SALINA, Kansas - Eight peace activists who were part of a group protesting a bombing and strafing competition for fighter jet pilots were arrested at Salina Municipal Airport on Wednesday for trespassing.
"The war in Iraq is unjust, immoral and illegal," Frank Cordaro, a former Catholic priest, told a group of about 45 activists at the rally at the airport. "Those are the words of Pope John (Paul) II."
The arrests were the anticipated response to civil disobedience that was months in the planning. The spot where protesters were arrested had been worked out in advance so as to minimize disruption at the airport and ensure there was no violence. Activists who decided to get arrested wore armbands Wednesday to help police positively identify them.
Salina People for Peace organized the protest in response to local enthusiasm for Hawg-smoke, a competition in which pilots of A-10 "Warthog" fighter jets try to best each other in strafing and bombing exercises.
"The A-10 Warthog is here today as the most concrete example (of America's aggression)," said Jeff Leys, a coordinator for Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a Chicago-based organization active in opposing war. "Where war ends is in the heartland, when the people say, 'Enough.' The war ends here, today, in the heartland."
During the two-hour rally, speakers frequently had to compete with the roar of A-10s taking off and landing. There were a couple of practice runs for the flyover that is to be part of the memorial service Wednesday night: four A-10s would approach in tight formation and, overhead, one would peel off sharply, condensing vapor trailing from the wingtips.
As A-10s taxied to the terminal, their canopies open, some protesters waved and flashed peace signs; there were no visible responses.
Arranging the arrests
Deputy Salina Police Chief Carson Mansfield said the group worked with police, municipal court and the Salina Airport Authority to plan the civil disobedience. Initially there was talk of protesters climbing the chain link fence that surrounds the airfield, but to avoid injuries and damage to airport property, a perimeter, marked with yellow police tape, was set a few feet from the fence.
Protesters planned to go past the yellow tape and put banners, ribbons and hand-written messages on the fence.
Mansfield said the understanding was that he would warn protesters who crossed the tape that they were trespassing, and if they didn't return to the designated area, they would be arrested.
And that's just how it played out. A group of protesters crossed the tape, Mansfield issued his warning -- three times, to give the other protesters time to hug and thank the ones who planned to be arrested -- and then a squad of seven officers appeared from a hangar and started calmly informing the activists they were under arrest.
There were shouts of encouragement and flashed peace signs from the others attending the rally.
Arrested were Martin A. Bates, 53, 1015 Scott; Agnes C. Teter, 79, 623 Johnstown; Cordaro, 57, of Des Moines, Iowa; Ralph C. Kresin, 71, 537 W. Beloit; Wesley S. Rehberg, 72, of Chattanooga, Tenn.; Gerald F. Paoli, 48, of Chicago.; Janie M. Stein, 50, 141 S. Clark; and Margaret L. Rourke, 80, 623 Johnstown.
The rally was the last event in a conference that started Monday. "The Heartland Speaks: A Peace Coalition Action Glimpsing the Beloved Community," consisted of several workshops on the effect of militarization and war, as well as nonviolence training.
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What God, Jesus allow
On Wednesday morning, rally participants walked from Quality Inn and Suites, 2110 W. Crawford, down to the airport parking lot, where the protest took place.
"The reason I take part in these kinds of things is I'm absolutely against military aggression," said Weeden Nichols, 68, of Hays, who retired from the Army 30 years ago. He was walking with the help of a cane. "I still think neither God nor Jesus condemns pure defense."
Military attacks in Afghanistan were an appropriate reaction to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Nichols said. It was clear that Osama bin Laden was responsible, and his ties to the government there were undisputed.
Not so the war with Iraq, Nichols said. He said the Bush administration knowingly misrepresented the situation -- implied a connection between Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks, and claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
"The (war) in Iraq is anything but defense," Nichols said. "It's too late now. There's a real obligation, having broken it, to fix it."
Why are we in Iraq?
The protesters, who were flanked by police cruisers with their emergency lights flashing, drew a small crowd as they went past Salina Area Technical College. The students were taking a break from their welding class.
"Dangedest thing I've ever seen," exclaimed one student.
"I think they should get a job," volunteered another.
"They probably have jobs," said another.
But when asked about the war with Iraq, the students' views seemed closer to those of the protesters.
"I don't know why we are still over there," said Bryce Swisher, a senior.