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 number.
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.