Ten arrests at Creech drone base demonstration

photo by Chris Knudson

On the morning of October 2, ten demonstrators blockaded the South Gate entrance to the Creech Air Force Base Drone Center with a large banner that read, “Stop Droning Afghanistan – 18 years: Enough!” The anti-military drone activists from across the U.S., including military veterans, were arrested by Las Vegas police and transported to a Las Vegas jail for processing. Toby Blomé, Michael Kerr, Susan Witka, Maggie Huntington, Don Kimball, George Killingsworth, Don Cunning, Denny Riley, Eleanor Levine and Norie Clarke vowed to “halt the killing business as usual” by the Trump administration.

“ENOUGH!” said the activists, who used street theatre and imagery to link the shared barbarism of U.S. drone killings and the historical oppression and reckless killing of black and native people in our country.

Four of the women who were arrested refused to cooperate with the full body scanner that was recently installed at the jail, and were held for 5 additional hours before being released.
 Also on October 2, Gandhi’s 150th birthday, some of the activists held a large poster of Gandhi as military and civilian personnel left the base, with signs reading, “Nonviolence Works!”  “Endless War is Not Working!” and “JOIN US!”  
Protestors memorialized and honored the lives of the 30+ low-wage farm laborers who had been recently slaughtered by a U.S. drone strike, that also left 40+ others wounded. On September 18, a U.S. drone strike hit a large gathering of low wage farm laborers and children, gathered to harvest pine nuts. Malak Khaiyali Khan, a village chief, lost his teenage son, and his son’s three friends who were hired to shell pine nuts.  “My son and friends were killed by the Americans. How could they do this to us?” Khan exclaimed.

On September 22, 40 civilians at a wedding party were killed in Helmand province, Afghanistan by Afghan National Security Forces, who are often trained by U.S. forces.

“There is a total disregard to the lives of the civilian population in the countries we are in conflict with, and it just keeps getting worse,” says Toby Blomé, one of the organizers of the Creech Air Force Base protests. “These crimes are on par with the brutal lynching of Blacks that occurred in the south. Men, women and children are violently murdered on suspicion alone, for standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, for just living their lives, for being of the wrong race or culture, for attending a wedding, for picking pine nuts!  It has to stop…NOW!”

photo by Chris Knudson

President Trump has loosened the oversight of these secret killings by eliminating the requirement placed by the Obama Administration to account for civilian deaths in drone attacks. The Pentagon and CIA continue to deny or underestimate civilian deaths from most drone attacks, and often do not even distinguish the use of drones in most of their air strikes. However, a recent Amnesty International Investigative Report on drone killings in Somalia alone indicates that, in fact, significant civilian casualties are occurring.

A week of protest, including this action, marked the 5th annual, twice yearly, national mobilization against drone warfare at Creech, and the 10th anniversary year that San Francisco CODEPINK has been organizing protests against these inhumane remote killings that are controlled from Creech Air Force Base. Members of CODEPINK, Veterans for Peace and other activists arrived from seven different states to make a united stand against these illegal drone killings and the failed militaristic U.S. policies that perpetuate endless wars. They called for an end to the violence, and demanded diplomacy and peaceful solutions for conflict resolution. The activists aimed to draw attention during the week’s vigils to the approaching 18th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in U.S. history on one of the poorest and the most droned country on earth.  

The Drone Center at Creech Air Force Base is a key control center in the covert U.S. targeted assassination program, using unmanned, remotely controlled aircraft called drones.  At Creech, both the Pentagon and the CIA use Creech air force personnel to execute their targeted assassinations around the globe.  

Under President Trump’s Administration, the use of drones to kill military targets has tripled in frequency according to some estimates, leading to a reckless increased occurrence of civilian deaths.  
“The constant buzz of overhead drones terrorizes communities and destroys their culture, because children are afraid to go to school, farmworkers are threatened in their fields, and people are too fearful to attend wedding parties, funerals or mosques services,” said Cecile Pineda, an elder and accomplished writer who attended the Creech protests. 


From Toby Blome:


Our direct action on October 2, 2019 at Creech AFB interrupted the daily business of Drone Terror and Killing. By blocking entrances to the base for nearly an hour, we encouraged soul searching and discussion among base employees about the terrorizing killer drone program. 

With only 10 activists able to risk arrest, we successfully and amazingly created four separate “waves” of Creechers, peacefully blocking traffic into the gates using our bodies and long banners in consecutive interruptions.  First, after a half hour of vigiling, three Creechers, with supporters and banners, blocked the main road into the base. The traffic that was then diverted by police to a second entrance gate was met with an unexpected 2nd wave of blockaders. These other three Creechers, with a small support crew, successfully blocked traffic at the 2nd gate for an extended time.  Meanwhile, back at the first gate, once the lengthy “riot act”  2 minute warning was read by police in both English and also in Spanish for the first time, and arrests were made, that gate was re-opened.  Soon after, a third wave of four more Creechers, with long banners, formed a new blockade at the first gate.  Again, the “riot act” was read, this time without the Spanish translation and with only a 1 minute warning, and arrests were ultimately made. Concurrently, the blockaders at the second gate left their position, as the traffic was being detoured back to the first gate.  These 3 Creechers, with supporters, then hustled to the first gate by, and intiated a “fourth wave” blockade, stretching across the entrance with a long banner, and slowly walking down the entrance road in nonviolent resistance, holding up traffic again. They ultimately were arrested as well.  Those not risking arrest carried on vigiling until all arrestees were processed and transported to the Clark County Detention Center (CCDC) in Las Vegas.  

In all, 10 Creechers were arrested and ultimately charged with failure to disperse.”  (Arrestees included Toby Blomé, Norie Clarke, Don Cunning, Maggie Huntington, Michael Kerr, Don Kimball, George Killingsworth, Eleanor Levine, Denny Riley, and Susan Witka) All were released with citations later that day, though 4 women were held 5 hours longer because they refused to be scanned by the newly installed full body micro-scanner. They were individually interrogated and intimidated, but all held strong to their positions.  As a result, they were isolated together in a separate cell for hours, to eliminate the risk of “contaminating” the other inmates, according to the guards. These four middle-aged white woman found creative ways to use up the “punishment time” together, such as dancing, laughing, and good story telling, and were often greeted with looks of dismay, smiles and laughs from some of the  prisoners and guards that passed their cell windows.  

Once again the arrestees were witness to the oppressive and frequently cruel environment that is the Las Vegas jail system, a reminder that the “injustice system” is one guided mostly by punishment and control, and not by rehabilitation and justice.  For example, numerous shared inmate stories over many years have revealed  how the well being of even very young children present during parental arrests is often of little concern to arresting officers.  Alternative approaches to minimize trauma on children are not considered, even over very minor misdemeanor violations.  The degree of unnecessary harm and thoughtlessness is shocking, and, as expected, it is people of color and the mentally ill who endure the most abusive treatment.   Although we were relieved to be released, we were once again reminded of and deeply saddened by the dysfunctional and abusive nature of the U.S. prison system.

Arraignments are scheduled for November 12, 2019 in Las Vegas.  

photo by Chris Knudson