Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness


You have to wonder if the Department of Homeland Security is insecure or just lame.

On New Years’ Eve, I was about to board a flight to Hamburg, when a pair of its officers stopped me to ask a few questions. My mistake was not to demand to know their names, their jobs, and if I was under arrest. Instead, I calmly answered their irrelevant queries. Nothing they asked related to anybody’s homeland.

The three pieces of paper that one officer handed to me did not concern me or my travel plans. They were sections of the United States Code regarding “subversive activities” at US military sites. I was headed here to Germany to attend the appeal court hearing of a nuclear weapons abolitionist, Gerd Büntzly, whom I joined in 2017, along with three other US citizens, in a protest at the German Air Base Büchel. There are 20 US nuclear weapons at the base (so-called B61-3s or B61-4s) but it’s a German base. The US Air Force just works there under the name “702nd Munitions Support Squadron” to cynically guard, support and train German pilots in use of the US H-bombs upon order of the president. A US flag flies over the base’s entrance next to its German counterpart.

Gerd, 68, a music teacher, violinist, and orchestral arranger from Herford, Germany, intends to testify at his own appeal that nonviolent resistance at the Büchel base is a lawful act of crime prevention, because Germany and the United States deploy US nuclear bombs in violation of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and other treaties both countries have ratified.

The NPT prohibits any transfer of nuclear weapons to or from other states that have signed it. To rationalize its nuclear lawlessness, the United States claims: (1) Its hydrogen bombs in Germany are under USAF control at the base until war starts; and (2) The NPT doesn’t apply in wartime (Ha!) when the bombs would be transferred to German Tornado fighter jets flown by Germany’s Tactical Air Force Wing 33 in Büchel. Talk about subversive activities at a military base.

One officer wanted a look inside my cornet case even though it had already passed two sets of airport security. (You never know about cornet players!) The other officer asked if I knew it was unlawful to enter a military installation without permission. Having done so in two dozen protests, I said yes.

After quickly skimming the web-site-generated sections of the US Code, I asked why an officer he was giving them to me. He said, “So you can’t say you haven’t been warned.” But none of the text involved warnings, just federal statutory facts. The US Code is addressed to the US population as a whole. This material I had was not addressed to me, had no date, nor the name of an issuing officer. Two pages had a D.H.S. seal shabbily stamped in red and came complete with comical errors: One elaborately defined federal misdemeanor was said to have a penalty upon conviction of “a fine not to exceed 000.” Wow, some warning.

The airport interruption was perhaps a sort of “proof of surveillance” demonstration by the cops — a useless and absurd one. One officer then felt the need to inform me that, “‘No trespassing’ signs at military bases are written in English.” I thought, what would become of the nation without the stern Dept. of Homeland Security?! I walked down the causeway to my seat.

Perhaps the attempted scare tactic was actually a message meant for everyone else but me. By reporting to others about the Minneapolis airport delay, maybe I only help the D.H.S. put on notice those readers who may for the first time be considering opposition to US militarism.

What the D.H.S. hasn’t figured out is that hokey theatrics used to shoo people away from political dissent only succeed against those few activists who were born yesterday. There are just too many time-honored, practical, hard-headed, ethical and strategic reasons for nonviolent political action to ever intimidate committed loudmouths.

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.