79-year-old Hancock drone protester sentenced to 90 days in jail - syracuse .com
Protests outside Hancock Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, New York, in 2014. [Source: Syracuse.com]

An international grassroots movement to ban weaponized drones and military and police surveillance, entitled Ban Killer Drones, has been launched. Go to www.bankillerdrones.org to see the teamwork results of this excellent resource on the United States’s not-so-secret assassinations around the world.

A group of long-time anti-drone war organizers, including Nick Mottern, Brian Terrell and Chelsea Faria, with support from two Nobel Peace Prize candidates, Kathy Kelly and David Swanson, worked to make this site the prime resource site to ban killer drones internationally. 

Progressive readers will remember the years of struggle that produced the recent ban on nuclear weapons as well as the struggle that produced agreements on landmine and cluster bombs.

I remember well where I was on October 1, 2014: I was handcuffed tighter than I had ever been, wiggling my fingers to keep my hands from going numb. I had been stuffed prostrate between the front and rear seat of an Onondaga Sheriff’s Department car in Syracuse, New York.  

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Anti-drone protest outside New York Air National Guard Base in April 2013. [Source: spaceforpeace.org]

DeWitt Town Court Judge Robert Jokl had just sent me on my way to the nearby Jamesville Correctional Facility to begin a three-month sentence for my participation in a die-in at the main gate of the NY Air National Guard 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field killer drone base.

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Die-in outside Hancock drone base in April 2013. [Source: space4peace.org]

Lying on the floor, squeezed between the seats, I asked the two deputies to give me room to sit. The deputy in the passenger seat called out: “You’ll be at the jail in just 15 minutes or so, live with it.”

I lived with it, serving 60 days of my 90-day sentence, with time reduced for “good behavior.”

But I’m still mad as hell that my U.S. government continues to assassinate “suspected terrorists,” expands its drone war and encourages other countries to do the same.

It is time to promote a treaty to ban weaponized and surveillance drones world-wide.  

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Gilroy protesting outside Hancock Air Force base on Earth day, April 22, 2021. [Photo courtesy of Ed Rodriguez]

The Predator

When I became aware of the drone protests at Hancock Field, I had written coming-of-age novels about conscientious objectors from WWII and the Vietnam war, but now war was being waged in my own back yard and few seemed to know about it.

The resisters at Hancock were, of course, trying to educate the public.

Sadly, even when some Americans did learn of assassinations operating out of United States drone bases, the acts of drone terror seemed of little importance to them. After all, the terrorists were in foreign lands and we needed to “take them out” and not to worry about Hellfire missiles and bombs since they were in the Middle East, not in Syracuse.

Hancock’s 174th Attack Wing just did the electronic firing of weapons hovering over suspects thousands of miles away, seen of course by Attack Wing pilots with high-tech drone cameras via satellite.

174th Fighter Wing Becoming 174th Attack Wing > 174th Attack Wing > Article  Display
[Source: 174attackwing.ang.af.mil]

I researched Predator and Reaper drones, spoke to folks who had been arrested for trespass at Hancock and was arrested a couple of times myself. 

At the time, I was chair of the St. James Peace and Justice Committee in Johnson City, New York, 75 miles south of Syracuse. The headquarters of the Syracuse Diocese and the leader, Bishop William Cunningham, was hiking distance from the nearby weaponized drone base.

I had tried for more than two years with letters and phone calls to speak to Bishop Cunningham. My intent was to ask him his views on being so close to an institution that orchestrates assassinations, the 174th Attack Wing of the New York National Guard, just up the road a bit from his residence.

Persistence paid off. The bishop agreed to meet with our team of six resisters.

I asked Bishop Cunningham what he thought of the morality of the Hancock weaponized drone base. Bishop Cunningham said: “It’s one way to keep our boys’ boots off foreign soil. We don’t need to be sending our young men off to war.” Then, a bit later, he noted: “You do know that a lot of Catholics work at Hancock, don’t you?”

We had assumed that to be so since we knew Bishop Cunningham had assigned one of his priests to minister to Hancock drone pilots.

Realizing that the Bishop’s office was a dead end, I began to form a play in my mind of a young woman whose mother was a drone pilot at Creech. I decided to go with the title The Predator for obvious reasons. 

In November 2013, the first staging of The Predator was done at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., with students from Syracuse University and the University of Scranton as actors. The event was the annual Ignatian Family Teach-In, the largest annual Catholic social justice conference in the United States.

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Scene from The Predator: “I had hoped you’d go to one of the military academies.” Jay Becker as Major Jennifer Golden, drone pilot, and Sarah Latham as her daughter, Ella. [Source: awaketodrones.blogspot.com]
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Jack Gilroy discusses The Predator. [Source: awaketodrones.blogspot.com]

Thankfully, I had a professional to assist: Aetna Thompson, a former member and singer with the satirical group in Washington called “The Capitol Steps.”

An eye-catching prop was set up on campus, a facsimile of a Reaper drone designed and made by Nick Mottern, of Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and coordinator of https://www.knowdrones.com/ 

Lehigh University drone talk
Nick Mottern with mock drone. [Source: lehighvalleylive.com]

Nick drove the disassembled mock drone from his home to Route 81 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he showed me how to assemble it and then covered the mock Hellfire missiles with blankets—“just in case a State Trooper wonders about these rockets,” said Nick. The Reaper was my traveling mate in my old Volvo, the fuselage resting on my dashboard and the tail bumping my rear window. 

I drove south for our first gig at Georgetown University and then on to Ft. Benning, Georgia, where I stationed the Reaper mock-up at the entrance to the Columbus, Georgia, convention center, with a large sign tacked onto it announcing “THE PREDATOR.”  

The Predator had legs, playing at many college campuses and church halls around the nation from around 2013 to 2017 with activists such as Ann Wright, former U.S. Army Colonel and U.S. diplomat and Kathy Kelly, Director of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, taking on roles.

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“America is addicted to war.” Marie Shebeck as anti-war activist Kelly Mcguire in The Predator. [Source: awaketodrones.blogspot.com]

The play is still available to download (and tweak to bring it up-to-date) for any group to use.

Did the reflection, the thinking of the outlandish immorality and cowardly killing of people with high-tech American terrorism lead me to write the play? Quite likely, it was a factor. But I felt that what I had done with the play was not enough, hence my arrest and jailing, noted above. 

Going International

The work of Up State Drone Action to expose the international crimes of the 174th Attack Wing at Hancock killer drone base has been outstanding. From the first direct action at Hancock in 2011 to Earth Day 2021, a team of creative artists have used street theater at the very edge of the killer drone base on East Malloy Rd in Syracuse, NY.

Developing themes for each action, Dan Burgevin of Trumansburg, NY, Ed Kinane of Syracuse, John Amidon of Albany, Ellen Grady of Ithaca and many others have used a varity of scenes and song to illustrate the crimes going on inside the 174th Attack Wing.

For example, the Syracuse District Attorney’s office liked to bring into court physical evidence (exhibits) to prove their case against the killer drone resisters. So, one action, called Big Books used huge facsimiles of anti-war books—8’x4’ and blocked the gate to the Hancock weaponized drone base. The local court room didn’t have room for the big books. Consequently, no big books were taken into court as exhibits by the Syracuse District Attorney’s Office.

Protestors display replicas of books that point to evils of the drone war. [Source: Photos courtesy of Ellen Grady and MaryAnne Grady who designed the book replicas]

Weaponized drones have nothing that is praiseworthy. Weaponized drones are unmanned weapons carriers used to assassinate people in foreign (for now) lands. The use of weaponized drones is immoral, illegal, racist (used mainly to kill people of color) and pragmatically stupid.

No other nation does what the United States does frequently: assassinate with weaponized drones in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Libya. The United States is still the greatest purveyor of violence in the world and killer drones have become our deadly calling card.

Killer Drones and the Militarization of U.S. Foreign Policy | The Foreign  Service Journal - June 2017
America’s new deadly calling card. [Source: afsa.org]
Bill Quigley [SOURCE: Speak For a New America]
Bill Quigley [Source: ignatiansolidarity.net]

Bill Quigley, a Loyola University professor of constitutional law, has defended protesters arrested for nonviolent actions. At the same time, Bill is raising awareness of our immoral and illegal acts of killing suspected “terrorists” by weaponized drones: the dead and wounded almost always including innocent civilians.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that they have tracked more than 14,000 drone strikes through 2020 and that up to 16,000 people have been killed by U.S. drones. Most drone victims remain nameless even to congressional oversight committees studying weaponized drones.

People attend the funeral of victims of a US drone strike in Khogyani district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, on 19 September.
Funeral for pine-nut farmer killed in drone strike in Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan in September 2019. [Source: theguardian.com]

Armed drones make bitter enemies around the world and create insecurity as they sow hate and vengeance.

Biden Should Discard Obama's Brutal Drone Strategy
Protest against U.S. drone strikes after drone attack in Multan, Pakistan, in 2012. [Source: foreignpolicy.com]

President Biden ended his inauguration speech with “May God bless America and God protect our troops.” That’s where we’re at: praising America and beseeching God to protect our troops.

The arms industry and the religious arm of the military-industrial complex are smiling. It is clear that we must reach outside our borders and build an international consensus to end drone killing and drone surveillance. 

I encourage readers to join the movement to establish an international ban on weaponized and surveillance drones. Go to www.bankillerdrones.org to initiate international action while pressuring Joe Biden and the war-prone Democrats to end weaponized and surveillance drones.


Ban Killer Drones is inspired by the recent treaty banning nuclear weapons, as well as the landmine and cluster-bomb ban agreements, and its work is endorsed by: 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire; CODEPINK Co-founder Medea Benjamin; Christine Schweitzer, Coordinator of the German peace organization “Federation for Social Defence”; David Swanson, Director, Executive Director, World Beyond War; Chris Cole, Director of Drone Wars UK; Maya Evans, Coordinator-Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK;  Joe Lombardo, Coordinator, United National Antiwar Coalition (U.S.); Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law, Princeton University; and Phyllis Bennis, Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and author, among others.


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