The US government conducted raids on the homes of at least three families in Chicago and Minneapolis on Friday, seizing property, papers and computers, and claiming that the activists had donated money to the left-wing group called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).The peace activists called the raids a preposterous fishing expedition, adding that they had worked for peace and justice for decades, and that the government was attempting to silence dissent and quash legitimate protest in the US.

While the raids are legal under a 2003 law called the ‘USA PATRIOT’ Act, those targeted by the raids say that they have nothing to hide, but that the investigative branch of the US government, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, is trying to make an example out of them.

Previous attempts by the US government to delegitimize peace groups through raids and accusations have resulted in charges being dropped or dismissed, as in the cases of Sami Al-Arian and of the Holy Land Foundation, both of which were accused of providing material support to Hamas. After years of harassment and, in Al-Arian’s case, imprisonment, the charges were found to be without merit, and were dismissed.

In Friday’s raids, the targets included long-time Chicago peace activists Stephanie Weiner and Joseph Iosbaker, Hatem Abudayyeh of the Arab American Action Network, and six more homes in Minneapolis. The activists whose homes were raided were all involved in protests against the Republican National Convention in 2008 in Minneapolis.

The group they are alleged to have supported with donations, the PFLP, is a socialist political party whose leader, Ahmed Saadat, was imprisoned in Jericho and seized by Israeli forces in a 2006 invasion of the Palestinian prison, for alleged involvement in the assassination of Israel’s tourism minister. While the PFLP claimed responsibility for many armed attacks against Israel during the second intifada, its armed wing is small and most of its claims were disproven in court as mere statements of bravado.

The US government has the PFLP listed as a ‘terrorist organization’ along with hundreds of other groups all over the world. The Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes the FBI and other government agencies, formed after the USA PATRIOT Act was passed, carried out the raids of the activists’ homes. The agency said the raids were part of an ongoing investigation of terrorist activity in the US.

Supporters of the activists, including neighbors and friends, gathered outside their homes for emergency rallies, as federal agents loaded trucks with boxes of personal and business papers from the activists’ homes.