Report on El Segundo and Vandenberg Demonstrations

August 22-23 2009

From: MacGregor Eddy

On Saturday August 22 and early Sunday morning August 23, there were two demonstrations in opposition to a US ICBM test launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc, CA. The daytime demo was outside the Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, CA.

On Saturday afternoon August 22, about 30 activists demonstrated outside of the Los Angeles Air Force Base (LAAFB) in El Segundo, CA near Los Angeles. The "Space and Missile Center" is used to monitor launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) about 160 miles northwest of LAAFB. The timing was set to precede the test of a Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) from VAFB early the next morning. The Vandenberg and El Segundo bases are also used to receive and distribute communications via satellite for the targeting of conventional weapons by ground forces and airplanes as well as hunter-killer, Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones). These air-strikes are increasingly implicated in widespread civilian casualties despite attempts by the military to downplay them and reduce their number.

There hadn't been a demonstration at LAAFB for many years, so this was seen as groundbreaking by the organizers. Given the obsurity of the base, and the lack of recent organizing about its mission, the turnout was seen as encouraging. More actions will probably be forthcoming.

From midnight until 3:30am Sunday morning about a dozen people also demonstrated outside the main gate of VAFB. Despite the late hour, there was a fair amount of traffic as some members of the base community and press arrived to watch the launch from an official viewing site. At 1:30 am, Fr. Louis Vitale, OFM and Sr. Megan Rice, SHCJ tried to enter the base to present a letter to the base commander from Japanese opponents to such missile tests. A guard did take the letter, though she did not unequivocally state that she would deliver it. When the two activists were stopped from entering the base they knelt and prayed. The citations mentioned "entering federal installation without permission." They were released about an hour later and escorted across the highway from the base entrance. Future legal proceedings are "to be determined;" no date for court appearances were set.

An Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) scheduled to launch from Vandenberg at 3am to Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands 6000 miles away in the South Pacific actually lifted off at 9 am because of some particularly inclement weather in the target area.

 Vandenberg Witness is comprised of a collection of groups actively pursuing disarmament, not merely arms control nor maintaining or furthering the U.S. push for "full spectrum dominance" including using space for making and controlling current war-making. This include the threatened use of nuclear weapons as well as the launch and use of communications satellites to communicate with and guide missiles. These all represent steps backwards in the global goal of increased peace, cooperation and civil resolution of conflicts. More photos of the demonstrations, taken by Jim Haber Coordinator of the Nevada Desert Experience are available from

The Japanese letter, signed by over 150 people and groups, made the point that the US tests ICBMs on a frequent basis, missiles that in fact are functional, can travel over 6000 miles, can be launched on a moment's notice and can carry three nuclear warheads. Such tests make it hypocritical to seriously reprimand or sanction North Korea for its recent missile tests, which also make the signaories nervous, since theirs would actually take 2 to 3 days to prepare for launch, only can travel several hundred miles, not inter-continental, and as yet aren't able of being loaded with nuclear bombs. Until the actions opposing Sunday morning's test launch, they were unaware that the US was testing ICBMs too.

The Minuteman III, expected to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) at 3am to the Reagan Test Site in the Kwajalein Atoll (in the Marshall Islands, 6000 miles away in the South Pacific), actually lifted off at 9 am because of some particularly inclement weather in the target area.

Vandenberg Witness (VW) is comprised of a collection of groups actively pursuing disarmament, not merely arms control nor maintaining or furthering the U.S. push for "full spectrum dominance" in all things military. VW opposes the use of satellites for making and controlling air strikes from hunter-killer unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) as well as the threatened first-use of nuclear weapons and selective threats against countries for their (legal or illegal) nuclear programs. These all represent steps backwards in the global goal of increased peace, cooperation and nonviolent resolution of conflicts. VW also attempts to bring to light the plight of the Marshallese, especially the former inhabitants of Kwajalein, which is one of the world's largest coral reef atolls and lagoons, who have been forced to live nearby on tiny Ebeye Island in one of the poorest and most densely populated places on Earth. Current residents of Kwajalein are mostly US Army contractors, employees of the Reagan Test Site.

Keep Space for Peace Week, October 3 to 10 will be a time to "antitest" and to bring more awareness of the use of space to target weapons that are increasingly implicated in the killing of civilians, and the widespread surveillance of people causing social and political disruption and dislocation. For a list of sponsors and endorsers of the August 22-23 actions, visit the Vandenberg Witness website.

The nighttime demo was held at Vandenberg. Demonstrators also raised the problem of both bases' role in destabilizing surveillance and hunter-killer air strikes that rely on satellite communications for control and guidance. Many civilian casualties are occurring because of these attacks.

(See also the new issue of our newsletter, Desert Voices, online at

25 August 2009
Two arrested at base protest

Protests and arrests mark another successful missile launch at Vandenberg
By Nicholas Walter
Santamaria Sun

Anti-nuke Protestors held a sign denouncing the testing of nuclear weapons - and their potential delivery systems - outside the gates of Vandenberg Air Force base at a recent protest. A monk and a nun walk onto an Air Force base. No, seriously.

In the early hours of Aug. 23, as protesters chanted “Stop the tests!” outside Vandenberg Air Force Base, Father Louis Vitale and Sister Megan Rice crossed the thick blue demarcation line onto base property.

Neither of them had permission.

The pair made it about halfway to the front gate of Vandenberg Air Force Base before the command “Halt! Security forces!” rang out.

Vitale and Rice were confronted by Air Force security. When asked to leave, they knelt, and were promptly arrested for trespassing.

Just another missile launch at Vandenberg.

Father Louis Vitale is no stranger to civil disobedience. In published interviews, the Franciscan monk has tallied up more than 200 arrests.

Vitale was joined outside of Vandenberg by people representing groups such as the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and the Nevada Desert Experience. For the protesters, the missile launch is a symbol of U.S. militarism.

For the Air Force personnel involved, it’s a simple matter of doing their job. Mission director for the launch, Col. Carl T. DeKemper, said in an e-mail statement: “Our team is dedicated to ensuring a credible, safe, and combat-ready ICBM force that convinces potential adversaries of our unwavering commitment to defend our nation, its allies, and friends.”

It’s also a milestone for those involved on both sides: The intercontinental ballistic missle launches at Vandenberg this year represent 50 years of nuclear deterrence. And 50 years ago, a young Louis Vitale took his vows to become a Franciscan.

“It’s an interesting coincidence,” he noted with a small smile just moments before he crossed onto base property.

Vitale—who was in the Air Force before becoming a monk—has a long history with the peace movement. He helped draft resisters during Vietnam, and has protested against torture, UAV drones, and other issues.

At Vandenberg, however, it’s all about the nukes.

“It’s our hope, prayer, our ardent effort to prevent the use of nuclear weapons,” he said. “These missile tests are evidence of our willingness to commit mass murder.”

Vitale was carrying a letter “from the people of Japan,” which he said he received on a recent trip to the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He had hoped to deliver it to the base commander.

To the protesters, like Father Vitale, it doesn’t matter that no nukes are located at Vandenberg. Jim Hayburn coordinated the protest for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. To him and his group, testing the missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads is just as bad.

“They don’t need to,” he said simply. “We’re making such a big fuss over North Korea’s missile tests. Yet these [missiles in the U.S. arsenal] are very operational. Theirs are not. The hoopla we’re raising is the deadliest hypocrisy.”

The protests themselves - apart from Father Vitales’ civil disobedience - are a bit more low-key than in years past, noted Hayburn, who took part in events in the ’80s. Back then, the protests were against MX and Peacekeeper missiles and “used to be intense.”

“We were a little bit more involved back then,” Hayburn said. “People covered the Vandenberg sign with black cloth. Others went into the backcountry on base, by land and sea, to try and disrupt launches.”

Today, most of the protesters are willing to simply be arrested - sometimes.

Ms. MacGregor Eddy got involved with the peace movement during the 2002 run-up to the Iraq War. It was also the first time she had a brush with civil disobedience.

“That was the first time I got arrested,” the silver-haired grandmother said with a chuckle. “I have three grown children, and while they were growing up, I told myself I had an obligation not to get arrested.”

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation isn’t opposed to all military launches, just those involved with the nuclear arsenal, said the foundation’s director of programs, Rick Wayman.

“Our mission as an organization is to end the nuclear weapons threat,” he explained. “Our focus is on the missiles like the Minutemen - things like commercial satellites or weather rockets or whatever else they send up we don’t have a problem with.”

Hayburn agreed that protest groups don’t have a problem with all space launches - even launches from military complexes like Vandenberg. Their issue is solely with those launches that push the military into orbit.

“We’re against the militarization of space,” he said. “The push for full-spectrum militarization [of space] makes a lie out of the United States’ calls for world peace.”

After all was said and done, the Minuteman III missile launched at 9:01 a.m. and carried its unarmed reentry vehicle approximately 4,190 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, according to a statement from Vandenberg.

Contact Staff Writer Nicholas Walter at

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