Aug 22, 2022 - News

The rise and fall of Gazi Kodzo, the leader of a liberation group linked to Russia

Gazi Kodzo, a former leader of the Uhuru Movement.
Gazi Kodzo. Photo: Michelle Colton/Wikimedia

The FBI raid on the Uhuru Movement’s St. Pete headquarters last month appears to have been touched off by a suspicious death in suburban Atlanta 10 days before and the subsequent arrest of a self-aggrandizing former Uhuru leader.

  • Recent revelations have put the spotlight on Gazi Kodzo, 31, who moved to Atlanta after being kicked out of the Uhurus in 2018, and started running a liberation group called The Black Hammer Party that critics have derided as cult-like.

Driving the news: A street gang investigator from the Fayetteville, Georgia, police, testifying last week in a case unrelated to the July 29 raid on the Uhuru House, confirmed that the FBI had long been watching Kodzo.

  • The FBI alerted the investigator after she started a local probe into Black Hammer over allegations members were harassing college students in downtown Atlanta for donations. It was prompted by an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that detailed the group's meteoric rise during the George Floyd protests, its far-right messaging and calls for violence against police.

The latest: Police arrived at Kodzo's house on July 19 to respond to a 911 call about a kidnapping and found a man dead.

  • Kodzo and Xavier "Keno" Rushin, 21, were arrested and charged with kidnapping, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, conspiracy to commit a felony, and taking part in street gang activity, days before the FBI raided a handful of other locations connected to Black separatist organizations.
  • Kodzo was charged with sexually assaulting someone, which the investigator alleges was part of a pattern, a way underlings gained rank in the group.

What they're saying: "This is an incorporated political organization," Kodzo's lawyer, Stacey Flynn, argued in court last week, disputing Georgia's label of Black Hammer as a street gang.

Flashback: Kodzo was a regular at Tampa Bay-area protests — from speeches at BLM marches to targeted demonstrations, including the one in which Kodzo jumped on a table at the City Hall Stairwell Mural Public Art Project Committee in 2016.

  • After several years of activism here, Kodzo moved to Atlanta and started Black Hammer. Recruiting and political tactics got more theatrical, with live-streamed performances and giveaways. Kodzo dressed as the Joker in one anti-Antifa video.

Fast forward: The Justice Department is now alleging that Kodzo and Black Hammer took money from a Russian influencer named Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov, according to an unsealed federal indictment.

  • The FBI arrested Ionov late last month for secretly funding Black political groups and directing them to "publish pro-Russian propaganda" and "cause dissension in the United States and to promote secessionist ideologies."

The charges: On Ionov's dime and at his bidding, the FBI says, a handful of Black Hammer members flew to California to protest outside Meta's HQ over Facebook's Russian restrictions.

  • Based on Ionov's indictment and on social media posts, Kodzo's Black Hammer espoused pro-Russian views against Ukraine and used Russian money to try to form an independent nation-state, Hammer City, in the Colorado Rockies.

Of note: The Uhurus — who also appear to have had contact with Ionov, per the indictment — aren't accused of any wrongdoing that wouldn't be considered protected speech.

  • The movement, a group founded by Omali Yeshitela, unabashedly supports Russia in its war against Ukraine.
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