'Keystone' Terrorism Cops Stumble Over Iowa Peaceniks

Iowa's nonviolent action campaign to "STOP THE OCCUPATION! BRING THE GUARD HOME!" from regular war-zone call ups continues, including weekly vigils with poster-size photos of Iowa war casualties at the "Iowa Pentagon" building, the STARC Armory National Guard headquarters in Johnston.

After an eight day trial in Des Moines in July, 2003, 13 people were found guilty of trespass at a post-invasion demonstration on March 22, 2003. All were fined about $200. Frank Cordaro used his sentencing statement to announce the next armory occupation in November.

The day before that November 16 action, a statewide Anti-War and Occupation Conference was held at Des Moines' Drake University, including training for nonviolent civil disobedience. Two local sheriff's deputies infiltrated the training, among about two dozen people who attended.

The next day twelve people were arrested at the Armory action. One woman, Chris Gaunt, was also charged with assault and interfering with police after she went limp on arrest. An uninjured officer claimed she kicked him as they carried her off. Gaunt was convicted in March, 2004, and sentenced a few days later (see below). In February, four months after the conference and action, the undercover investigation bore fruit. The federal prosecutor in Des Moines grabbed national headlines by issuing subpoenas to four organizers - all associated with Catholic Worker communities - to testify before a grand jury on February 10. Authorities also subpoenaed membership and meeting records of the National Lawyers' Guild chapter at Drake, and any records about the conference from the University itself.

One officer delivering the subpoena to Brian Terrell, Director of Iowa's Catholic Peace Ministry, raised questions when he left his calling card, identifying himself as a member of the local FBI's Joint Anti-Terrorism Taskforce.

In addition to broad public support for the nonviolent activists, the subpoenas provoked editorial scorn across the country and even had Republican representatives in Washington asking questions. On the eve of the scheduled grand jury hearing, prosecutors belatedly confirmed their investigation was not about terrorism, but simply some alleged lawlessness organized at Drake and carried out the next day at STARC. The admission only stoked the outrage, and the next morning the subpoenas were withdrawn without further comment or explanation.

Organizing was already underway for a return to the STARC armory on March 21, to mark the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. One thousand five hundred people marched for peace in Des Moines on March 20, and the next day a decidedly low-key police presence met the eleven people who crossed the line. They were cited for trespass. Bonnie Urfer pled not guilty and asked for a jury trial. The others all pled no contest. Two spent the day in jail, seven others will do 15 hours community service, and Chris Gaunt, who spent the night of her arrest March 21 in jail, was sentenced March 30 for that charge and the three charges from last November's action. Gaunt, a 47-year-old librarian at Grinnell College, told the court: "First I wish to express my regrets for any of my actions on November 16 that might have caused injury to another. If anyone other than myself was injured that day, I am truly sorry. I would never intentionally hurt anyone."

Gaunt received a suspended 60-day jail sentence, plus fines, restitution, community service and a compulsory "assaultive behavior" class.

Four codefendants who pled guilty or no contest were sentenced to time served or a fine. Five others were convicted and sentenced to their two or three days time served. Two who did not intend to risk arrest pleaded not guilty, and their charges were dismissed before trial.

For more information, contact Frank Cordaro at the Phil Berrigan Catholic Worker House, 713 Indiana St., Des Moines, IA 50314, (515)282-4781, cordaro@mchsi.com

The Nuclear Resister
October 2004