MLK Holiday: Nonviolent Study, Nonviolent Action

Seventy-five hearty anti-war activists braved sub-zero temperatures Jan. 23, to converge on the Navy's ELF site in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King. Fifteen nonviolent resisters carried Dr. King's message of peaceful direct action directly to the gates of the transmitter where they were met by Ashland County Sheriff's deputies. Eight protesters climbed over the barbed wire-topped chain-linked fence, but the 15 were all charged with the same county trespass forfeiture. Food Not Bombs activists warmed everyone by providing a hot lunch for everyone.

Four of the resisters will take the case to trial: Lincoln Rice, 23, of Milwaukee's Casa Maria Catholic Worker House, Joel Kilgour, 23, and Scott Mathern-Jacobson, 29, both of Duluth's Loaves & Fishes Catholic Worker Community, and Scott Griffiths, 26, of Cornucopia, WI. No trial date has yet been set.

The MLK action followed a weekend conference on human and civil rights organized by students in the Peace Club of Northland College, in Ashland, with some assistance from Nukewatch. The renowned defense attorney Arthur Kinoy, a confidant of Dr. King and a life-long civil rights activist, delivered the major keynote. Kinoy reminded us that, "Dr. King refused to use the word 'minority.' When unified," he said, "we're the majority."

Homeless advocates convicted, fined

In Ashland County District Court, two homeless shelter providers who had prepared for jail, were sentenced to fines Jan. 18 after being found guilty of trespassing at the Navy's Project ELF submarine transmitter.

Molly Mechtenberg, 24, and Reba Mathern-Jacobson, 26, of Duluth's Loaves & Fishes Community, were ordered to pay a $209 fine. Both activists refused to pay, explaining that they live in voluntary poverty and were opposed on principle to paying the fine.

Saying "The arguments today have been eloquent," Judge Robert Eaton ordered to two to pay $5 per month beginning within 60 days. "Frankly," Judge Eaton said, "the jail is full of people who need to be there. And these people don't need to be there."

The trespass charges resulted from an October 10, 1999 demonstration at the controversial U.S. Navy Project ELF transmitter site near Clam Lake, WI. The transmitter sends one-way messages to submerged nuclear-armed submarines around the world, and has been the site of dozens of anti-war protests. At the October 10 protest, Mechtenberg was issued the 500th trespass citation since a campaign of nonviolent civil resistance was renewed in 1991.

During the trial in which the women represented themselves, Mechtenberg and Mathern-Jacobson explained that they entered the ELF grounds with a view to the outlaw status of nuclear weapons. Mathern-Jacobson immediately moved for a dismissal. She said, "This trespass charge is a smoke screen for the real crime of the existence of ELF. The World Court in The Hague on July 8, 1996 declared that the possession or threatened use of nuclear weapons is a violation of international law. Whereas ELF is the trigger for launching Trident nuclear missiles, I move that this case be dismissed so that we can go about prosecuting the real crime which is the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons."

Mechtenberg said in part, "Nothing could ever convince me that such weapons have the right to exist. Nothing could ever convince me that I should sit back and let the Pentagon decide that ELF is needed for our 'national security.'"

Explaining his verdict, Judge Eaton said in part, "There's nothing wrong with wanting ELF closed, expressing your opinion and acting toward that goal." Before imposing sentence, Judge Eaton said he wanted to "stress the importance of place." Judge Eaton said, "It's not surprising that people disagree with the existence of ELF and want to close it, but the government has not seen fit to close the ELF facility and I don't have the authority to close it." He said reading in the paper that there was a New Year's vigil at the Navy site that did not involve arrests cheered him. "But when you cross the fence, whether you're morally right or not, the actions become illegal. I find you guilty."

Molly & Reba are the first Project ELF protesters to be tried since the state legislature rescinded the court's power to suspend Wisconsin driving privileges for failure to pay non-traffic-related fines. The Ashland court has used the penalty against nuclear resisters and others since about 1994. Out of habit, the Judge did impose the license suspension, but later withdrew the penalty when informed by the defendants of the change in the law.

Conflicted ELF "improvement" delayed

The Navy's $2 million ELF "grounds improvement program" has been delayed for up to two years, according to officials at the National Forest Service. The NFS has to sign off on any trashing of the national forests. Lenny Kempf at the Glidden office of the Chequemagon National Forest told Nukewatch in February that further work on the project wouldn't begin before 2004.

The Navy says it intents to improve the transmitter's performance, reduce stray voltage and increase the safety of the ELF transmitter's grounds. ELF's four ground sites (one at each end of the X-shaped antenna) are where the system jolts Mother Earth with some three million watts of electricity. It plans to drill up to 30 deep wells, 10 at three different sites, through which it wants to connect the ELF wire directly to the granite bedrock. The clearing and drilling will impact about 100 acres.

Vice Admiral Robert Natter wrote Nukewatch on March 19, 1999 that, "As a part of this program, Environmental Impact Statements will be prepared and made available for public comment." However, Kempf told us that the Forest Service might require only the less-stringent Environmental Assessment (AE). A formal call for public comment must accompany the AE, and may be published in July 2000.

LCO studying ELF's effects on treaty rights

The Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) band of Lake Superior Ojibwa is studying the effects of ELF's electromagnetic pollution on their federally protected rights to hunt, fish and gather in the ceded territories. The band received grants to review previous studies of ELF's impact on plants and wildlife, water and residents. LCO's expert research team and the band's government-to-government relationship with the United States, mean that the next few years will see ELF come under intense scrutiny. The Supreme Court recently reaffirmed the Ojibwa's right to hunt, fish and gather without interference from state governments or agencies.

ELF Termination Act needs co-sponsors

ELF opponents have a new ally in Congress. Representative Tammy Baldwin, a first-term Democrat from Madison, WI has written to her House colleagues asking them to co-sponsor the Project ELF Termination Act. Baldwin criticized the ELF system as militarily unnecessary - she called it "a cold war relic," - a waste of money and a potential health hazard. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) has for the 4th time introduced tandem legislation in the Senate. When you write them, urge your Senators and Representatives to co-sponsor. For a copy of Rep. Baldwin's letter and for legislative updates, write or email Nukewatch.