MidPoint: Are Russian influence agents operating in local politics?


On July 29, 2022, a federal indictment was unsealed that charged Alexandr Ionov, a Russian citizen, with conspiring with unindicted local St. Petersburg, Florida community activists self-identified as the African People’s Socialist Party, aka the Uhurus, to act as unregistered agents of Russia, a foreign power.  Ionov, who is in Russia, was not arrested. The indictment alleges that Ionov supported the Uhurus’ affiliated local candidates for St. Pete City Council and St. Pete Mayor and conducted a years-long foreign “malign influence” campaign that used the Uhurus and at least two other U.S. “fringe” political groups to sow discord, spread pro-Russian propaganda,  and interfere in elections in the United States on behalf of the Russian State Security Services, known as the FSB. On the same day, a search warrant was executed by the FBI at Uhuru House in St. Petersburg and at the headquarters and home of the Chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party, Omali Yeshitela, in St. Louis, Missouri. During the search, Yeshitela was handcuffed but not taken into custody, and the building was damaged.

In a press conference that same day, Akile Anai, who previously ran for St. Petersburg City Council, and who said she serves as the Director of Agitation and Propaganda for the African People’s Socialist Party, called the charges against Ionov and the investigation into her relationship with the Uhurus and Ivanov “a propaganda campaign against Russia” by the U.S. government and an attack on her group. In media reports, some community members in St. Petersburg and Yeshitela himself have criticized the FBI’s aggressive execution of the search warrant on the Uhurus and compared it to historical precedents of the U.S. government’s aggressive suppression of and violence toward other Black activist movements like the Black Panthers and the Philadelphia MOVE House where police dropped a bomb that killed 11 people.

To gain more insight into the larger geopolitical context of these criminal charges and their historical precedents, on August 10, 2022, MidPoint host Shelley Reback interviewed noted independent journalist Marcy Wheeler, aka @emptywheel on Twitter and elsewhere on the internet, who specializes in reporting on national security issues, and Prof. Golfo Alexopoulos, Director of The Russia Institute at the University of South Florida. The show is available for on-demand listening here:

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