Drone protestor cited
Chico woman charged with trespassing after walking onto Beale Air Force Base
Chris Nelson and Michael Pike were longtime protesters of what they saw as the world’s injustices. It was fitting, then, that during Nelson’s most recent fight—against the military’s use of drone warfare—she was detained with a photograph of her late husband in her hands.
Nelson was cited on federal trespassing charges at Beale Air Force Base on Nov. 25 as she tried to deliver a handwritten letter to the base commander. For the past three years, there have been monthly protests at the base over the military’s use of drones and what President Obama calls “targeted killings.”
The letter, she said, was written on the back of a framed portrait of Pike, a Vietnam veteran who served two tours as a Green Beret and in later years became a war protester. Pike died on Sept. 27, just a few weeks after appearing at a Chico City Council meeting to speak against efforts to place military banners on streetlight poles.
Still in a state of profound loss, Nelson said she spent the night next to Beale’s main entrance in a tent with another protester named Shirley Osgood, who’s been arrested for protesting four times in the past three years.
The next morning, she walked onto the base carrying the framed photograph of Pike in his Green Beret uniform, and the letter addressed to the base commander that she’d written the night before. She never saw the commander and was instead detained at the guard station, where she was patted down and fingerprinted. The base’s public relations office reportedly told her that the commander is a very busy man.
She was held for about an hour before being released.
The letter begins: “My husband Michael Pike died in September of Agent Orange related cancer. My husband was Special Forces in Vietnam and came to regret his role in the war and what the U.S. government did. I am here today in loving memory of that fine man to ask you to stop your role in the kill-chain which uses the Northrup Grumman Global Hawk drone to identify human targets for extrajudicial execution. This is neither lawful (international and higher law) nor moral and you must know that. Horrible acts, like drone strikes, are leading to the atrocities we are seeing now. Inhumanity met with inhumanity.”
It goes on to say the country has lost its moral compass, that military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are doomed to fail and will only result in soldiers losing “their lives, their limbs and their mental health. What a shame!”
She closes the letter by asking the commander to publicly discuss the ethical issues surrounding the use of drones, call for a moratorium on drone targeting and join the efforts of the peaceful protesters “in seeking diplomatic nonviolent avenues in working with those who would do us harm.”
Nelson said she will get a notice to appear in federal court in Sacramento to answer to the trespassing charge and that there most likely will be demonstrators at the courthouse.
“Someday, somebody is going to notice what we do out there,” she said.
The number of protesters at the base varies, and while there were only a few at the latest effort, as many as 50 have participated. She said the base monitors the protesters’ Facebook page and website and will reroute traffic coming onto the base.
“Sometimes we block traffic and the county law enforcement will show up,” she said. “I’m not comfortable with blocking traffic, but support those who do. We have to make a difference and try to shine a light on what the U.S. government is doing.”
Thirty years ago, Nelson was arrested in Chico after chaining herself with other protesters to the door of the Internal Revenue Service office on Rio Lindo Avenue to protest U.S. military intervention in Central America. That same day, Pike was one of six people arrested in the district office of then-Congressman Gene Chappie for a similar protest. Pike and Nelson would marry 18 years later.
As Nelson left Beale on Nov. 25, she stopped to visit an olive tree recently planted close to the base as a tribute to Pike.
“It’s hard to guess what he would have said about me getting federal trespass charges,” she said, “but I have no regrets.”