having visited Russia, Yeshitela, who still owns property in St. Petersburg, denied taking money from the Russians. Yeshitela founded the African People’s Socialist Party, which includes the Uhuru Movement.
”They have accused us of taking money from Russia,” he said at a news conference Friday afternoon. “We’ve never taken (money) from the Russian government. But I’m not saying that because I’m morally opposed to taking money from Russians or anyone else who wants to support the struggles for Black people.”
The Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, which Ionov founded, receives support from the Russian government.
He employed it to attack political factions in the United States and those in Ukraine, Spain, Great Britain, and Ireland. According to the indictment, the group contacted group leaders and sponsored their travel to conferences in Russia.
Agitprop, or “agitation and propaganda,” was practiced by Ionov and “others acting at his direction,” as the indictment puts it. The St. Petersburg group would be instructed to publish pro-Russia material written by the group in Washington and sent to Washington via email.
He gathered specifics about the group’s doings from individual members. According to the indictment, he took the data provided by the organizations and turned it into reports that he then provided to officers of the Russian Federal Security Service and other Russian government officials.
A “four-city protest tour” was funded by Ionov in 2016. Prosecutors claim that Ionov directed the tour group to submit a “Petition on Crime of Genocide Against African People in the United States” to the United Nations.
According to Blackmon, the news was met with disbelief and shock in his political circles, highlighting the need for legislation to protect election integrity. That, he said, made him think about running for city council in 2017.
”It certainly makes you wonder what if, and also to what extent the influence was exerted,” he said. “The good news is Gina Driscoll is a good person, and she’s been a fine elected official.”
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