“Peace Activist Vows to Defy Court”
“Antiwar Demonstrator Among Six Found Guilty for Protest at Sen. Pete Domenici’s Office”
Santa Fe New Mexican, Friday, January 25, 2008
By Doug Mattson
ALBUQUERQUE — Rev. John Dear vowed Thursday to defy a federal court order sentencing him to six months’ probation in connection with an anti-war protest in Santa Fe in September 2006.
Dear said he also refused to pay a $500 fine and will not perform 40 hours of community service ordered by federal Magistrate Don Svet because “my whole life is community service.”
According to Dear, he has 100 speeches scheduled around the world this year, and despite the judge’s order that he remain in New Mexico for six months, “I will continue to go to all unless they put me in prison.”
“I will go to jail eventually,” Dear said. But, he added, “as a Christian, I have to speak out against the war. It is a great blessing to be in trouble for speaking out for peace.”
The day before receiving his sentence, Dear learned the International Association of Educators for World Peace, a global nonprofit, had nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. He also said he has been nominated for the Gandhi Peace Prize [awarded] by the government of India.
Dear is one of nine anti-war protesters who were charged with failing to comply with signs and regulations while occupying a federal-building elevator in Santa Fe in 2006. He had faced up to 30 days in jail for his misdemeanor conviction, and he told Svet to put him behind bars if the judge supported the war in Iraq, according to his lawyer, Penni Adrian. If the judge opposed the war, Dear said, he should be allowed to go unpunished.
Adrian said the judge was rude to Dear, a longtime peace activist. “He said, ‘You’re no Gandhi; you’re a fraud’ … you know, things I wouldn’t have said,” according to Adrian.
Of the nine people originally charged, six, including Dear, were found guilty at trial of failure to obey a sign. Two others entered Alford pleas — in which they didn’t admit guilt but acknowledged the evidence was sufficient for conviction — and the last was a juvenile whose case was dismissed.
The nine were seeking to have U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., sign a “Declaration of Peace” at the senator’s Santa Fe office. When a Domenici staff member said only three people could go to the office, the nine went into the elevator anyway, and the electricity was turned off. They sat inside reading the names of American soldiers and Iraqis killed in the war before they were removed and cited.
Adrian and lawyer Todd Hotchkiss represented the final six defendants pro bono, or free of cost.
“This is the kind of case I went to law school for,” Adrian said. “I think our right to speak freely to seek redress from our government is really as close to a guarantee as we have.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Pflugrath disagreed that the case was about free speech. He said the protesters shut down the federal building, keeping people from using the post office.
“This is not a case about First Amendment rights,” he said after sentencing. “This is a case about people’s rights to use the elevator. It is not a place to hold a demonstration.”
About two dozen anti-war demonstrators, some holding signs, stood outside the federal court building before the sentencing Thursday.
Dear said his autobiography will be published in September, and the film rights have been sold.