In what may be the beginning of a campaign to talk soldiers out of deploying to Iraq, 12 peace activists were fined Monday in federal court for trespassing last summer at Fort McCoy in west central Wisconsin.
Members of Voices for Creative Nonviolence were arrested in August by base police at the main gate of the 67,000-acre military installation during a walk from Chicago to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. The activists said they wanted to "dialogue" with soldiers to tell them their Fort McCoy Training would leave them woefully unprepared for what they would face in Iraq.
"We wanted them to know what moral dilemmas they will be put into in Iraq and that they're not being trained for it," said Brian Terrell, of Maloy, Iowa.
Three other individuals were cited last month for trespassing, a noncriminal violation, and similar events are being planned for the coming months.
"We want to hold a march from Camp Douglas (in Chicago) to Fort McCoy in late June timed to the deployment of the 32nd Division and to show the connection between the Wisconsin unit and Fort McCoy," said Jeffrey Leys, Chicago, who also was in court Monday on a trespass charge.
Several of the protesters had visited Iraq before and during the war and had talked to Iraqis about the continuing destruction their country had endured since the 1991 Gulf War. The protesters said they wanted the soldiers to know they have a choice in participating in the war.
"They do have alternatives to deployment," said Joy First, 54, of Madison. "They don't have to take part in anything immoral and that's what we feel this war has been."
First chose to walk to Fort McCoy because the war continued despite her letters to President George Bush, visits to congressional offices, attendance at candlelight vigils and petition signings. Next month 3,500 members of the Wisconsin National Guard will begin mobilization for Iraq, the largest number since World War II, she said.
During Monday's two-hour trial, defendants often said they weren't breaking the law by exercising their First Amendment right to speak and peacefully assemble. Instead, the government was breaking the law by conducting an illegal and immoral war and continuing to call up guard units after Congressional authorization has expired, First said.
The public attending an Alice Cooper concert on Aug. 9 were given access to Fort McCoy that was denied to the anti-war demonstration the next day, First said.
Renee L. Espeland, of Des Moines, Iowa, told U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker she knew that what she said about the Iraq war wouldn't affect his decision Monday. She then addressed base police officers in court, telling them that soldiers leaving Fort McCoy would return from Iraq to an inadequate medical system unable to address their psychological needs after "viewing the horrors of war."
Several of those on trial Monday had trespassed at the ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) Navy radio installation in northern Wisconsin before it was shut down in 2004. Former ELF protester Krystal C. Chupps, of Chicago said it was necessary to break the law when the law is used to protect institutions involved "in an unjust and immoral war."
Chupps then sang two stanzas of "Finlandia," a song favored by civil rights activists and was joined by a dozen or more supporters in the audience.
"That was a first," Crocker said of Chupps' musical testimony.
Crocker had the last word, telling the defendants the trial wasn't about what they said, but where they said it.
"You can continue to speak your message, but the First Amendment has territorial limitations. It's not about your soapbox; it's where you put it," he said.
Crocker rejected the $100 fine suggested by Assistant U.S. Attorney Meredith Duchemin and said he would give defendants until Feb. 13 to pay the $75. After several defendants said they couldn't in good conscience pay a fine to the government, Crocker said he would determine if fine proceeds could be paid to a victim's compensation fund.