A local judge in upstate New York has signed an order of protection for a US Air Force colonel that could make it a crime, punishable by up to seven years in prison, for anti-drone activists to continue their weekly peace vigil outside or near the gates of the Hancock Air National Guard base there.
How will they know if they've broken the rules of the order? Apparently, if one specific military officer at the base finds their protest or direct actions 'irritating' personally.
Specifically troubling to the activists is that Colonel Earl A Evans, a commander at the base who filed the request for the order, is someone the activists have not once targeted directly. Though the order 'bans them specifically from approaching the home, school or workplace' of Evans, none of the activists even seemed to know who he is.
Read the judge's order here (pdf).
"This is a new tactic to deny us our first amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and to petition our government," Elliot Adams, one of the seventeen activists listed in the order, said to The Guardian in an interview.
The seventeen named in the order were all arrested in October following an attempt to block several entryways onto the base. Though this was just the latest in a series of protests directed at the US drone program which operates out of Hancock, the group interprets the order as an escalation against their efforts and a direct assault on their right to peaceably assemble and voice grievances to their government for acts they deem illegal under domestic and international law.
"We are committed to non-violence" said Adams. "It's absurd that this order is all about Evans' personal well being. He's the guy who has spent a lifetime training in delivering violence and killing people and I say that as a veteran myself. Those inside Hancock are the ones with the M16s and assault rifles, the MQ9 drones. We as individuals are obligated to stop our government committing war crimes – that's part of what came out of Nuremberg. This is a misuse of the law."
According to court documents Evans is the mission support group commander of the 174th fighter wing group. The Guardian continues:
In a deposition to the court dated 25 October, Evans called for an order of protection and prosecution of the arrested protesters to the "fullest extent". He said the blocking of all three gates by the protesters was the "third time that protesters had done an unannounced protest" that resulted in a closure of the gate.
Written by hand, in block capitals, Evans wrote: "As an authorized representative of Hancock Field, I request that the court issue an order of protection on each and every defendant arrested such that they are to stay away from Hancock Field and I request prosecution to the fullest extent of the law."
The order has created confusion among the activists involved, as they say they no longer know where they can legitimately protest against the unmanned drones, which are operated from the base.
More troubling still is that the bar for violating the order seems to rest on the level of annoyance future actions have on specific individuals; in this case, Colonel Evans.
The activists, Adams said, had asked if the order meant they had to stay away from the weekly permitted protest across the road from the base. The response from law enforcement officers: if Evans found it "irritating" then it did.
Read The Guardian's full reporting here.