Russian Spies Funded Black Liberation Group’s Rallies for Reparations, Feds Say

Black Lives Matter riots in Atlanta in July 2020 / Getty Images
April 19, 2023

A federal grand jury this week indicted four members of a black liberation group on charges they conspired with Russian spies to sow political discord in the United States, including through rallies to promote reparations for slavery.

Four members of the African People’s Socialist Party are accused of conspiring with Russia’s Federal Security Service spy agency on a "multi-year foreign malign influence campaign." Prosecutors allege that the Kremlin agents "recruited, funded, and directed" the African People’s Socialist Party and an affiliated group, Black Hammer, to spread pro-Russia propaganda and lead protests on hot-button issues in several American cities.

That included the funding of the African People’s Socialist Party’s "four-city tour" in 2016 to urge reparations for slavery. According to the indictment, Russian spymaster Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov said that a Moscow-based front group he leads had "fully financed" the African People’s Socialist Party’s reparations tour. Penny Joanne Hess, one of the party members who was indicted, allegedly asked Ionov for $12,000 to fund the tour.

It's unsurprising that the Russians channeled their efforts toward reparations, an issue as politically divisive as it is financially damaging. Seventy-seven percent of black Americans support it compared with just 18 percent of whites, according to a recent Pew Research poll. California's proposed reparations plan would cost $800 billion, a sum nearly three times more than the state's annual budget. San Francisco's city council has proposed paying $5 million to each black resident of the city for reparations as the city faces a $780 million budget shortfall. During his 2020 campaign, President Joe Biden said he supported a commission to study reparations.

Russia's support for the African People’s Socialist Party is part of a long history of the Kremlin’s support for America’s left-wing political groups. During the Cold War, the Kremlin funded purported anti-war groups like the U.S. Peace Council and organizations like the Communist Party USA. In the 2010s, Russia’s Internet Research Agency supported the Black Lives Matter movement and other social justice causes.

Ionov directed the African Socialist People’s Party in other forms of "agitprop," according to prosecutors. The organization wrote web articles defending Russia and in 2015 spearheaded a petition to the United Nations regarding "Genocide of African People in U.S."

Ionov was indicted last year on charges of acting as a covert agent of Russia. The new charges hit four leaders of the African People’s Socialist Party, which operates mainly out of St. Louis, Mo., and St. Petersburg, Fla. That includes African People’s Socialist Party leader Omali Yeshitela.

The party organized reparations events in St. Petersburg and an event in Seattle in March 2016 with the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, a group of white activists that work under the banner of the African People’s Socialist Party.