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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on August 25th, 2009, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 10, Issue 24 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 10, Issue 24

Two arrested at base protest

Protests and arrests mark another successful missile launch at Vandenberg


Protestors held a sign denouncing the testing of nuclear weapons—and their potential delivery systems—outside the gates of Vandenberg Air Force base at a recent protest.
A monk and a nun walk onto an Air Force base. No, seriously.

In the early hours of Aug. 23, as protesters chanted “Stop the tests!” outside Vandenberg Air Force Base, Father Louis Vitale and Sister Megan Rice crossed the thick blue demarcation line onto base property.


Neither of them had permission.


The pair made it about halfway to the front gate of Vandenberg Air Force Base before the command “Halt! Security forces!” rang out.


Vitale and Rice were confronted by Air Force security. When asked to leave, they knelt, and were promptly arrested for trespassing.


Just another missile launch at Vandenberg.


Father Louis Vitale is no stranger to civil disobedience. In published interviews, the Franciscan monk has tallied up more than 200 arrests.


Vitale was joined outside of Vandenberg by people representing groups such as the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and the Nevada Desert Experience. For the protesters, the missile launch is a symbol
of U.S. militarism.


For the Air Force personnel involved, it’s a simple matter of doing their job. Mission director for the launch, Col. Carl T. DeKemper, said in an e-mail statement: “Our team is dedicated to ensuring a credible, safe, and combat-ready ICBM force that convinces potential adversaries of our unwavering commitment to defend our nation, its allies, and friends.”


It’s also a milestone for those involved on both sides: The intercontinental ballistic missle launches at Vandenberg this year represent 50 years of nuclear deterrence. And 50 years ago, a young Louis Vitale took his vows to become a Franciscan.


“It’s an interesting coincidence,” he noted with a small smile just moments before he crossed onto base property.


Vitale—who was in the Air Force before becoming a monk—has a long history with the peace movement. He helped draft resisters during Vietnam, and has protested against torture, UAV drones, and other issues.


At Vandenberg, however, it’s all about the nukes.


“It’s our hope, prayer, our ardent effort to prevent the use of nuclear weapons,” he said. “These missile tests are evidence of our willingness to commit mass murder.”


Vitale was carrying a letter “from the people of Japan,” which he said he received on a recent trip to the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He had hoped to deliver it to the base commander.


To the protesters, like Father Vitale, it doesn’t matter that no nukes are located at Vandenberg. Jim Hayburn coordinated the protest for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. To him and his group, testing the missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads is just as bad.


“They don’t need to,” he said simply. “We’re making such a big fuss over North Korea’s missile tests. Yet these [missiles in the U.S. arsenal] are very operational. Theirs are not. The hoopla we’re raising is the deadliest hypocrisy.”


The protests themselves—apart from Father Vitales’ civil disobedience—are a bit more low-key than in years past, noted Hayburn, who took part in events in the ’80s. Back then, the protests were against MX and Peacekeeper missiles and “used to be intense.”


“We were a little bit more involved back then,” Hayburn said. “People covered the Vandenberg sign with black cloth. Others went into the backcountry on base, by land and sea, to try and disrupt launches.”


Today, most of the protesters are willing to simply be arrested—sometimes.


Ms. MacGregor Eddy got involved with the peace movement during the 2002 run-up to the Iraq War. It was also the first time she had a brush with civil disobedience.


“That was the first time I got arrested,” the silver-haired grandmother said with a chuckle. “I have three grown children, and while they were growing up, I told myself I had an obligation not to get arrested.”


The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation isn’t opposed to all military launches, just those involved with the nuclear arsenal, said the foundation’s director of programs, Rick Wayman.


“Our mission as an organization is to end the nuclear weapons threat,” he explained. “Our focus is on the missiles like the Minutemen—things like commercial satellites or weather rockets or whatever else they send up we don’t have a problem with.”


Hayburn agreed that protest groups don’t have a problem with all space launches—even launches from military complexes like Vandenberg. Their issue is solely with those launches that push the military
into orbit.


“We’re against the militarization of space,” he said. “The push for full-spectrum militarization [of space] makes a lie out of the United States’ calls for world peace.”


After all was said and done, the Minuteman III missile launched at 9:01 a.m. and carried its unarmed reentry vehicle approximately 4,190 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, according to a statement from Vandenberg.


Contact Staff Writer Nicholas Walter at

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