Two peace activists, performing an "act of nonviolent direct disarmament and crime prevention," cut down three poles supporting transmission lines for a controversial U.S. submarine communication system located near Clam Lake, Wisconsin on June 24. Michael Sprong and Bonnie Urfer, both of rural Luck, Wisconsin, used hand-held Swede saws to cut the poles, taking the transmitter off-line. The two waited over an hour for the arrival of Ashland County Sheriff's Deputies, who took them into custody.
Urfer and Sprong, who called their action "Silence Trident," carried with them reams of documents they say justify their action as a modern day Boston Tea Party. They attached references to laws and treaties to the poles they cut. They stressed that the action took place in a remote area and was carried out safely and nonviolently.
Urfer and Sprong also emphasized that the U.S. Navy has never proven that Project ELF is not a risk to residents in the vicinity of the facility and to the environment. They said that their action was justified because ELF is an imminent threat to people and the environment.
A witness to the June 24 disarmament action, Barbara Katt, also of Luck, was also taken into custody on suspicion of being "party to" the alleged crime. The three joined ELF resister Kurt Greenhalgh, already behind bars at the Ashland County Jail. (see Mother's Day article)
The day after the Silence Trident action, ten supporters gathered at the ELF transmitter site. Swedish Plowshares activist Anika Spalde and Kate Berrigan of Baltimore entered the ELF property to deliver the "Citizens' Indictment" that was carried by Urfer and Sprong on Saturday. They were arrested for trespass and jailed until late Sunday, when they were released pending arraignment in Ashland County Circuit Court on August 1.
At Katt, Sprong, and Urfer's first hearing on Tuesday, June 27, Katt was released from custody for lack of probable cause. Sprong posted $1000 bond and was released pending the pair's next court date, July 31. Urfer was denied bond and ordered held on three outstanding 60-day warrants, each from a previous unpaid Project ELF protest fine. After 12 days of vacillation with federal prosecutors, Wisconsin prosecutors have charged Sprong and Urfer with intentional damage to property, a Wisconsin class D felony.
The campaign continued on Independence Day, July 4, when Sara Arndt and Gail Vaughn, both from Wisconsin, were arrested and charged with trespassing after they entered the transmitter property. The two were briefly jailed in Ashland County, then released pending the same August 1 arraignment as Berrigan and Spalde.
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The Silence Trident action came less than two weeks after a deadline set by the Trident Resistance Network - Midwest in a public declaration last April.
Citing the historic 1996 International Court of Justice (ICJ) Advisory Opinion that declares the threat or use of nuclear weapons illegal, Sprong and Urfer, as spokespeople for the group, called on authorities to take steps to shut down the Trident nuclear weapon system (which includes Project ELF) by June 12, 2000.
If, after a reasonable period of time, authorities should fail in their duty to uphold domestic and international law and cease operation of Trident/ELF, the Trident Resistance Network called on citizens to meet their obligation to disarm Trident/ELF by means of nonviolent direct action.
"Ordinary citizens are obliged and authorized under international and domestic law to disarm the weapons themselves," said Bonnie Urfer at the time. Michael Sprong explained then that "I've been advised by experts in international law that Trident/ELF is illegal and that the Nuremburg Charter demands we end our complicity in the crime of threatening to use first-strike weapons."
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This is the fifth time since 1984 that the transmitter - known as Project ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) - has been shut down by activists who simply walked up to poles supporting the 28-mile-long transmitter antennae and cut them down with hand saws. All the previous actions resulted in prison sentences.
For more information, contact Silence Trident, c/o Trident Resistance Network-Midwest, P.O. Box 373, Luck, WI 54853; (715)472-4185. Sprong and Urfer's indictment and full personal statements are available at www.nukewatch.com or www.no-nukes.org/nukewatch
Letters of support can be sent to Bonnie Urfer, Ashland County Jail, 221 East 6th St., Ashland, WI , 54806, and to Mike Sprong at the Silence Trident address above. Donations may also be sent to the Silence Trident address.
From Mike Sprong's action statement: "Conscience and an obligation to prevent the crime of nuclear genocide and to defend the health and safety of residents in and around Ashland County, Wisconsin compel me to act on this 24th day of June in the year 2000. I perform this act of disarmament to enflesh Isaiah's prophecy of a disarmed world, to follow Christ's example of universal love, and to comply with universally recognized humanitarian law. ... It is a simple act: using an ordinary bow saw to begin interrupting the sequence necessary for ELF/Trident to threaten all of creation with annihilation. That sequence includes the acquiescence of U.S. citizens. Today I act to end my part in the crime of threatening to use weapons of mass destruction against civilians and the earth..."
From Bonnie Urfer's action statement: "For twenty years I have actively been working to create an environment free of the threat of nuclear war, which has the very real potential to destroy all life. I do this work because no one - anywhere - deserves to be threatened with annihilation. I do it because I'm a citizen of the country most likely to commit, once again, nuclear genocide. I do it because the very existence of the nuclear weapons factories and their radioactive wastes are poisoning lives now and will for the next 1,000 generations. I do it because I believe life is enchanting and sacred. I do it because I should and because I can."