Two arrested on Ash Wednesday at Vandenberg Air Force Base, one week after Supreme Court ruling

from the Santa Maria Times

by Janene Scully

A week after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that military commanders can decide who can be on their installations, activist Dennis Apel and another protester were arrested again for trespassing at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Apel of Santa Maria and another longtime activist, Father Steve Kelly from the Bay Area, were detained by security forces members shortly after the protest began in front of Vandenberg on Wednesday afternoon.

Before his latest arrest, Apel read a statement contending the federal government has “waged a campaign to silence my voice and the voices of others” by deeming him a security risk.

Apel’s latest arrest came exactly a week after Supreme Court ruling which Apel contends gave “unbridled power” to military commanders.

“This ruling is dangerous, dangerous for our freedom of speech, it is dangerous for our obligation to hold our government accountable, and it is

another step in the erosion of the constitutionally guaranteed rights which were put in place to secure our liberty,” Apel said.

For the past 18 years, Apel, a Santa Maria resident and part of the Guadalupe Catholic Worker movement, has protested at Vandenberg.

He has been arrested more than 15 times, including after he tossed a bottle of his own blood on a the Vandenberg sign in 2003. Some of his arrests came after he stepped over the designated green line for protests.

But Apel has challenged the “ban and bar letter” issued to anyone arrested at the base, contending he can’t be stopped from being on the grassy area designated for legal protests and located alongside a public highway.

While the Supreme Court ruling favored the Air Force, justices noted that issue of free speech remained unresolved by the opinion.

On Wednesday afternoon, 13 people gathered on the grass for the monthly protest in front of the base, but only two — Apel and Kelly — were taken into custody. The pair were issued citation for trespassing and later released off base.

Vandenberg officials said the reason for the arrests Wednesday could be found in last week’s Supreme Court ruling granting military commanders the right to decide who can be on an installation.

“People do have the right to peacefully protest — that’s why we’re here, to defend the right to peacefully protest within the limits of the law,” said Larry Hill, a Vandenberg spokesman.

Apel and others have gathered once a month for nonviolent vigils near the main gate, with larger gatherings held a few Saturdays during the year.

Along with Apel’s wife, Tensie, others gathered Wednesday included World War II veterans and longtime activists Bill Denneen of Nipomo and Elden “Bud” Boothe of Los Olivos.

Drivers on Highway 1 occasionally honked in support of the protesters, but another slowed down to shout “Idiots,” at the small group holding signs.

After Apel read his statement, Denneen, a World War II veteran, said, “You’re my hero. … I am so glad Dennis is here and active. … Dennis represents the future and if we’re going to have a future, we’re going to have to get an alternative to war.”

Another protest is planned the afternoon of March 14 in connection with the 22nd annual conference organized by the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space in Santa Barbara that weekend. The Global Network is made up of 150 peace and religious groups from around the world opposed to a new arms race in space.


Dennis Apel’s Statement for Wednesday’s Vigil

For nearly 18 years I along with other concerned citizens have held vigils and protests here at the front gate of Vandenberg Air Force Base.  Since 2010 the Base and the Federal Prosecutor’s office have waged a campaign to silence my voice and the voices of others who would hold the Base and our Government accountable for the crimes against humanity in which they are involved.

The Base would have us believe that an act of civil resistance 13 years ago, namely spilling a few ounces of my blood on their sign 5 days before the illegal assault on Iraq, which spilled thousands of gallons of Iraqi blood and killed and maimed thousands of our own citizens, justifies a forfeiture of my First-Amendment right to stand peacefully outside their gate with a sign.  The Base claims security concerns while it simultaneously allows anyone to traverse the highway with no accountability for who they are or what they might be carrying in their vehicle.  My only weapon is my voice, and that is enough for the Base to declare me a security risk.

The mission and purpose of this Base are not as clean and honorable as the Base’s public relations department would lead us to believe.  This Base is responsible for testing the delivery system for the most hideous and immoral weapon of mass destruction ever designed by humankind.  This Base is responsible for launching the satellites which make operational the drones our country uses to assassinate foes and innocent civilians alike in countries around the globe with no declaration of war or judicial oversight or accountability.   This Base is responsible for the continued irradiation of the Marshal Islands as every I.C.B.M. launched from this Base carries in its warhead depleted uranium which it deposits in the lagoon and on the islands of Kwajalein Atoll.  As if years of above-ground nuclear testing which irradiated the islands and people of the Marshal Islands were not enough.

As citizens of the most powerful nation on earth, we have an obligation to hold our government to the basic human standards of decency and respect for our global family.  When our government is guilty of crimes against humanity, it is our obligation to take them to task.

But what happens when the government which is carrying out those crimes begins to whittle away at its citizens’ right to dissent?  Prior to one week ago today, any concerned citizen could legally stand along this public highway outside the fortified gate of this Base and peacefully proclaim that the mission here is dishonorable.  However one week ago today, the Supreme Court ceded authority to the commander of this Base to exclude, for any reason, at any time, at his or her discretion any private citizen from this public highway… Highway 1… the Pacific Coast Highway.  No Circuit Court or even the United States Supreme Court has ever interpreted any statute, let alone a trespassing statute, to allow such unbridled power to be left in the hands of a Military commander over private citizens.  This ruling is dangerous for our freedom of speech, it is dangerous for our obligation to hold our government accountable, and it is another step in the erosion of the constitutionally guaranteed rights which were put in place to secure our liberty.

From the loss of our privacy to the NSA, to the loss of our government to corporate interests, to the loss of free speech to the military we are slowly and willingly giving up our freedoms.  And even those who are sworn to protect those freedoms and who are fond of saying that we are free because of their sacrifice are now complicit in that loss.  It is time to wake up and act like a Democracy before it slips away from us.