Two anti-nuke demonstrators jailed for ‘camping’


WASHINGTON (UPI) _ Two anti-nuclear demonstrators were sentenced Wednesday to 30-day jail terms for violating federal camping laws while carrying on a vigil across from the White House.

Williams Thomas and his wife, Ellen Thomas, will begin serving the sentences when their current jail terms for violating the same statue end later this month, Flannery said.

The Thomases and two other protesters, Phillip Joseph and Stephen "Sunrise" Semple, were jailed Jan. 28 after being convicted of violating the camping ordinance on occasion.

The jailings mark the first time in the ongoing seven-year vigil at Lafayette Square across from the White House that activists have been imprisoned for more than a few days.

The Thomases were convicted of violating a law—passed after the erection of tents in the park during 1982 demonstrations—that bans camping in non-designated areas of national parks.

Lafayette Square, where the demonstrators erect signs and dispense literature, is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.

Although some protesters acknowledge sleeping in the park, they contend their activities do not constitute camping, and are challenging the law in civil suit.

"Thee demonstrators have been trying for years to get either the government or the courts to give them a set of clear guidelines to avoid violating the law, and haven’t been able to do that" said Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the national capital area branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"The way the regulations are drawn it doesn’t only extend to somebody pitching a tent and building a barbecue," Spitzer said. "It seems to include people who are trying to maintain a 24-hour vigil, keep warm in cold weather and sometimes fall asleep. We don’t feel the fact that they sometimes fall asleep ought to make what they’re doing a crime."

Park Service regulations define camping as the use of land for "living accommodations purpose."

"Camping is sleeping overnight. Camping is camping in normal use of the sord," said National Park Service spokesman Earl Kittleman. "When they get to court they split hairs about it."

About a dozen peace activists appeared in court Wednesday.

"I was hoping for much better," said Robert Dorrough, who has been involved in the vigil since Mach 1983, after the sentences were handed down.

"There has been as escalated as far as the punishment being imposed" on the protesters, said Robert Hurley, an attorney with the Georgetown Law Center who represented Ellen Thomas.

The federal government has been involved in a series of legal battles with the demonstrators since 1981, when Williams Thomas and another protester initiated the non-violent demonstration against the existence of nuclear weapons.

An April 1986 regulation rid the park of massive protest signs that faced the White House by limiting them to 4 square feet in size.

"These demonstrators have been viewed as an eyesore and as a pain in the neck for many years," Spitzer said. "I think at some level of the government there are people who would like to see them out of the way."