Don’t give anti-nuke protesters what they want

The five protesters who broke into Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor in November embarrassed the U.S. Navy, exposing serious shortcomings in the defense of military bases.

They also unwisely tested the patience and professionalism of the base’s security forces.

For trespassing and breaking and entering they should be punished. However, the assumption that prison time would teach them a lesson, or make an example of them, shows a shallow understanding of their intentions, encourages this kind of behavior and zaps finite resources meant to protect society.

It’s an understandable reaction, the five did embarrass a lot of powerful people. But the protesters — pacifists — are people who wear prison terms as badges of honor. They are not terrorists, or even street criminals who want to get away with it. In fact, they see themselves acting in the tradition of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, who taught that if a law is immoral the only moral action is to break it and accept the consequences. As such, they are prepared to go to prison, and as federal prosecutors mull charges, the final result should not entail jail time.

Instead, potential punishments should include fines and supervision, irksome to those who see the loss of personal freedom as a noble sacrifice. There’s no glory in fines.

Beyond sending a message that the government won’t make martyrs out of the protesters, it reserves prison bed space for offenders who pose a real danger.

Perhaps most importantly, to defang those who see “direct action” as a viable strategy, it shows compassion by not housing peaceniks with those who have committed rape, murder and other violent crimes.

If the government really wants to make an example of them, it shouldn’t give the protesters what they want.

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