Activists at Beale AFB honor the life of recent drone victim; seven arrested after crossing the line

Mauro Oliveira - photo by Fred Bialy

Mauro Oliveira – photo by Fred Bialy


by Toby Blomé

On June 28 seven northern California peace activists crossed the military base boundary line, one after the other, in an extended interruption of “business as usual” at Beale Air Force Base near Marysville, Calif., to continue their monthly resistance to the illegal U.S. targeted killing policies. Just prior to the arrests, activists had hung a yellow Crime Scene tape across the roadway leading into the base. The Global Hawk surveillance drone is actively involved in the drone assassination program, used as a tool to identify and track potential targets.

Arrestees include: Chris Nelson (Chico), Mauro Oliveira (Montgomery Creek), Shirley Osgood (Grass Valley), Chris Knudson (Paso Robles), Flora Rogers (Marysville), Michael Kerr (Bay Pt.) and Toby Blomé (El Cerrito).

20160627_191547As each activist prepared to cross the line, they read aloud to the military nearby parts of the story of the poor taxi driver, Muhammad Azam, who, on May 21, was unknowingly transporting a high level U.S. drone target, Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. U.S. officials had no qualms about sacrificing the life of this poor taxi driver for a target they were determined to murder. Sadly, both the Taliban leader and Mr. Azam, the taxi driver (sole supporter of his 4 young children, his wife and his disabled brother) were burned beyond recognition by a hellfire missile. As our sign reads: Who will feed his family? Azam’s story was not covered by U.S. media.

Activists were handcuffed and loaded onto a military bus and taken to the “processing building” on base property. As activists were asked to step off the bus, Chris Nelson, one of the arrestees, overheard the military police mention that they were going to keep another arrestee, Toby Blomé, on the bus. Receiving no explanation as to why Toby was being isolated, Chris refused to cooperate, and went “limp” to protest the unequal treatment. One female MP grabbed Chris by the arm and tried to forcibly bring her to her feet, and in the process caused a small back injury which is slowly getting better.

Later, a male MP, while holding a taser in his hand, threatened to use it on Chris if she didn’t cooperate and get on her feet. Chris admonished him, emphasizing that elders should be treated with the greatest of respect (Chris turned 69 the day before), and reminding him of the risks imposed by taser use. Chris was persistent, and ultimately, after a “medical assessment” by a base nurse, we were informed that Toby could leave the bus before Chris. In a typical manipulative manner they did isolate Toby after she stepped off the bus, keeping her in a shaded area outside, without rhyme or reason. After some time she was reunited with the group in the processing room. Chris was ridiculously penalized with an additional charge of “assaulting, resisting, or impeding….an officer.”

No explanation was ever given as to why Toby was isolated, but we can only surmise that it might have to do with the vigil in the afternoon before, at the Doolittle Gate. Toby was harassed while trying to pass out fliers educating folks coming out of the base about the recent taxi driver drone victim. Daniel Dockter, the man in charge of the security personnel on the base, and with whom we have had many engagements with over the years, was ordering Toby to stand in the painted road divider (“gore”) in the area closest to the highway and blocking the vision of the drivers trying to exit the base into fast moving traffic. Mr. Dockter claimed that this was the only area of the “gore” that is off base property, even though we have stood in many other areas of the gore over the last 6 years without harassment much of the time. We have also been given a varying explanations about where the unmarked base boundary line is over these years. This time, security was putting drivers on the highway, drivers exiting the base and Toby all in a very unsafe situation. This seemed to be a clear effort to intimidate us, impede our free speech rights and totally ignore all reasonable safety concerns, since standing in the gore is our only reasonable place to be to access the military for leafletting. This is also in total conflict of what military personnel have emphasized over the years: that they are looking out for our “safety,” or that they just want us to be safe. Toby addressed her serious concerns with Mr. Dockter and told him that he ultimately would be responsible if anyone was harmed by his orders.

Surprisingly, even with a preponderance of military police present in and near the gore that afternoon, Toby was able to distribute 7 or 8 fliers. Another activist, Michael Kerr, was briefly detained, handcuffed, and cited during the Monday incident at the Doolittle gate, while he was merely peacefully crossing back and forth at the intersection with with his “Muslim Lives Matter” sign. This was his effort to be a witness and support Toby during the harassment. In addition, at the Wheatland gate on Monday, activists had distributed fliers about the military Chaplain, Chris Antal, who recently resigned from the U.S. Army in opposition to the drone assassination program and the imperialistic policies of the U.S. In spite of high temperatures exceeding 100 degrees on Mon. afternoon, numerous others joined our 2 day protest and encampment, even though they could not participate in the civil resistance the next day. Their support is much appreciated as we continue to wage our persistent voices against the cruelty of drone killing and endless wars. Our 2 day “vigiling” and messaging of signs along the roadways entering the base play an important role in stimulating critical thinking and challenging blind obedience. Our absence from this work could otherwise mean complicity.

This work does not come without risks. On Tuesday, before the arrests, Flora Rogers and Michael Kerr were holding a banner on the side of the road when a large Recology truck purposefully skirted right over the area they were standing, forcing them to quickly jump out of the way to avoid impact. This violent and intentional act was meant to intimidate us. As Flora and Michael were forced to jump out of the path of the huge vehicle, Flora sustained a foot injury that gave her swelling and pain, which, luckily, is getting better. This behavior will not stop us from returning, and it is not the first time. As Flora said: “It is our first amendment right and our’s to protect. It is all the average citizens who speak out who protect the right to free speech! It it the artists and poets and songwriters! By ACTING we make free speech real and prove our existence and that our dissent is real!”

Recently there has been some discussion and questioning of the value of the work we do while protesting at military bases. Those of us at Beale feel we have a huge ethical responsibility to be there. Besides, in doing so, we are “creating the change we want to see in the world.” Every meaningful and respectful conversation had with a military personnel is bringing us one step closer to a more peaceful society. In last month’s action a Beale airmen who comes from a long line of military family members said he would find and listen to a couple of Howard Zinn speeches on Youtube. This might be the beginning of an opportunity for his 2 year old son to have a different future than his own…..tearing down a culture of war one human at a time.

In recent years Occupy Beale activists have been increasing the frequency of civil resistance actions, and the U.S. military and U.S. prosecutors responses have been to detain, cite, release, but ultimately cancel the arraignment, without pressing charges. It appears they want to keep the covert drone program out of the public’s radar. The drone program is rapidly expanding around the world, in spite of regular protests at drone bases across the country. Imagine if this unchecked computerized murdering occurred without a single military base protest? Would the military personnel assume they had the consent of the American public? There is rarely, if at all, any meaningful opposition in mainstream media. It is so important that they see and hear from us on a regular basis.

What we do know is that the U.S. Air Force is having trouble keeping military personnel in the drone program. This was revealed in recent years by high level officials in the military who reported that drone pilots are dropping out faster than they are able to replace them. This is a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. Our persistence surely must be playing a role. We welcome others to join us when you can, and not be a part of the silent majority that perpetuates the status quo.

Next Occupy Beale Action: July 25 & 26, Mark your calendar!

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Photo by Fred Bialy

Photo by Fred Bialy