For the first time, a woman has been added to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list: Joanne Chesimard. The FBI and the state of New Jersey are now offering $2 million for information leading to her capture.
Chesimard was already wanted for several felonies, including bank robbery, when she was accused of killing New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster execution-style 40 years ago this month. She was convicted in 1977 and served prison time but escaped in 1979 by using a prison van in a dramatic jailbreak. By 1984, she surfaced in Cuba and was granted asylum by Fidel Castro. She remains there to this day.
To her supporters, Joanne Chesimard is Assata Shakur, unfairly targeted and convicted by the United States government. She has also become something of a cultural hero. Not only is she the step-aunt and godmother of rapper Tupac Shakur, but she has written an autobiography and was featured in a documentary while in Cuba. Hip-hop and rap artists have sung about her cause, including “A Song for Assata” by the rapper Common.
“It’s unfortunate that someone involved in the murder of an officer, kidnappings, hostage takings and robberies in a 14-year span is revered by a segment of society,” said Aaron Ford, the special agent in charge at the FBI’s Newark division, in an interview with Christiane Amanpour.
“For us, justice never sleeps, justice never rests,” Ford continued. “We’re looking to bring her to justice because she committed a heinous act. She is a member of an organization which espoused hate against the U.S. government.”
The FBI describes Chesimard as a revolutionary extremist and a member of the Black Liberation Army, a left-wing militant group. Though Cuba has sometimes cooperated with the U.S. in criminal matters and agreed to extradition, Chesimard’s residence there for the last three decades has apparently been protected.
“We absolutely still consider her a threat,” said Ford. “She is a menace to society still. She has connections and associations from members of that party she belonged to years ago. They are still espousing anti-government views.”
Not only is Chesimard the only female on the terrorist list, she is only the second domestic terrorist to be added. The others are alleged members of overseas Islamic terrorist organizations.
Though the FBI has named her a terrorist, that designation is not without controversy.
“We have to look at it in the context of what just happened in Boston,” said Lennox Hinds, Chesimard’s long-time attorney, in a May 3 interview on “Democracy Now.” “I think that with the massacre that occurred there, the FBI and the state police are attempting to inflame the public opinion to characterize her as a terrorist. Because the acts that she was convicted of have nothing to do with terrorism.”
But Ford disagreed: “Any time an individual or group uses force or violence to intimidate, coerce or change the mission of a government, that is terrorism and in this case, it’s domestic terrorism.”