CHICAGO // You know you’ve made it, Joe Iosbaker said with a tight smile, when Glenn Beck, the right-wing Fox News host, dedicates a good 10 minutes of his show to you.
But that is all Mr Iosbaker, an administrator at the University of Illinois in Chicago, had to smile about. A veteran union rights activist and a member of the Freedom Road Socialist Organisation, a left-wing labour rights group based in Chicago, he is among 23 political activists from Chicago, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Grand Rapids, Missouri, who have found themselves embroiled in a federal investigation involving material support for foreign terrorist groups.
It is a crime that carries with it a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, and Mr Iosbaker confessed to being among the 23 most worried people in America.
“Twenty-four, if you count Bradley Manning,” joked Mr Iosbaker, 52, referring to the military analyst imprisoned under suspicion of having provided Wikileaks, the whistle-blower website, with tens of thousands of classified US government documents.
Authorities will not discuss the investigation. Neither the Federal Bureau of Investigation nor state prosecutors’ offices can legally acknowledge the existence of a grand jury as long as no indictments have been served.
And no indictments have been served, even though subpoenas were handed out last year; the investigation has involved dozens of FBI agents as well as an undercover mole that apparently infiltrated FRSO, which has ties to Palestinian solidarity activists, as early as 2008.
The investigation included raids last September on some half dozen homes in Chicago and Minnesota, among them Mr Iosbaker’s. FBI agents wielding search warrants confiscated documents, mobile phones, bank records, even children’s artwork. Fourteen people were subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury on September 24. Nine further subpoenas were handed out in December.