Ashland County, Wisc. Drops Charge Against Disarmers of Navy Antenna

Contact: John LaForge
P.O. Box 649
Luck, WI 54853
(715) 472-4185

August 29, 2000

ASHLAND, WI, August 28 - In a precedent-setting move, Ashland County District Attorney Michael Gableman has chosen not to prosecute peace activists who downed wooden poles supporting the antenna lines for the U.S. Navy's Project ELF transmitter, located near Clam Lake, WI.

In a letter dated August 28, 2000, Gableman informed Ashland County Circuit Court Judge Robert Eaton that he will not pursue the charge of intentional damage to property originally brought against Bonnie Urfer, 48, and Michael Sprong, 37, both of Luck, WI.

Judge Eaton read into the record an August 28 letter from the U.S. Attorney's office in Madison, WI that said in part, "...barring something unforeseen, we intend to initiate federal prosecution in this matter."

In what they report was "an act of nonviolent direct nuclear disarmament and crime prevention," on June 24, 2000, Urfer and Sprong used ordinary bow saws to cut down three poles supporting the antenna for the controversial Project ELF transmitter, taking it off-line for more than 24 hours. Urfer and Sprong attached documents to the downed poles explaining that the Trident submarine system stands in violation of domestic and international laws against threats of genocide and prohibiting poisoned weapons and is a first strike weapon.

After waiting at the disarmament site for more than an hour, Urfer and Sprong were arrested by a lone Ashland County Sheriff's Deputy. Initially, they were charged with sabotage as well as intentional damage to property. By the time Mr. Gableman filed a formal complaint against the ELF disarmers July 3, he had dropped the sabotage charge.

The June disarmament action is the fourth time that peace activists in Wisconsin have downed ELF poles in protest and either waited for authorities or turned themselves in to police. Each time, the activists explained that their action was excusable as "crime prevention." In 1987 and again in 1996, protesters were acquitted of felony sabotage charges by juries in Ashland County. Experts at the two trials testified that nuclear weapons are illegal-because of being indiscriminate in their destructive power-and that deterrence is an outlawed means of coercion.

Monday's dismissal of state charges is unprecedented in over 20 years of civil protest against Project ELF, a nuclear weapon support system. Until today, Ashland County has consistently handled all prosecutions of demonstrators accused of trespassing or damage to Navy equipment at the Clam Lake ELF site.

Ms Urfer, in jail since the June 24 action, served 65-days in Ashland County jail for refusing to pay fines from one of three previous ELF trespass convictions resulting from protests at the site. Urfer was released on Monday, after two remaining fines, totaling $421.00 were paid.

Since 1991, about 554 trespass citations have been issued to anti-war activists who charge that the ELF and Trident complex is a relic of the cold war, an electromagnetic danger to the local environment and enables the Trident subs to threaten a nuclear first-strike.