Navy, Smarting From the "Bangor 5" Case, Cracks Down on Anti-Nuclear Protesters

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The Navy is cracking down on protesters at its Bangor nuclear submarine base. That's what a half-dozen members of an anti-nuclear protest group called the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action found out when they brought their banners to the base in January.

Ground Zero has been staging regular demonstrations at Naval Base-Kitsap for decades, according to spokesperson Leonard Eiger. Often, some protesters will cross what's called "the blue line," which demarcates the border between county and federal property. Typically, such protesters--if they are first-timers-- are given letters that warn them that they will be arrested if they come onto federal property again.

At the January protest, however, the Navy arrested six men and women--Patricia Bass, Carolyn Dorisdotter, Norm Keegel, Gordon Sturrock, Sam Tower, and Robert Whitlock-- right off the bat. None of them had ever crossed the blue line before, according to Eiger.

The protesters, some of them senior citizens, are scheduled to be arraigned tomorrow in Tacoma's federal court on trespassing charges.

It could be worse. Eiger says the U.S. Attorney's office has told the defendants that it will not seek prison time. Trespassing carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison and a $5000 fine.

Just last week, a group of protesters from the Plowshares movement received an even harsher penalty in relation to a 2009 action in which they cut through Bangor's chain-link fences in order to enter the base. The so-called "Bangor 5" (pictured above)--including a priest and a nun who are both octogenarians--will spend between three and 15 months in prison.

It's precisely that case that caused the Navy to change its policy, according to Bangor spokesperson Tom Danaher. "We wanted to send a stronger message," he says. "You don't just wander back and forth across this boundary."

Danaher also points out that some of the Bangor 5 had been given warning letters, yet returned to the base anyway.

Of course, the Navy's message also gives the anti-nuclear protesters more publicity than they would otherwise receive. Nobody pays much attention to aging picketers waving the same signs they have for years. But if those same protesters are arrested, now that's a story.

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