"Silence Trident" Action Disarms Nuclear Navy's Project ELF

Contact: Beth Preheim or John LaForge
Trident Resistance Network-Midwest
P.O. Box 373 Luck, WI 54853
Phone: 715-472-4185
Fax: 715-472-4184

June 24, 2000

CLAM LAKE, WI - Two peace activists, performing an "act of nonviolent direct disarmament and crime prevention," cut down three poles supporting transmission lines for a controversial U.S. submarine communication system located near Clam Lake. Bonnie Urfer, 48, and Michael Sprong, 37, both of rural Luck, WI used hand-held Swede saws to cut the poles, taking the transmitter off-line. The two waited over an hour for the arrival of Ashland County Sheriff's Deputies who took them into custody. Charges have yet to be filed. A witness to the action, Barbara Katt, 42, also of Luck, WI, is believed to have been taken into custody as well.
photo by Will Fantle

This is the fifth time since 1984 that the transmitter - known as Project ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) - has been shut down by activists who simply walked up to poles supporting the 28-mile-long transmitter antennae and cut them down with hand saws. All the previous actions resulted on prison sentences. The transmitter sits on public land in the Chequamegon National Forest. Another ELF facility is in Michigan's Escanaba State Forest.

Urfer and Sprong, who called their action "Silence Trident," were apparently well acquainted with other "disarmament" or crime prevention actions because they carried with them reams of documents they say justify their action as a modern day Boston Tea Party. The documents explain the justification for their Saturday afternoon action. The two attached references to laws and treaties to the poles they cut. The documents explain the justification for their Saturday afternoon action. They stressed that the action took place in a remote area and was carried out safely and nonviolently.

In 1996 Tom and Donna Howard-Hastings were acquitted of sabotage after they cut down three poles at the same site. After hearing testimony from three experts that Project ELF could only be used in an offensive first-strike nuclear attack and therefore served no defensive purposes, an Ashland County jury decided that the disarmers had not interfered with the national defense.

In a similar action, four women in England were acquitted in 1996 of all charges including sabotage after doing over $1 million in damage to a fighter plane scheduled for sale to the Indonesian government for use in its war against East Timor.

photo by Will Fantle

According to Bob Aldridge of the Pacific Life Research Center (www.nuclearfiles.org/plrc), Project ELF sends coded, one-way messages to deeply submerged Trident missile-firing submarines. The submarines can be ordered simultaneously to the surface where they can launch 24 missiles, carrying up to 192 nuclear warheads. From these forward-based "platforms," enemy missile silos and command posts can be destroyed in less than 15 minutes. This, Urfer and Sprong claim, makes Project ELF the "trigger" for over 50 percent of U.S. strategic nuclear weapons. In documents the two brought to the site, the two charge that the aggressive nature of the ELF/Trident system makes it illegal under international laws and treaties as well as under domestic law.

In 1983 a federal judge stopped the construction of Project ELF for environmental, health, and safety reasons only to be reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for reasons of "national security." Throughout the 1990s, Congressional opposition to the transmitter has been consistent with six of nine representatives and both U.S. senators from Wisconsin leading the call to cut funding for Project ELF. Over 550 protest arrests have taken place at the transmitter sites since the end of the Cold War.

Urfer and Sprong also emphasize that the U.S. Navy has never proven that Project ELF is not a risk to residents in the vicinity of the facility and to the environment. They say that their action is justified because ELF is an imminent threat to people and the environment.