The US Justice Department on Tuesday charged the founder and three members of a half-century-old Black nationalist group with working with Russian intelligence to influence elections in the United States.
Omali Yeshitela, the founder of the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP) and the Uhuru Movement, and two other party members, Penny Joanne Hess and Jesse Nevel, were charged with acting as unregistered agents of Russia, which carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.
All three, as well as another member named Augustus Romain, have also been charged with conspiring to act as agents for Russia, which brings up to 10 years in prison.
According to an indictment, the four people took money and other support from US-based Russian Alexandr Ionov and Moscow-based officers of Russia’s FSB intelligence agency who directed Ionov.
Ionov was charged last year for running a political influence operation directed by the FSB, but his US contacts were not named, though APSP facilities were raided by the FBI at the time.
Charges against Ionov, who is believed to be back in Russia, were updated in Tuesday’s indictment filed in Tampa, Florida.
Undercover as president of the Moscow-based Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, Ionov used the APSP and Uhuru movements, and Romain’s Georgia-based spinoff Black Hammer, to promote Russian views on politics, the Ukraine war and other issues.
Yeshitela traveled to Russia in 2015 where he entered a partnership with Ionov’s group, according to the indictment.
In 2016 Ionov funded a four-city protest tour by APSP supporting a “Petition on Crime of Genocide against African People in the United States,” according to the Justice Department.
In 2017 and 2019, the group also actively sought to influence local elections in St. Petersburg, Florida — where the four Americans are based — and then the 2020 national elections, according to the charges.
It said that in 2022 Romain and Black Hammer received funding from Ionov and his group “to further the interests of Russia in relation to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
The Justice Department said the Americans all knew Ionov worked for the Russian government.
The indictment, which also charged two FSB officers based in Russia, said Ionov had provided funding to an unnamed political group in California that advocated California’s secession from the United States.
And in a parallel indictment filed in Washington, the US charged Russian national Natalia Burlinova, the head of the academic outreach organization PICREADI, with operating with the FSB to recruit Americans.
“Today’s announcement paints a harrowing picture of Russian government actions and the lengths to which the FSB will go to interfere with our elections, sow discord in our nation and ultimately recruit US citizens to their efforts,” said FBI Acting Assistant Director Kurt Ronnow.