On July 1st, members of the IVAW bus tour drove near the gate at Fort Benning, Georgia on the Yellow Rose of Texas Bus for Peace, which now says “IRAQ VETERANS AGAINST THE WAR” in large letters across the side. Fort Benning is an open post, and anyone with proper ID is allowed on base. They turned around and parked just outside the gate. As soon as they parked the bus, a Department of the Army police car pulled up behind the bus with its lights on and an officer warned Jim about bringing the bus on post.
Liam Madden and Nate Lewis decided that they would approach the gate on foot to enquire as to whether they would be allowed to enter on foot. It was at that point that two MPs came out from behind the fence and arrested them for “criminal trespassing.” Fort Benning is an open post, and right where these guys walked across is a highway that goes through base year round. They received no warning, and were not told why they were being detained. That was when I got the call in the Bronco while I was out running errands with Steve.
We raced to the gate and got there just in time to see Nate and Liam getting loaded into cruisers. One of the cops came out to where we were standing and explained that “they had been arrested for protesting,” and told us that if anyone crosses the line “in protest,” they will be arrested. We have this on tape. Then the press showed up and wanted a statement, so I waited until they were set up and put a mic on me, and gave a statement to them and for the record to the documentarians who were with us, and our own camera for safety. I changed my shirt so it would be clear I was not protesting and went across to ensure that Liam and Nate were, “afforded the full protection of the law.” You can see a video of that here.
Fortunately, Michael Blake stepped up and dealt with all of the press that came and really did a great job presenting our side of the story as opposed to the Army spokeswoman’s story, which only identified me as a “third unidentified protestor.” We’ve really seen some stupid coverage over this. (But that all pales in comparison to the lie the Marine Corps told about Liam Madden’s response to the plea bargain that, “they were dropping the case because they had ‘received sufficient indication’ from Madden that he would no longer wear his uniform when engaged in political activities. They also determined that his statements did not warrant further action.)
I gave them my driver’s license right away when asked and they immediately called it in and cuffed me. By the time we got to the station, one of the cops that had arrested Liam and Nate, was in their control room checking out my blog. His superior had to say, “Knock that shit off. This isn’t Larry King live.” Then I went to the back to answer questions for some paperwork. When the cop started with, “What is your social security number?” I said, “I prefer not to answer that question.” “What? These are just personal info questions. You have to answer them.” “Don’t I have the right to remain silent?” “But you haven’t been read your rights.” “So?” “Here’s how it works: You answer the personal info questions, then I read you your rights, see, here’s the acknowledgement, then I’ll ask questions about the incident and you can decline to answer them if you want.” I responded, “Are you telling me that I only have my rights after you read them to me? Let me tell you how it works. My rights come from the Constitution, not from you reading them to me. I don’t need to wait for you to give me my rights.”
While he left to finish the paperwork without me, one of the MP Sergeants was sitting in the area so we started chatting about Iraq. He said he pretty much agreed with me about things there, but said it didn’t really matter. I didn’t understand what he meant, but Nate explained to me that he had said something about there being a day of judgment coming and none of this mattered, not even our participation in it. But he was willing to listen with an open mind and think for himself. But then, he did tell me how he was such a big fan of O’Reilly, and he agreed to check out the documentary called Outfoxed, which I described to him as “making fun of O’Reilly especially for telling his guests to shut-up,” and explained how watching Fox News has been statistically proven to make you stupid.
They wouldn’t drop us off at the gate, but drove by it on the way to the official point of drop off for people who are detained on Fort Benning, namely a gas station down the road, that they said was technically on base property. They had forgotten to bring my umbrella, so one of the cops had to drive all the way back to the station and get it, then bring it back. The next day, the documentarians wanted to interview me outside the gate, so after the bus punched out, Steve and Liam (who needed to be advanced party for Philly) and I went to the gate with them in the Bronco. It was then that Liam got a call from an Army JAG saying that he needed to serve us papers for an arraignment the next day. So while I finished the interview, Liam got Nate off the bus and we met with the JAG.
Then we met with a Lawyer in Atlanta. Liam had talked to him earlier, and was waiting for a call back, but since we had nothing else to do, and Atlanta was on the way to Philly, we just went to his office unannounced. But he was happy to see us. He made a few phone calls and got the arraignment that the Army was trying to slap on us for the next day, “for our convenience” pushed back to the 27th so that we could continue with the tour and with the hope that the case might get dropped by then. We’ll see what happens, but as of right now, I plan on having to make another trip down to Georgia.
We still managed to pass the bus well before getting to Philly and started preparing for the fundraiser, which ended up going very well. The next day was supposed to be my day to relax, but the night before I agreed to speak at a press conference/panel talk at an anti-war coalition meeting. Very fun, but not very relaxing. Then we had our show at the Millcreek Tavern, and aside from Sun of None and Head Roc, I also had the pleasure of seeing Ryan Harvey perform a couple of songs.
Today, we had a barbecue at Dyker Beach Park where there were as many cops in attendance as invited guests. The Fort Hamilton Provost Marshal even came out to warn us against bringing the bus near base. The rest of the cops were pretty friendly, and some even partook when invited. When it was time to leave for the concert, they offered to give us a lights-on escort, but they only stayed with us until it was clear we were getting on the bridge and then ditched us. It would seem they are that scared of us talking to soldiers. But we still managed to get one new member and that makes it all worthwhile.