Dog Mad: Dog Smash

Supreme Court Agrees to Decide Vandenberg Protesters’ Right to Assemble

Thursday, June 6, 2013
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WINNING IS THE BEST REVENGE: We live in an age of unlikely heroes, and Hobart Parker is as improbable as they come. A retired ironworker from Lompoc, Parker is rude, crude and socially reprehensible in the extreme. But indirectly because of Parker, the U.S. Supreme Court has just agreed to hear a major case involving Vandenberg Air Force Base and the constitutional rights of protestors to assemble outside that base. For the past 15 years, Parker has waged a one-man protest movement against Vandenberg. But even other protesters who regularly share the streets with Parker have not understood exactly what he’s upset about, or why, on occasion, he’s seen fit to wear his tighty-whities on top of his blue jeans. On occasion, Parker has been known to bend over and modestly moon base personnel. That’s when he wasn’t instructing them to go fornicate a fish or other such biological improbabilities. The miracle Parker demonstrates is that wonderful music can be made on any instrument. Two years ago, Parker ​— ​represented by a federal public defender ​— ​won a major constitutional battle at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals against the base commanders and has called into serious question their assertion of absolute, unilateral, and arbitrary authority to determine who can protest where on the public roads outside one of the nation’s biggest and most strategically important air force bases. In what seemed like a hair-splitting legal technicality, the panel of judges concluded that the base commanders’ authority to limit the public’s freedom to assemble on public property was itself limited because the base did not hold exclusive title to the roads outside the base. In this case, the court noted that the State of California and the County of Santa Barbara both shared an easement over those roads ​— ​and have since 1962 ​— ​which allows the public to traverse. Lacking exclusive jurisdiction, the panel ruled, the base lacked the legal authority to detain and arrest Parker for protesting while on public roads outside the base.

Angry Poodle

Initially, this ruling seemed as peculiar and eccentric as Hobart Parker himself. But it got serious in a hurry when longtime peace activist Dennis Apel ​— ​a social-justice agitator out of the Catholic Worker tradition ​— ​decided to play with it. With astonishing blue eyes and a playful gap-toothed smile, Apel is the boy next door grown into middle age. Except somewhere along the way, Apel had a very atypical midlife crisis, morphing from overachieving trucking-company executive ​— ​in Downey ​— ​into sack-cloth revolutionary with both heart and humor. Operating out of Guadalupe, Apel and his wife, Hortensia Hernandez-Apel, deal with issues like tenants’ rights, health care, hunger, and immigrant rights. But Apel makes it a point to bear witness against the base. Back when the Iraq War was just starting, he sprayed the sign at the base entrance with a syringe full of his own blood. This earned him a “ban and bar” notice, meaning he was not allowed anywhere on the base. That also meant ​— ​at least according to the base commanders ​— ​Apel was not allowed to congregate on the designated protest spot across the street from the base entrance. Over the years, the base has asserted absolute authority to say who could and who could not assemble in the protest zone “for any reason.”

Apel ​— ​a chronic recidivist when it comes to civil disobedience ​— ​has been arrested no less than 17 times for protesting at Vandenberg. On two occasions, he was arrested for actually crossing the green line demarcating the base boundary and trespassing onto the base itself. The other 15 arrests, however, took place in the area across the street from Vandenberg’s entrance, which had been set aside ​— ​at the instigation of the base ​— ​specifically to accommodate protesters. In none of these instances has it been alleged that Apel became violent, obstreperous, unruly, threatening, profane, rude, or even unpleasant. He was just there. Of those 15 arrests, Apel was actually tried for three and found guilty. For one, he spent time behind bars. After the Hobart Parker decision came down two years ago, Apel and a non-attorney friend filed legal papers to have the Hobart decision published after the Feds’ deadline for appeal had expired. That was a seriously slick move. Once Hobart was “published,” it carried the legal weight of precedent. As soon as Apel’s case got to the 9th Circuit Court, his convictions were tossed out.

The military brass freaked, and so did the Feds. As a result, the office of Attorney General Eric Holder filed an appeal to the Supreme Court earlier this year to reverse Apel’s reversal. That same disturbing question mark hovered over countless bases throughout the country, the Feds asserted, and in the balance hung nothing less than a nation’s ability to defend itself. If the brass could not order a civilian ​— ​for any reason ​— ​not to congregate in an area across the road from a military base ​— ​and in this case, at least two football fields away from the base’s first security checkpoint ​— ​then our national security would be threatened. At least that’s the argument. Along the way, Apel petitioned for legal representation. He wound up getting Erwin Chemerinsky ​— ​a certified rock star in the field of constitutional law. In legal papers, Chemerinsky wondered if national security were truly the issue, why would base brass have allowed the construction of a middle school, a bus depot, and an Amtrak station nearly spitting distance from the entrance? Rhetorically, Chemerinksy showed restraint in not taking the last word for himself. Instead, he gave it to former Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall. “The First Amendment does not evaporate with the mere intonation of interests such as national defense, military necessity, or domestic security,” Marshall wrote. “Those interests cannot be involved as a talismanic incantation to support any exercise of power.”

Indeed. I couldn’t have said it any better. I wouldn’t even try.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Fences are an interesting lot as are property lines, after serving at three Federal Intelligence facilities in the DC metro area I have learned that if the fence is placed on the property line and the entrance is place at some distance back from the fenced property line, the security of the facility can be controlled without jeopardizing facility security and would offer a vantage of a "Kill-Zone" in case of an attack between the two. Many facilities control that point electronically (electronic-controlled gate, cameras, Pop-up barriers, gate arms etc.) and offer a safe distance for personnel egress and exit from the site. In a more relaxed time, a mobile gatehouse or hut can be set-up for armed personnel to conduct badge checks and vehicle searches by base personnel, just behind the fenced property line. I have encountered protesters at one such facility and despite one heckler who drew a toy gun on us, he was the only one to be arrested and taken to jail (brandishing a weapon on federal property, toy or not are to be consider all weapons to be real), we at our facility were still in control of our security (we were all federal contractors, not military staff), and had no further issues (no one got shot with anything).

dou4now (anonymous profile)
June 6, 2013 at 7:35 a.m. (Suggest removal)

It's ironic that no one seems to know exactly why this guy is so pissed @ VAFB - when the real question is what does the base have to hide?

Could it be the fact that the base is virtually deserted? Yes, it's true, I got to visit VAFB last year and it's a ghost town!

spiritwalker (anonymous profile)
June 6, 2013 at 10:46 a.m. (Suggest removal)

No, no, VAFB is not a ghost town; it's the new Area 51. There are many aliens living there, as revealed in the thinly fictionalized documentary, 'Men in Black'. This is an incredibly valuable facility - they regulate the lives and activities of aliens on our planet.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
June 6, 2013 at 7:12 p.m. (Suggest removal)

JohnLocke makes a funny post. Well done. Here, have a cookie.

SezMe (anonymous profile)
June 7, 2013 at 3:32 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Drones don't kill people, military personnel don't kill people. Politicians kill people. But some citizens with fringe issues about whacking tar-babies still need a place to protest that's less remote than D.C. They shouldn't forget that blocking the roadway itself now legally constitutes "terrorism" in the long war (?) of GWOT. Follow the money or just wave it goodbye.

Adonis_Tate (anonymous profile)
June 12, 2013 at 3:22 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Attempts at humor notwithstanding, compared to the numbers of the 1970s and 80s, there are almost no air force personnel at VAFB. (And there are hardly any contractors either - if you don't believe me, go to google maps and look at the base parking lots - they're all empty.)

spiritwalker (anonymous profile)
June 12, 2013 at 4:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Eric holder and the Obama administration are no friends of Democracy. 9/11 turned the US into a Police State. Bush was a terrible president. I have come to believe that Obama is no better.

blackpoodles (anonymous profile)
June 16, 2013 at 11:23 p.m. (Suggest removal)

blackpoodles: 9/11 was a crime against democracy engineered by the U.S. government to justify a false-flag attack on Afghanistan and create an atmosphere of paranoia based on a non-existent terrorist threat to justify an authoritarian police state.
Read the 9/11 Commission Report, David Ray Griffin's books,
41 U.S. Counter-Terrorism and Intelligence Agency Veterans Challenge the Official Account of 9/11 – Official Account of 9/11: “Terribly Flawed,” “Laced with Contradictions,” “a Joke,” “a Cover-up”
Anyone who believes the official 9/11 story is either totally ignorant of the facts or has a serious commitment to magical thinking.
The city of SB has a much simpler means of prohibiting public protest, used at the end of summer 2012 - install orange plastic fencing around De la Guerra Plaza, water heavily, and let the grass grow 1 1/2 feet tall. It worked, and sure can't be explained by responsible lawn maintenance, which is to let the grass grow high during the rainy season to encourage root system growth, keep it low and use minimal water during drought. I have a feeling discouraging use by over-watering could also explain the recent flooding of the main library lawn, rather than competition in egregious waste of resources with the county's million or so watts of light pollution at the courthouse.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 1:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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