Jailing an Anti-Drone Protester

As the U.S. government fights its endless wars around the globe, some Americans are moving beyond despair and confusion to challenge the military machine, people like Mary Anne Grady Flores, who was sentenced to six months in jail for photographing an anti-drone protest, writes Bill Moyers.

By Bill Moyers

Mary Anne Grady Flores is in jail today and American citizens everywhere can surely breathe a sigh of relief that we are safe from her criminal behavior at least for the next six months.

That’s the length of the sentence this 59-year-old peace activist in upstate New York began on Tuesday, one day after the United States honored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for his commitment to nonviolent civil disobedience. If he were here today, the martyred Dr. King would surely be shaking his head that America still has a problem with peaceful dissenters of conscience.

A Predator drone firing a missile.

A Predator drone firing a missile.

And what exactly did Grady Flores do to warrant spending the next six months in jail? She photographed a peaceful protest outside Hancock Field Air National Guard Base near Syracuse, New York. The base is where the U.S. trains pilots to launch drone strikes in the Middle East, particularly in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.

It wasn’t a crime for her to be taking pictures of the demonstration, but when she briefly and unintentionally, yes, unintentionally, stepped onto a road that belongs to the base, she violated what authorities called “an order of protection,” which had been issued in 2012 to forbid protesters from approaching the home or workplace of Col. Earl Evans, a commander of the 174th Attack Wing of the Air National Guard. She had never met Evans, never threatened him, never showed any intention of harming him.

Nonetheless, a town justice, David Gideon, issued the order to “protect” the Colonel from the activists. That’s right, the commander of a major military operation, piloting drones on lethal missions half-way around the world, requested a court order of protection against a group of mostly gray-haired demonstrators whom he had never met.

In stepping briefly on the roadway at the base, Grady Flores violated that order, despite the fact that, as she says, “We weren’t at the security gate. We were out at the roadway.”

Now get this: The order issued by Judge Gideon was of the sort commonly used against victims of sexual or domestic abuse. “The legal terms ‘victim’ and ‘witness’ have been expanded in this case in a way that’s new and unique in the state of New York,” said attorney Lance Salisbury at a press conference before Grady Flores was hauled off to jail.

Grady Flores had protested outside the base before. She belongs to The Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, which has criticized the drone program since 2010, calling for a change in policy to uphold life and law.

President Obama and the Pentagon insist that using drones in pursuit of terrorists causes minimal civilian casualties and protects American troops, but Grady Flores takes issue with that justification. She told us she had been moved, in particular, by reports of the staggering numbers of civilians killed by U.S. drones, and she says her fears were confirmed by documents recently leaked to journalists at The Intercept revealing that during one five-month stretch, 90 percent of those killed in one part of Northeastern Afghanistan were not the intended target.

Grady Flores says she was also shaken by the 2013 testimony before Congress of a family from Pakistan that had suffered a drone strike in North Waziristan. A grandmother of three herself, Grady Flores listened as Rafiq ur Rehman recounted his mother’s death in the presence of her grandchildren.

“She was out in the fields picking okra with the kids around and a drone strike happened, and she was sent to four winds now the kids live in terror,” Grady Flores recalls.

“That’s why citizens are at the gates of Hancock,” says Grady Flores. “That’s why we’re there.”

Grady Flores was arrested in 2012, when she and 16 others blocked the entrance to the base, prompting the request from the military for the order of protection. When she was arrested again a year later, not for protesting herself but for stepping on the road outside the base and taking pictures of others who were protesting, she was found to be in violation of that protection order. And the protestors she was photographing? They were acquitted.

Justice David Gideon threw the book at her. He sentenced her to a year, claiming in his five-page ruling that he didn’t buy her First Amendment argument. Instead, he thought she “was willing to ‘break the law’ to seek publicity for her cause.” After an appeal, her sentence was shortened to six months.

Before she went to jail, she told us: “I asked my grandchildren, ‘Do you know where I’m going?’ and they said, ‘yeah, you’re going to jail, Nana.’”

She told us that it is difficult to leave her 88-year-old mother who is ailing, but that her mother appreciates her carrying on in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King and the iconic Catholic activist Dorothy Day, with whom her mother once worked. Day famously said, “No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”

Grady Flores says her mother’s good-bye shared that sentiment, “Mom said to me, ‘I’ll pray for you, I’ll be with you in that cell.’ She said it in a whisper, but she’s grateful that I’m continuing the work.”

Reporting by Gail Ablow and John Light.

Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, where this article first appeared.

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16 comments for “Jailing an Anti-Drone Protester

  1. William Soko
    January 27, 2016 at 3:03 am

    When the ‘militarists’ get control of any country it is doomed to disaster. History is littered with examples of psychopaths gaining control and destroying their country. There are many steps on the way to total military control and one is to punish ANYONE who is deemed by some lunatic in a position of ‘power’ as a threat to the militarist state. Putting critics or ‘humanists’ in jail on a technicality really excites the psychopaths. For irrational power is their god. Remember Japan; an independent country taken over by militarists around 1900. They lost their whole country! Taken by another with 2 atomic blasts as a final send off. Now the USA is well down its own path to destruction. Its about two minutes to midnight and the population is paralyzed.

  2. Deschutes
    January 22, 2016 at 10:42 am

    wow what a fucked up country the USA is.

  3. george mcglynn
    January 21, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    Ms. Grady tries to bring sanity to the situation and ends up in jail.

    • Steve Naidamast
      January 21, 2016 at 4:30 pm

      What do you expect in a nut-house???

  4. J'hon Doe II
    January 21, 2016 at 12:09 pm
  5. One
    January 21, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    This is absoluely ridiculous. That crminal judge should be in jail for an obsruction of justice!

  6. J'hon Doe II
    January 21, 2016 at 10:44 am

    Add this injustice to the rapidly growing list of ludicrous decisions diminishing our “freedoms” while advancing authoritarian rule.

    Militarism and Materialism (advance of the 1%) – as MLK assured = spiritual death.

    In 21st century America, the veracious rule of law is being supplanted by the treacherous rule of money and the forewarned dreadful military industrial complex.

    • J'hon Doe II
      January 22, 2016 at 12:01 am

      Signs of moral decay (“spiritual death”) abound; accelerated drug addition via heroin exports from Afghanistan. Crumbling municipal standards as with the contaminated water episode in Flint, Michigan. Uncontrolable toxic gas leak over 30,000 homes in a SoCal neighborhood. Homelessness abounds as city streets are increasingly lined with tents and shopping carts. Drought in the West – Floods/Tornadoes in the South & MidWest. Insane costs of medical care/medicines. Every news day brings some new horrid event. Philanthropy diminishes as Austerity increases.
      This is America???
      ………………………….

      Oxfam Report Blames Tax Havens for Income Inequality
      JANUARY 20, 2016

      Tax havens are partly to blame for the rising level of income inequality, according to a new report from Oxfam America.

      The report, An Economy for the 1%, describes how the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population, encompassing more than 3.6 billion people, has fallen by a trillion dollars (or about 41 percent) since 2010. In contrast, the wealth of the richest 62 people has increased by more than half a trillion dollars to $1.76 trillion.

      According to the report, an estimated $7.6 trillion worth of individual wealth sits offshore, one-twelfth of the total. Oxfam said that if tax were paid on the income that this wealth generates, an extra $190 billion would be available to governments every year.

      Oxfam pointed out that nine out of 10 of this year’s World Economic Forum corporate partners have a presence in at least one tax haven. It estimates that tax dodging by multinational corporations costs developing countries at least $100 billion every year. Corporate investment in tax havens nearly quadrupled from 2000 to 2014.

      Other factors are also to blame besides taxes, such as wage stagnation. One of the other key trends behind rising inequality outlined in Oxfam’s report is the declining share of national income going to workers in nearly all developed and most developing countries and a widening gap between pay at the top and the bottom of the income scale. In the United States, the salaries of CEOs at the top companies have increased by half since 2009, while ordinary wages have hardly moved up. The minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 since 2009, while the cost of living has surged.
      http://www.accountingtoday.com

  7. Mike Lamb
    January 21, 2016 at 8:34 am

    Just as an aside, do you think she would have received better treatment had she changed her name to Bundy, picked up a gun, taken over a bird sanctuary in Oregon, and then ordered pizza to be delivered?

  8. Mike Lamb
    January 21, 2016 at 8:31 am

    Just as an aside, do you think she would have received better treatment had she changed her name to Bundy, picked up a gun, taken over a bird sanctuary in Oregon, and then ordered pizza to be delivered?

    • Joe Tedesky
      January 21, 2016 at 9:57 am

      Mike good insight. While the Bundy clan advocates privatizing government land for corporate use, grandma Grady Flores is trying to draw attention to America’s murdering innocent civilians. Grady Flores is being made an example of what not to do, and for this she must leave her 88 year old mother alone without help. Sorry, but in my mine her sentence is a crime, but who cares about old people when war is at hand. Our justice system is no longer just, and injustice is the order of the day to keep Americans safe. Oh, and let’s not lose sleep while waiting for our wonderful Main Stream Media hacks to report on this, because their busy keeping us all informed to what the Donald has to say. Grandma can eat jail pizza, and that’s the way it is this January 21 of 2016.

  9. Zachary Smith
    January 21, 2016 at 12:57 am

    Col Earl A Evans

    This fellow really does deserve to be promoted to Brigadier General. 58-year-old grandmothers armed with deadly cameras are a little-known risk to soldiers like the brave Evans. A perfect example of how donning an American Uniform turned a bedwetter needing Court Protection into an all-American hero.

    Judge David Gideon

    http://ithacavoice.com/2014/07/editorial-sentence-ithaca-drones-protester-farce-outrage/

    The guy made a point of trying to crucify the woman. I did learn he’s a Republican. Now the existence of Hillary Clinton proves a nominal Democrat can be a dyed-in-the-wool Zionist, but how many Republican politicians at any level can you name who aren’t supporters of everything Israel wants done?

    Those loons in Oregon are trashing a bird preserve while toting around their look-alike military rifles. Maybe we ought to try to get Judge David Gideon out there with his rough brand of justice. Or maybe not. After all, they ARE carring guns instead of cameras, and they aren’t any threat at all to Israel’s campaign of sowing chaos in the mideast. Perhaps Judge David Gideon will attract enough notice to get on the US Supreme Court where his views will carry some REAL weight.

    • Curious
      January 21, 2016 at 1:56 am

      I was going to leave this alone, but well said!

      A tough guy Col and his Judge advocate imprisoning a lady for stepping onto the road…. gasp, what horrors! That image might be photoshopped in the wrong hands, and, and, then the threat is real and taken on another form. gasp. Not only are many in the military paranoid but this Col should be taken off the job, and have a person in place who can actually talk to people, and maybe hear counter arguments to the militarys’ wanton destruction of civilians, and explain what so many already know, that civilian casualties are high and it is the peoples basic right to protest against a terrible misuse of the ‘eye in the sky’.

      If some one batting less than 75%-%100 in the MLB, they would be released, but not these heroes. Keep those expensive bombs flowing guys, and the judge is in bed with the military obviously. It is a shame. They put on the white gloves and pretend their hands aren’t dirty.

      Get her out of prison now if you have any sense of decency Col and the fake judge as well.

    • Curious
      January 21, 2016 at 1:57 am

      I was going to leave this alone, but well said!

      A tough guy Col and his Judge advocate imprisoning a lady for stepping onto the road…. gasp, what horrors! That image might be photoshopped in the wrong hands, and, and, then the threat is real and taken on another form. gasp. Not only are many in the military paranoid but this Col should be taken off the job, and have a person in place who can actually talk to people, and maybe hear counter arguments to the militarys’ wanton destruction of civilians, and explain what so many already know, that civilian casualties are high and it is the peoples basic right to protest against a terrible misuse of the ‘eye in the sky’.

      If some one batting less than 75%-%100 in the MLB, they would be released, but not these heroes. Keep those expensive bombs flowing guys, and the judge is in bed with the military obviously. It is a shame. They put on the white gloves and pretend their hands aren’t dirty.

      Get her out of prison now if you have any sense of decency Col and the fake judge as well.

      • Curious
        January 21, 2016 at 2:04 am

        sorry for the redundancy, there was a lag in the post.

  10. Bill Bodden
    January 20, 2016 at 11:38 pm

    Now get this: The order issued by Judge Gideon was of the sort commonly used against victims of sexual or domestic abuse. “The legal terms ‘victim’ and ‘witness’ have been expanded in this case in a way that’s new and unique in the state of New York,” said attorney Lance Salisbury at a press conference before Grady Flores was hauled off to jail.

    This appears to be similar to the paranoia some police have when black Americans are in their neighborhood, or they are in black Americans’ neighborhood, of if African-Americans have the impertinence to make eye contact with authoritarian cop.

    Perhaps it is some consolation that Ms. Flores wasn’t shot and killed for assuming such a threatening posture.

Comments are closed.