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Monday, March 18 , 2019, 7:49 am | Fair 51º


Antiwar Activist John Dennis Apel Sentenced to Prison For Vandenberg AFB Protest

A longtime antiwar activist who has been arrested multiple times protesting at Vandenberg Air Force Base will serve four months in federal prison after failing to follow a judge’s order regarding probation.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Louise A. LaMothe sentenced John Dennis Apel, 65, of Santa Maria, to prison time during a court hearing earlier this month in Santa Barbara.

Apel had been charged with trespassing, stemming from an Aug. 8, 2015 action to mark the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945. 

During a March 17 court hearing, Apel pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to one year of probation including a requirement to perform community service, said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.

However, Apel failed to report to the Probation Department, so representatives asked for a probation violation hearing, Mrozek said.

At that April 21 hearing, Probation Department representatives recommended the judge sentence Apel to 30 days in custody for violating the terms of probation, Mrozek said.

Federal prosecutors sought a longer term, two months in custody.

However, the judge chose an even longer sentence — four months — and ordered Apel to surrender to begin serving his sentence on or before May 9.

“I’m really surprised,” Apel said. “I’m a little bit sad. I don’t want to be away from my family for four months.”

He said he and his family had discussed the risk, but felt the anniversary of the bombings was important to note.

“I don’t do civil disobedience lightly,” Apel said.

He didn’t report to probation because, he said, “I’m not inclined to accept punishment I can avoid by not accepting it.”

The sentence is twice as long as he received for a 2003 act of emptying a water bottle of his own blood on the historical rock sign at Vandenberg’s main entrance. The action protested the United States war in Iraq.

Convicted for these actions, Apel was sentenced to two months of imprisonment, and was barred from the base for three years.

Apel has organized and participated in dozens of protests in front of Vandenberg, objecting to the military's use of space, what he calls the immoral testing of unarmed intercontinental ballistic missiles and development of missile-defense system. 

His battle has even gone to the U.S. Supreme Court — Apel challenged a permanent “ban and bar” order to keep him away from protest area along Highway 1.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that supported Apel’s stance. Instead, the Supreme Court majority said the base commander had the right to restrict access even while allowing the public to use a portion of the base.

“Those limits do not change when the commander invites the public to use a portion of the base for a road, a school, a bus stop, or a protest area, especially when the commander reserves authority to protect military property by, among other things, excluding vandals and trespassers,” the opinion said.

Apel and others regularly gather at the base to conduct monthly protests in addition to larger actions to mark special events.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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