Germany to Jail US Activist for Protesting
US Nuclear Weapons on German Soil
John Forge / The Nuclear Resister
HAMBURG (January 3, 2023) — Amidst heightened nuclear tension between NATO and Russia in Europe, for the first time a US peace activist has been ordered by a German court to serve jail time there for protests against US nuclear weapons stationed at Germany’s Büchel Air Force Base, 80 miles southeast of Cologne.
The Koblenz Regional Court notice of August 18, 2022 requires John LaForge to report to JVA Billwerder in Hamburg on January 10, 2023. LaForge will be the first American ever jailed for a nuclear weapons protest in Germany.
The 66-year-old Minnesota native and co-director of Nukewatch, the Wisconsin-based advocacy and action group, was convicted of trespass in Cochem District Court for joining in two “go-in” actions at the German airbase in 2018. One of the actions involved entering the base and climbing atop a bunker that likely housed some of the approximately twenty US B61 thermonuclear gravity bombs stationed there.*
Germany’s Regional Court in Koblenz affirmed his conviction and lowered the penalty from €1,500 to €600 ($619) or 50 “daily rates”, which translates to 50 days incarceration. LaForge has refused to pay and has appealed the convictions to Germany’s Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, the country’s highest, which has not yet ruled in the case.**
In the appeal, LaForge argues that both the District Court in Cochem and the Regional Court in Koblenz erred by refusing to consider his defense of “crime prevention,” thereby violating his right to present a defense. Both courts ruled against hearing from expert witnesses who had volunteered to explain the international treaties that prohibit any planning for mass destruction.
In addition, the appeal argues, Germany’s stationing of the US nuclear weapons is a violation of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which explicitly forbids any transfer of nuclear weapons between countries that are parties to the treaty, including both the US and Germany.
The appeal also argues that the practice of “nuclear deterrence” is an ongoing criminal conspiracy to commit vast, disproportionate, and indiscriminate destruction using the US hydrogen bombs stationed at Büchel.
Over a dozen German anti-nuclear resisters and one Dutch citizen have been jailed recently for nonviolent actions taken at the controversial NATO “nuclear sharing” base.
1) De Morgen (Antwerp), July 16, 2019, Ann De Boeck, “Finally in black and white: there are American nuclear weapons in Belgium”, <https://www.demorgen.be/nieuws/eindelijk-zwart-op-wit-er-liggen-amerikaanse-kernwapens-in-belgie~b051dc18/>;
(2) The Washington Post, July 19, 2016, “The US stores nuclear weapons in Turkey,” by Dan Lamothe, <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/07/19/an-old-nuclear-weapons-deal-raises-new-questions-about-u-s-bombs-in-turkey/>;
(3) The Stimson Center, August 15, 2016, “US Nuclear Weapons in Turkey at Risk of Seizure by Terrorists, Hostile Forces”, <https://www.stimson.org/2016/us-nuclear-weapons-turkey-risk-seizure-terrorists-hostile-forces/>;
(4) Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 67, No. 1, online Nov. 27, 2015, pp. 64-73, “US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, 2011,” <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1177/0096340210393931?>;
(5) “The Pentagon also stores about 50 tactical nuclear weapons at Incirlik”, New York Times, Oct. 22, 2019, p. A9, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Eric Schmitt, “Despite Vow to End ‘Endless Wars,’ Here’s Where About 200,000 Troops Remain,” <https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/21/world/middleeast/us-troops-deployments.html>.
John LaForge infiltrated Büchel Airbase in July, 2018
Why Not Pay Fine for
Actions Against Nuclear Threats?
I’ve been sentenced to a 50-day jail term in Germany for refusing to pay fines imposed for trespass convictions after two “go-in” actions against nuclear weapons threats. The actions were two uninvited entries into Germany’s Büchel Air Base where up to 20 US hydrogen bombs are stationed under a policy called “nuclear sharing.” The sentence will begin January 10 at the Billwerder prison in Hamburg.
I’ve appealed the convictions to the Constitutional Court, Germany’s highest, which has yet to issue a decision. The appeal complains that expert witnesses in international law — who were prepared to validate my defense of “crime prevention” — were not allowed testify, effectively eliminating my right to present a defense.
My refusal to pay the fine raises a lot of questions, principally: Why not avoid prison and just pay?
One reason is because my protest was not wrong or a mistake in any sense, whereas paying the fine implies I’m guilty of some sort of offense or misconduct. Further, agreeing to pay has the appearance of an apology or remorse on my part when none is warranted.
I believe any nonviolent action against preparations to commit mass destruction with nuclear weapons is in the public interest. Further, my so-called “trespass” was an attempt at crime prevention, or interference with ongoing government criminality, and as such was a civic duty.
Refusing to pay fines for nonviolent resistance to nuclear war preparations is, from my position of privilege, also an act of solidarity with the poor, the undocumented, and the outcasts who often don’t have resources or connections enough to purchase their way out of pre-trial detention or incarceration for minor offenses.
In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as Dr. King said. The ongoing threat to attack people with nuclear weapons (known as “deterrence”) is prohibited by international law. My go-in actions at Büchel were based on international legal obligations, which in the words of the Nuremberg Principles “bind every citizen just as does ordinary municipal law.”
Plans for massacres routinely practiced under nuclear sharing and nuclear deterrence policy are prohibited and have been criminalized by the combined obligations — considered as a whole — set out in the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the Hague Conventions, the Nuremberg Charter, Principles, and Judgment, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), and the US and German federal constitutions. I hope never to pay respect to governments that declare that its ratified treaties are the “supreme law” but then proceed to wantonly violate them.
The latest and best condemnations of the threat to use nuclear weapons are found in the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and the 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice.
The NPT is particularly key to my case, because its Articles I and II explicitly prohibit any transfer whatsoever of nuclear weapons from one country to another. Confirmation of this prohibition is Article 31 of the 1969 Vienna Convention or “The Law of Treaties,” which states that “A treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty…”
It can never be a crime to interfere with the deployment, rehearsals for use, or the threatened use of nuclear weapons, or to resist the US and German governments’ joint plans to commit indiscriminate, uncontrollable mass destruction using firestorms and radiation.
No criminal conspiracy of any kind anywhere compares to the level of deliberate public lawbreaking inherent in our famously “credible” nuclear weapons threats. Rather than a trespass, my peaceful interference with nuclear attack machinery is justifiable, preventative, precautionary, and lawful.
Court systems in Germany and the US have labored to dismiss this lawful defense of necessity and to ignore their own constitutional mandate to abide by international treaties. Instead, when courts in both countries have been confronted with the treaty obligations outlined above, they have routinely denied their applicability in protest cases involving nuclear weapons.
Courts in Germany have gone so far as to say that because Germany and the US have agreed to nuclear sharing, the practice is therefore legitimate. This argument is a sham, akin to organized crime’s collusion with police authorities who are paid off to overlook criminal conduct, rewarded for protecting it with political and judicial winks and nods that deny the obvious.
I have presented to the courts in Cochem, Koblenz, and Karlsruhe the facts about nuclear weapons, their effects, the government’s preparations for using them against civilians, and the treaties that forbid any such planning for massacres.
By ignoring or denying these facts, the judges are guilty of pretending the criminality of deterrence is lawful, and they are complicit in the self-destructive maintenance of prohibited and suicidal nuclear threats.
It is naïve or mentally unbalanced to act as if this charade is not homicidal and suicidal. Otherwise the courts are cynically corrupt to ignore the criminal intent of the governments of Germany and the United States regarding nuclear sharing.
I hope to be able to stand up to the courts’ coercion and intimidation, and to refuse to cooperate, paraphrasing Thoreau, with such a government that is the nuclear terror’s government also.
John LaForge is a co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.