A former Army Brigadier General was busted two ranks and fined $20,000 this year after being charged with sexual assault of an Army Captain — a subordinate he reportedly threatened to kill if she revealed their affair. Jeffrey A. Sinclair’s multiple convictions should have gotten him thrown out of the military, sent to prison and registered as a sexual predator, but the judge in the case, Col. James L. Pohl, allowed him to retire as a Lt. Col. with full benefits and a $105,000 pension. Sinclair, 51, spent 28 years in the Army.
Meanwhile Nukewatch just celebrated the retirement of peace activist Bonnie Urfer, 62, who has stopped answering the Nukewatch phone after co-directing here for 28 years.
Bonnie won’t get a pension from our small, non-profit nuclear watchdog, just her $662.00-per-month Social Security check which amounts to about $8,000 a year (Col. Sinclair will get $8,750 every month). This is no hardship since Bonnie is a master of political economy and downward mobility. She lives rent-free and mortgage-free in a house she helped build with her own hands at the Plowshares Land Trust. She grows her own vegetables and has reduced her expenses to a fraction of what most North Americans mistakenly believe to be bare minimum. Property taxes, groceries, gas, dog food and vet’ bills, insurance, art supplies, sundries and an internet connection are about all she needs to cover.
Bonnie’s conscientiously self-limited income keeps her from supporting the war system which now gets about half of everyone’s federal income taxes. Living under the taxable limit has always been part of her life of resisting militarism in thought, word and deed.
Bonnie’s been focused and committed in her work for nuclear disarmament and has done every sort of action to shine some light on the weapons complex: from interrupting a Gulf War “victory” parade in Madison, and sitting-in at the Oak Ridge, Tenn. H-bomb factory, to shutting down Wisconsin’s former nuclear first-strike ELF antenna with peace activist Michael Sprong (using Swede saws). She’s served a total of over six and a half years in jail and prison for taking part in about 100 civil resistance actions. In addition to her Nukewatch work, she’s spent five decades using her art and direct action in defense of women’s rights and gender equality, and against any sort of bullying, sexual harassment or abuse. With Jane Simons she helped found the Women’s Jail Project in Madison, Wis.
Compare her record to that of Sinclair, which the Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, condemned as displaying “a pattern of … illegal behavior both while serving as a brigadier general and a colonel.” Sinclair was initially charged with forcible sodomy, wrongful sexual conduct, wrongful personal relationships with subordinates, misuse of gov’t charge cards (he arranged trysts with it), maltreatment of subordinates and conduct unbecoming an officer. The L.A. Times reported that the Army Captain who was his mistress accused Sinclair of threatening to kill her and her parents if she divulged their affair and of groping and fondling her against her will in public. The charges of sexual violence and assault carried a possible life sentence and registration as a sex offender.
But Sinclair’s more serious charges were dismissed. He pleaded guilty to “maltreatment,” adultery, soliciting explicit pictures from female officers, using derogatory and demeaning language toward female officers, impeding an investigation, disobeying an Order to stay away from the Captain, and Army travel card theft. Jamie Bartlett, a lawyer for the Captain, called the sentence “a travesty” and said, “Now the Army has to face the reality that this is likely to happen again, and victims will be less likely to come forward.”
In contrast, Bonnie wears her peace activism and years of incarceration almost anonymously as something of a badge of honor as she embarks on new adventures — although her “record” will keep her from landing conventional jobs for some pocket money. Conversely, Sinclair’s solid gold plea bargain and military record of warrior heroics and ambitious rank-climbing guarantee him a fat pension and decades in which to pursue a second income-doubling career — probably with weapons contractors.
Sinclair’s lawyer said after sentencing, “He is a highly decorated war hero who made great sacrifices for his country, and it’s right that he be permitted to retire honorably.” Now, thanks to the Army Captain who leveled the charges, Sinclair will be remembered mostly as a violent, abusive sexual predator.
Bonnie on the other hand, with decades of simple, sustainable living and 35 years of nonviolent resistance to sexism, militarism and nuclear madness, is simultaneously a humble (if impish) laughing Buddha and a luminous living example of how a person can enjoy life harmlessly, thrive while living below a taxable income and still shame the devil every day.
John LaForge works for Nukewatch and lives on the Plowshares Land Trust near Luck, Wisc.