What Americans Really Have to Fear
Violation of Rights by Military
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
By Scott Fina
Santa Maria Times
Protestors gather in front of Vandenberg Air Force
Base on Sunday. Photo credit: Ian Gonzaga, Santa Maria Times
I was among the several people arrested on Sunday, January 31,
while protesting outside the main gate of Vandenberg Air Force Base. The purpose
of my protest was to criticize the development, maintenance, and potential use
of nuclear weapons by the United States.
I believe the nuclear arsenal of the United States–the largest and most
advanced in the world–contributes to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Consider the perspective of countries like North Korea and Iran. If the most
powerful nation in the world with the greatest military capability finds it
necessary to maintain several thousand nuclear warheads, why shouldn’t
they have some? Moreover, the more prevalent nuclear weapons become, the more
likely terrorists are to obtain the materials needed to construct one.
On Sunday I was also protesting the American development of a space-based,
anti-missile defense system. This system undermines our previous and future
efforts at negotiating nuclear treaties with Russia and China. So my protest
on Sunday, at heart, concerned the security of the United States and the world.
The story of my arrest on Sunday (along with six other people) outside the
gate of Vandenberg Air Force Base, however, had nothing to do with the security
of our country–although we were cited for a “violation of a security
regulation” (50 USC Sec 797). If convicted, my fellow protestors and I
face a potential fine of $5,000 and up to one year in prison. The real story
of our arrests concerns the United States Constitution.
Most of us were arrested for refusing to present government identification
to the military security officials. All of us were orderly and peaceful. None
of us was interrupting base operations. Most were elderly (several in their
70s and 80s). We were simply standing quietly along the shoulder of Route 1
holding peace signs. We were protesting in a location and at a time pre-arranged
with Vandenberg Base security. Base security officials were expecting us and
knew our purpose.
If there was one group of people that Vandenberg security officials did not
have to be concerned about, it was the 11 grey haired protestors standing outside
the gate under the scrutiny of at least a dozen soldiers in a place and time
known in advance by the base.
Nonetheless, shortly after the protest began, the soldiers came out through
the main gate of Vandenberg, and, while filming us, requested that we each provide
government identification under the threat of arrest and criminal charges. While
they confronted us outside the gate along Route 1, the soldiers ignored numerous
people in civilian clothing that drove past us through the gate and onto the
base. The soldiers did not know the purpose of these civilians or the contents
of their cars. In fact, had I not been part of the protest, I could have driven
my car 50 yards past the protest site onto the base and left it in a parking
lot without being confronted and ordered to present identification. People in
civilian clothing can also walk past the protest site onto the base to wait
for a public bus without being stopped and ordered to present identification.
I and my associates, holding peace signs, provided the soldiers with no reason
to believe (i.e., no probable cause) that we were a threat to base security
or operations. We did make it obvious that we were critical of nuclear weapons
and space-based, anti-missile systems.
We refused to comply with the orders of the soldiers because, as peaceful and
orderly citizens, we are afforded a right to privacy inherent in the Fourth
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. By ordering us to present identification
and then arresting us because we refused to do so–without probable cause
that we were a security risk or were committing a crime–the soldiers violated
our protection against unlawful search and arrests under the Fourth Amendment.
The fact that the soldiers singled us out on the basis of our protest (while
ignoring other civilians who actually penetrated the base gate) violated our
right to free speech under the First Amendment.
When I was confronted by the soldiers, I declared that I had no intention of
compromising base security and operations. I admitted that I had a government-issued
identification on my person, but refused to present it because of my Constitutional
protections. Ironically, no soldier or security official ever looked at my government
issued identification while I was arrested, handcuffed, searched, had the contents
taken out of my pockets (including my wallet with my identification); finger
printed, photographed, and released. In fact, the soldier writing out my citation
simply trusted me to state my correct name, age, address, and Social Security
If it was so vital for security purposes that my failure to present a government
issued identification outside the base gate should lead to my arrest
and possible imprisonment, why didn’t any Vandenberg base official look
at my government-issued identification while I was in their custody for hours
inside the base gate?
Nothing is more detrimental to American freedom and security than a military
that ignores the rights of peaceful and lawful citizens. Americans don’t
need intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads to keep them
safe; they need their soldiers to uphold and defend the law of the land.
Scott Fina, of Santa Maria, is a former trooper with the New Jersey State
Police. He served for several years on its special teams unit, where he worked
with the Secret Service in protecting President Ronald Reagan and Vice President
George H. Bush. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Temple University.
This is the first time he has ever been arrested for anything.
Vandenberg Protesters Arrested