Thirty-seven arrests disrupting Australia’s Land Forces weapons expo

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From late May into June, the seven-day Festival of Resistance outside the Brisbane (Australia) Convention Center was an organizing cauldron. More than 300 participants cooked up public education events and a smorgasbord of nonviolent direct actions to confront Land Forces 2021, the largest international weapons exposition in the Southern Hemisphere.

Over the previous year, community organizing in anticipation of the arms bazaar was led by Wage Peace, a group dedicated to “disturbing war and militarism in Australia.” Organizers brought many diverse constituencies from radical youth, Quaker grannies, Aboriginal leaders, refugees, veterans and more into the action planning. During the six months leading up to the events, protests were held at several Brisbane area weapons manufacturers.

The exhibition was scheduled to open on Tuesday, June 1, but the first arrests of war resisters came on Thursday, May 27. The Festival was to begin the next day, and a few activists were meeting in a nearby park when Greg Rolles and Jarrah Kershaw looked up to see a tank on a flatbed, headed for the convention center. Deliveries of the war hardware wasn’t expected until the next day. The men ran to the loading dock and confirmed that the armored vehicle was waiting there outside. 

While Kershaw ran back to gather reinforcements, Rolles recalls thinking:
If it moves into the convention centre and I’m still alone, what will I do?
I look at the machine. “Rheinmetall – Autonomous Combat Warrior”. I realise this small tank is a drone. I had read about Rheinmetall and other companies developing Artificial Intelligence for warfare. This was a drone that when perfected could be turned on and go kill people without human control…
After a few minutes, the truck driver returned and I knew I was not letting it go in. I sprinted across the road and point to the security guard at the gate, making “kill it” motions across my neck… Panting, I arrive in front of the truck. The security guard, genuinely concerned, asks “What’s wrong?”
I rise from my panting and point at the drone.
“That thing will kill kids.”

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Supporters arrived, at least 100, and soon many were standing atop the tank while others held a newly-painted banner reading “Thanks, but no tanks”.

Five hours later, police brought in a cherry picker to pick off Rolles and Kershaw, who refused to leave the strategic perch. The men were arrested. An activist who had bike-locked herself to another vehicle waiting to get in was also arrested, while a supporter at the sidelines was identified and arrested for alleged breach of bail conditions. That night, another Rheinmetall tank arrived but police prevented the activists from blocking it.
The arrested activists all refused bail and were held overnight. In court the next morning, two pled guilty to being a public nuisance and obstructing police, and were warned to behave themselves for six months or face a criminal charge. Rolles and Kershaw pled not guilty.
Deliveries to the convention continued over the weekend. Sunday provided another chance for disrupting the sordid affair. Jim Dowling, as black-robed Death Spectre with a scythe, climbed on top of a truck waiting to enter the expo. Andy Paine stood beside him holding a small “War Crimes Start Here” banner, while the truck was surrounded by a dozen more activists holding a large banner with the same message.
Paine declared, “We are taking this action in solidarity with all those on the receiving end of these weapons, like those in militarized places around the world including Palestine, Yemen and West Papua. But ultimately all of us are on the frontlines of militarism, because it is everywhere in our society.”

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The two men were eventually arrested that evening and jailed overnight. In court the next morning, Paine was fined $1,000 for being a public nuisance, while Dowling, a Brisbane Catholic Worker, pled not guilty. He refused the bail conditions that would prevent him from returning to the convention center protests, and remained in jail until the arms expo ended.

On Monday’s tour of Brisbane’s suburban weapons manufacturers, two Quakers – David Johnson and Jason MacLeod – were arrested at Thales, a tank and munitions company selling weapons used by Indonesia in West Papua.
Tuesday morning, arriving arms dealers were greeted by an intentionally noisy peace rally. Three entrances to the exhibition hall were blocked, one by elder Quaker women and another by Riff Raff, a radical brass marching band. Hundreds of delegates were thus funneled through the only entrance left open, past faux blood dripping down the convention center stairs and a gauntlet of hecklers. Videos show police responding quickly with excessive force to quell the boisterous crowd, and one woman’s arm was broken in the time between her arrest and booking into the Brisbane City Watch House. 

Photo by Nick Chesterfield

Aboriginal elder Coco Wharton was arrested while peacefully demanding to be admitted into the event taking place on unceded Aboriginal territory. Protest organizer Margaret Pestorius was arrested when she tried to stop the car of a former Minister of Defence and arms consultant, as was the man who performed a Butoh dance for police. Two hours into the action, police declared that “making noise during a protest is illegal.” At the end of the day, seven protesters had been arrested.

Wednesday’s demonstrations linked militarism to climate chaos. In the morning, a white-robed host of wounded, bleeding climate angels, complete with halos and wings, processed to the convention center. Their dance incorporated balloons filled with fake blood that broke open on the road, staining it red. Around lunch time, about 20 protesters found their way past security and onto the exhibition floor. While live-streaming the protest to elated supporters outside, some climbed on top of a tank to unfurl banners declaring “$30 billion a Year for Arms Dealers” and “It’s CRapitalism, #NotDefence” while one man locked himself onto the tank. Police arrested 17 people as they cleared the hall of the dissenters.
When the war profiteers met that night at an upscale restaurant, they were greeted by a theatrical intervention, the Dinner Of Death parade. Protester Adele managed to get a table before the war mongers arrived, then spilled fake blood over herself in protest. Ciaron O’Reilly resisted a push by security folk and was arrested as well.
Rain did not stop the Carnival Of Chaos protest planned for the last day of the expo. With bail conditions preventing the prior arrestees from returning to the convention center, the Carnival moved to the nearby Rheinmetall Defence Factory. The factory shut its doors for the day, forcing cancellation of a related professional development program for STEM teachers to groom future war industry workers.
All told, 37 arrests were made, several for breach of bail conditions after a person’s first arrest. The strategy of making the exhibition as unpleasant as possible for the participants and local authorities alike proceeds now to the courts, with the activists’ eye on the prize of driving the war merchants from Brisbane for good.
For more information, visit and Disrupt Land Forces on Facebook.

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