Behind the polls: Large protests continue at US drone bases

Protesters blockade Hancock AFB using giant copies of drone reports, UN Charter and US Constitution

Despite polls and headlines proclaiming ‘overwhelming public support for US drone strikes’ large and persistent protests continue at drone bases throughout the US.  In its latest issue, US peace movement newspaper The Nuclear Resister gives an important insight in to this continuing opposition by rounding-up recent protests at some of the US bases facilitating drone strikes.  Documenting these protests, arrests and prison sentences gives an important insight into on-going opposition to US drone wars.  


The following is reprinted with the kind permission of The Nuclear Resister.  Copyright remains with the authors.

Drone Resistance Roundup



After sending Jack Gilroy to jail for three months last fall, and sentencing Mary Anne Grady Flores to a year in prison last summer (she’s out on appeal), two Dewitt, New York town judges seem to have changed course in dealing with drone resisters arrested at Hancock Field, an Air National Guard base piloting Reaper armed drones. Activists say one factor, in addition to their persistence despite vigorous prosecution, is strong pro bono legal advocacy that has come into the campaign, providing more legal friction to prior questionable court actions.

First came Judge Robert Jokl’s retreat from a promise to send Mark Colville to jail when he was sentenced in December.

Then in January, when Bonny Mahoney arrived for a jury trial on charges of obstructing governmental administration (OGA) and two counts of disorderly conduct during an April 2013 protest, she was also arraigned on a new charge, trespass, and given no time to adapt her defense to the charge. When her attorneys’ motion to dismiss the OGA charge for lack of specifics was granted, it also meant the jury was dismissed.

Mahoney brought the proceedings back to her central concern for drone victims, saying, “I consider myself lucky to be able to defend myself against charges I feel are unjust. U.S. drone policy does not provide this opportunity for its victims.” Her conduct at the protest being far from disorderly, she was convicted only of trespass and sentenced on February 12 to a conditional discharge.

Between the time of Mahoney’s trial and sentencing, Judge Jokl revisited the three year, restricted-to-the-county probation and 1,500 hour community service sentence he’d given to Jack Gilroy in addition to the jail time. At Gilroy’s resentencing on February 4, Jokl accepted his attorney’s challenge and acknowledged that the probation and community service were both illegal and dismissed them. He hinted at another factor for the changed course, commenting that he and fellow DeWitt judge David Gideon do not like the idea of drones in their area.

The activists of Upstate New York Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars returned to Hancock on March 19, the 12th anniversary of the second U.S. invasion of Iraq. Seven people blocked the base with books. Four books sufficed, each an eight-foot-tall replica of titles that together make the case for today’s drone war crimes: the United Nations Charter; Dirty Wars (Jeremy Scahill); Living Under Drones (NYU and Stanford Law Schools); and You Never Die Twice (Reprieve).

The activists also held a banner quoting Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution, which states that every treaty signed becomes the supreme law of the land. They attempted yet again to deliver a citizens’ indictment for war crimes to the base commanders, but instead were arrested. Danny Burns, Brian Hynes, Ed Kinane, Julienne Oldfield, Fr. Bill Pickard, Bev Rice and James Ricks were charged with trespass, disorderly conduct and obstruction of governmental administration. Those in the group who had previously been served with orders of protection naming Col. Earl A. Evans were not charged with that violation as he is no longer serving at Hancock and the new commander has apparently not asked the court for protection. All pled not guilty, and pre-trial motions will be heard on July 9.

Then on April 1, after hearing about 90 minutes of legal arguments on pre-trial motions, Judge Jokl also dismissed “in the interest of justice” all charges against John Honeck, Julienne Oldfield, Andrew Schoerke and Mary Snyder, charged with up to four counts each following the same 2013 demonstration at Hancock. The next group of four people arrested in April, 2013 is set for trial on June 24.  Others have again been postponed until fall or indefinitely.

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Arrests at the gates of Creech AFB as protesters hold a die-in (Margeaux Süreyya Temeltaş)
Arrests at the gates of Creech AFB as protesters hold a die-in (Margeaux Süreyya Temeltaş)

In March, about 150 people came from at least 18 states to join the three-day Shut Down Creech actions outside Creech Air Force Base, northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada. Creech is the central site of control for both CIA and Pentagon targeted drone killings that terrorize communities and remotely kill civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia and elsewhere. It was the latest in a series of twice-annual mobilizations at the remote base organized by a coalition of groups including Code Pink, Veterans For Peace, Nevada Desert Experience, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

They pitched tents and created Camp Justice across highway U.S. 95 from the base’s main gate, just outside the small town of Indian Springs, on Wednesday, March 4.

While they were gathered, drone opponents across the country privately paid for an anti-drone television ad addressed to the pilots to be aired in the Las Vegas region. It showed graphic images of mutilated children killed by drone attacks and encouraged drone pilots to “please refuse to fly”. The ad, produced by, has also been shown in New York and California markets near drone bases.

The next day, when protesters were making final plans and preparations for Friday’s resistance action,  the U.S. Air Force Thunderbird precision flying team flew six jets at extremely low altitudes over Camp Justice, making it nearly impossible to have discussions because of the noise of the jets. In spite of the purposeful interruption, creative plans were made for early the next morning.

On March 6, U.S. 95 was renamed the “Drone Victims Memorial Highway,” and grave markers were placed along the road with the names and ages of known drone victims. Affinity groups took sequential actions at both base gates to sustain their interruption of base activities. Traffic was backed up along the highway and on frontage roads multiple times through the morning.

The 40 person Veterans For Peace contingent delivered a letter addressed to drone operators calling on them to not participate in war crimes related to targeted killing and to refuse to obey illegal orders. Another contingent blocked one gate with yellow crime scene tape, temporarily impeding traffic. A third group marched in a long procession along the highway holding large photographs of drone victims, many of them children, passing along the backed up cars trying to enter the base, and ultimately laying down on the roadway in a “die-in.”  A fourth wave of resisters carried large hand-painted panels depicting some young victims killed in Pakistan and Yemen.

Police arrested 34 people, bussing them across the highway where they were cited for misdemeanors and released, with one exception. Fr. Jerry Zawada OFM was taken to jail in Las Vegas for processing when his probation from an earlier protest showed up in police records. He was released later that day.

Two minors later had their charges dropped. Ten people had charges reduced to a traffic infraction that does not fit the police description of their action, so they are asking that it be dismissed. The others are to be arraigned in court on June 30 where at least eight plan to appear in person and pursue a joint trial, and some may agree to pay a $50 fine for six months deferred prosecution. They welcome supporters in court and for additional actions at Creech that week.

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(Thanks to for parts of this report.)

Protesters at Beale AFB May 2015
Protesters at Beale AFB May 2015

In California, Beale Air Force Base is the home of the Global Hawk “accomplice” drone, a long-range surveillance drone that helps find targets for the armed Predator and Reaper drones. Regular protest vigils there have evolved to include “soft blockades” of an entrance with banners and signs, where they dialogue with police or state highway patrol up until arrest appears imminent, then leave the road. Following news of a 12-year-old killed by a U.S. drone attack in Yemen, eight people blocked the morning commute for 80 minutes on January 27. The heading of their leaflet for Beale personnel connected the dots to the rampant police violence against people of color: “From Ferguson to Pakistan, Oakland to Afghanistan, Black and Brown Lives Matter.” It questioned the racism that exists both in U.S. global warfare, drone killing and in law enforcement practices, where lives of people of color and people of other cultures are so easily expendable. The blockade was removed before arrests were made.

Six people, including several clergy members and military veterans, were arrested during an ecumenical religious service at the base gate on Ash Wednesday, February 18. In the words of Rev. Sharon Delgado, they crossed the line to “call for repentance for: the harm done to the Indigenous people who used to live where Beale is now, the harm being done to Mother Earth by our building and deploying high-tech weapons and weapons of mass destruction, the harm done to families and communities who suffer cutbacks in public services while billions are spent for the military, the overall harm caused by the global reach of U.S. military power.”

They were taken into custody by military police as they spread ashes memorializing those of children killed by U.S. drones overseas.

Delgado, along with Barry Binks, Shirley Osgood, Pamela Osgood, Marcus Page-Collonge and Lorraine Reich, were charged with trespass and released later.

Occupy Beale activists welcomed Kathy Kelly to join their April vigil just days after her release from federal prison (see page 8). She and Brian Terrell, both from Voices for Creative Nonviolence, were arrested April 28 alongside fourteen others at the Beale main gate as they tried to deliver a letter of protest to the base commander. The group was cited for federal trespass and released.

Since the spring of 2014, federal prosecutors in Sacramento have not proceeded with charges against any Beale resisters.


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