By Joy First
On February 9, 2016 Judge Paul Curran found me guilty of trespass for walking onto the Air National Guard Base at Volk Field in Wisconsin on August 26, 2015. I joined eight others who wanted to deliver a message to Base Commander Colonel David Romuald, demanding that he immediately end the program of training pilots to operate the Shadow Drone at Volk Field. Shadow drones are used overseas for reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition, and so contribute to the deaths of thousands of innocents through U.S drone warfare. This action came at the end of the 8-day 90-mile walk organized by Voices for Creative Nonviolence from Madison to Volk Field.
The trial began as predicted with DA Solovey calling Juneau County Deputy Sheriff Thomas Mueller who established that I was at Volk Field on August 26 and that I did cross onto the base after being told not to.
The following are the questions that I asked the deputy under cross examination.
What is the purpose of the area between the gates and the guardhouse?
Response: It is so cars have a place to line up while waiting to talk to someone in the guardhouse without blocking the county road.
When is it legal to be there?
Response: When you are a member of the public waiting to talk to someone in the guardhouse.
Did you ask any of us why we were there so you would know if we were there for a valid reason, and were therefore authorized to be there?
Response: No I didn’t.
Why weren’t we allowed to walk to the guardhouse and state our business?
Response: The sheriff said we should arrest you when you stepped onto the base.
Why does a military base that is supposed to be protecting us need to have the Sheriff protect them from nonviolent dissenters?
Response: I don’t know.
If we are arrested at Camp McCoy the base security makes the arrest. Why does the county take this on at Volk Field?
Response: I don’t know.
I said I had no further questions. I then asked the DA if the Sheriff was expected today as he had testified at the other trials. The DA said he was not. I was disappointed to hear that because the sheriff likely would have been able to answer my questions. It seems clear we are being discriminated against by not being allowed to go to the guardhouse when that is what anyone else is able to do, but I was not a good enough examiner to bring this out with the witness that was there.
The defense rested and I told the judge I would like to give a brief statement as testimony, a closing statement, and then if I was found guilty I wanted to give a sentencing statement. The judge said that was fine, and I was sworn in and took the stand.
Here is my testimony from the stand.
As each of those who came before me said, silence is complicity and so I must speak out.
I am testifying that I have a First amendment right to petition my government for a redress of grievances and that was what I was doing at Volk Field on August 26, 2015.
I am also testifying that I have an obligation following Nuremberg to speak out when I see that my government is doing something illegal.
I was not there on August 25 in order to enter the base without permission, but to get to the guard house to request a meeting with the base commander to talk about US drone warfare. I was not there because I wanted to get arrested.
Defendants have not been permitted to present evidence as to their intent. For example, Ms. Ellwanger’s statement was completely stricken from the record and Mr. Timmerman was not allowed to talk about intent.
I then cited information that we had used to appeal a previous case and said:
However, according to previous court cases, the “mere omission of any mention of intent will not be construed as eliminating that element from the crimes denounced.” The Supreme Court held that a statue’s “silence” on the mens rea element “does not necessarily suggest that Congress intended to dispense with a conventional mens rea element.” The Staples Court importantly added that “some indication of Congressional intent, express or implied, is required to dispense with mens rea as an element of a crime.”
I handed the judge the complete text, which included the court cases cited and continued:
And our intention for being there is an important element in this case. We were not violent. We meant no harm, rather we were there to try to prevent harm to others and to uphold the law.
When the police asked us to leave I believed it was my right and my duty to remain.
As I walked back to the defense table the DA asked if my complete statement could be stricken from the record. The judge overruled this request, stating that I included some legal arguments in my statement.
The judge then said that I was found guilty and started saying I would have to pay the $232 fine when he remembered that I wanted to make a closing statement. He asked if I still wanted to make a closing statement and I said that I wasn’t sure if it was relevant since he already pronounced me guilty.
The judge replied that he had sat through so many of these cases and heard us talk about our personal beliefs and convictions about drones and he had heard it all. He said if that was what I was going to talk about he didn’t want to hear it, but that if I had something else to say he would listen and if necessary vacate the sentence.
So I read the following as my closing statement:
I am here before you today because I cannot and will not remain silent as our government continues to engage in drone warfare which is illegal and immoral. I did not go to Volk Field on August 25, 2015 to break the law; rather I was there to uphold the law. This is not a simple trespassing case.
Testimony was given that I, as a committed and concerned U.S. citizen, was there exercising my First Amendment rights, and following my obligations under Nuremberg. I went to Volk Field not with the intention of getting arrested, but rather to try to meet with the base commander, who has never answered a letter from us.
I was not there to engage in unlawful activities. I am a person of nonviolence, involved in Constitutionally-protected speech. My intent was to seek to influence the commander, wake him up and affect his conscience, hardly an offense that I should have been arrested for.
You have heard testimony that when the police told me I had to leave, it was my right and my duty to refuse that order. I acted in a nonviolent manner, and I had the right and responsibility to remain and continue my request for a meeting.
You have heard that I was acting under the First Amendment which gives us the right to peaceably assemble, speak out, and petition our government for a redress of long-standing grievances.
You have heard that I was following my citizen obligations under Nuremberg and other international law.
According to the Nuremberg Principles, if we remain silent while our government is engaged in illegal and immoral activities, then we are complicit, we are equally guilty of being in violation of international law and of going against our most dearly held values. It is our responsibility as citizens, as taxpayers, as voters, as prosecutors, as judges to speak out. Robert Jackson, the United States judge at the Nuremberg trials said, “The very essence of the Nuremberg Charter is that individuals have international duties which transcend national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual state.”
I will not, indeed, I cannot, be complicit when our government has gone so astray. It is my responsibility as a citizen of this great country to call attention to the unjust actions of our government and demand that they stop now. I believe that I can make a difference, that I have made a difference, and you can too. Please, look into your heart and see that I was doing what I was called to do, and that I did so peacefully, and now you have the opportunity to find me not guilty of trespass.
You have said that you have no authority over our foreign policy, but if a judge in Juneau County finds me innocent, it would make a difference and people would pay attention.
At the Hancock AFB in New York resisters were acquitted because the judge said they intended to uphold the law, not break it. We were at Volk Field on August 25 to uphold the law.
I ask that you please find me not guilty as charged and join me in saying that we need to stop arresting, detaining, and prosecuting nonviolent people of good will and conscience who take action for peace and justice.
Thank you for your time and attention to this case.
I finished and Judge Curran again pronounced me guilty. He said that what I was asking him to do was very dangerous. He cannot let me off because he likes me or agrees with me. That would set a very dangerous precedent. He can’t let his personal beliefs affect his rulings as he picks and chooses which laws to obey and which not to obey. He is bound and sworn to follow the law.
The trial lasted 18 minutes. Curran left the courtroom without giving me a chance to give a sentencing statement as I had requested. Again, he is sick of us and does what he can to shut us down. His argument at the end makes no sense. He IS picking and choosing which laws to obey when finds us guilty. He is ignoring the constitutional law of our First Amendment rights. He is ignoring international law, including Nuremberg, the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions – all of which make U.S. drone warfare illegal.
Afterwards, I realized that I should have added something to my closing. I should have pointed out that Deputy Mueller said that members of the public are allowed to pass through the gate and proceed to the guardhouse to request permission to enter the base. If that is the case, why were we arrested at the gate without being asked what our business was at the base? Why are we not being given the same rights as other members of the public?
As so many of my activist friends say, “You do not find justice in the courtroom.” There was no justice for me today, but more importantly, there is certainly no justice for the thousands of people whose lives have been destroyed because of U.S. drone warfare. We continue with two more trials for our Volk Field action – Phil on February 19 and Mary Beth on February 25.