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OUR VIEW | Bangor Protest Was a Failure That Should Be Harshly Punished

By Staff Reports
Sunday, November 8, 2009

More ways than one, five protesters crossed the line when they trespassed onto Bangor’s Trident submarine base last week.

Monday at about 2 a.m., the group cut their way through Bangor’s perimeter fence, then walked to another area within the base and cut through two more fences into a high security area where nuclear missiles are stored.

That triggered an alarm, and Marine security forces quickly apprehended the group. The protesters, associated with the Plowshares anti-nuclear weapons organization, were all in their 60s or 80s. They are facing possible charges of trespassing and destruction of government property.

Although there have been dozens of protests at the Bangor gates and some demonstrators have been arrested for walking a short distance onto federal property, none has been comparable to Monday morning’s event.

Never before have protesters broken into the base and entered a high security area where nuclear missiles are stored. It’s also the first time that demonstrators have created a situation with the potential for causing death.

One of the protesters said they held up a banner, and when Marine guards approached they put their arms out, gave peace signs and tried to look as non-threatening as possible to keep from being shot.

Protesters say their goal was not to emphasize breaking into the base, but heighten awareness of the “terror” of the Trident system, which they consider “illegal and immoral.”

If that’s really the case, they failed miserably. In a Kitsap Sun poll, 66 percent of 1,265 respondents felt trespassers should punished by jail time; significantly, another 19 percent felt jail was “too lenient.” Only 7 percent felt the protesters should be thanked for their actions.

In general, public reaction seems weighted more toward “bonehead” than “noble.” The fact is, group’s action could be described in the same terms they use for Trident, illegal and immoral.

Trespassing and destruction of government property are manifestly illegal. And immoral? That’s an apt description if a group seeks publicity for its arguable ideology by taking an action that could result in the loss of human life.

A protester acknowledged that possibility when she said they tried to look as non-threatening as possible so they wouldn’t get shot. But it wouldn’t have taken much. If somebody — on either side — made a wrong move at the wrong time, then the protesters’ outing could have ended in tragedy. A protester could have been fatally shot, and for the rest of his life a young Marine might carry the burden of that accidental death. The fact that didn’t happen is testimony to the training, dedication and discipline of those who wear the Marine uniform.

However, there’s also the possibility that Monday’s incursion might inspire others to breach a military base. But with last week’s killings at Fort Hood and the ongoing threat of terrorist activities, it wouldn’t take much for a trespassing to turn tragic. Conversely, there also could be devastating consequences if security forces hesitated, and trespassers who initially looked “non-threatening” were actually terrorists.

The protesters did their cause more harm than good. By acting illegally and putting themselves and others at risk, they widened the gap between their espoused ideology and public acceptance. If you can’t trust someone’s misguided actions, why should you trust the beliefs that motivated them?

Demonstrably, the protesters didn’t achieve their goal of winning ideological converts. Instead — far more constructively — they should win legal penalties of sufficient severity to dissuade others from such actions in the future.

Nov. 12, 2009 Letter to the editor in response to this editorial

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