Published on Thursday, April 3, 2003 by the Minnesota Daily
28 Arrested at Alliant While Protesting Depleted Uranium Weapons
by Joe Mahon
Protesters staged an act of civil disobedience at Minnesota’s largest military contractor Wednesday morning.
The action at Alliant Techsystems in Edina, Minn., led to 28 arrests.
Approximately 250 people participated in the protest. Not all protesters participated in civil disobedience, which consisted of trespassing on the grounds of Alliant’s corporate headquarters.
“We’re sort of an inspection team looking for weapons of mass indiscriminate destruction,” said Marv Davidov, a longtime activist and organizer of the action, during instructions to participants.
“The officials at Alliant Tech were not very proactive in their response to our inspection,” said Michael Brown, a University philosophy graduate student who participated in the action and was arrested.
The trespassers carried a letter to Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Paul David Miller asking to examine records on production of depleted uranium weapons. Upon entering, they were arrested.
Activists claim depleted uranium shells, frequently used as antitank weapons in the first gulf war, are a cause of health problems such as birth defects in Iraq and the much-disputed “Gulf War Syndrome.”
The U.S. military used more than 100,000 depleted uranium shells during the first war. Upon impact, some material is vaporized and can be harmful if inhaled.
Wednesday’s protest featured a speech by Carol Nauheimer, whose son served on cleanup operations in Kuwait after the war and later died of leukemia she believes was caused by exposure to depleted uranium.
When she visited her son in the military hospital, Nauheimer said, “He told me, ‘Remember, mom, I know this started in that desert.’ ”
Friends for a Nonviolent World member Phil Steger, who has visited Iraq several times and toured hospitals, claimed the incidence of leukemia in Iraq is up 600 percent to 1000 percent since 1991.
“Depleted uranium most clearly violates international law that we’ve signed onto,” Brown said.
A statement issued to the media by Alliant read, “(Alliant) does not produce or process depleted uranium … material. We do, however, produce one round that is (depleted uranium) capable. The (depleted uranium) material … is provided by the government.”
Alliant has produced more than 15 million such shells. The company has also stated depleted uranium is not dangerous because of its radioactivity but rather because of its toxicity as a heavy metal.
Aside from the controversial depleted uranium shells, Alliant makes other weapons and products for the government.
Alliant is the Pentagon’s largest ammunition producer and its sole provider of small-arms ammunition for rifles.
The company also produces half the medium-caliber rounds used in larger guns.
With the acquisition of Thiokol Propulsion in 2001, Alliant became the major producer of solid fuel rockets, used in many varieties of missiles as well as for NASA.
The company also produces precision munitions such as global positioning system-guided bombs. Along with its rocket business, this makes missile defense a major growth opportunity for the company, according to investor information on its Web site.
The company also produces cluster bombs, a target of peace groups since the Vietnam War because many go unexploded and can injure civilians.
Alliant also produced antipersonnel land mines in the past, though it no longer does so.
Overall, Alliant is the 25th-largest contractor for the U.S. Defense department, receiving $674 million in contracts for 2002. The company totaled $1.8 billion in sales in 2002 and expects to do $2.1 billion for fiscal year 2003.
Alliant started in 1991 when Honeywell spun off its weapons business after the end of the Cold War. Prior to that, Honeywell had been a target of protesters since the Vietnam War era.
Davidov began the “Honeywell project” in 1968 and has conducted weekly vigils at Alliant’s headquarters since 1996.
The vigils do not usually include civil disobedience, but Wednesday’s action was organized in response to the new war and Nauheimer’s wish to speak out.
Nauheimer’s daughter Wendy was among those arrested Wednesday.
The actions were marked by restraint by both demonstrators and Edina police, who have become used to the protests at Alliant.
“I want to stress that the police are not the issue here,” Alliant action member Tom Bottolene said, addressing those preparing for the action. “When we focus on them, we lose focus on Alliant.”
“It was a lot more ho-dunk than I thought it would be,” said Christine Gamm, who graduated last spring from the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University in peace studies.
“It’s always the hope that you would be able to act out in a democracy and hold your community and businesses responsible and not get arrested, but I did, and I’m glad I did it,” Gamm said.
Those arrested face up to three months in prison or a $700 fine. Davidov said in all the years he’s been protesting at Honeywell and Alliant there have been 2,700 arrests, but those arrested typically only receive community service or a small fine.
“Civil disobedience is never pleasant, people do it as an act of conscience and the Minnesota Constitution protects acts of conscience,” Brown said.
© Copyright 2003 The Minnesota Daily