F-35 Opponents Arrested During Sit-In at Leahy's Burlington Office | Off Message

F-35 Opponents Arrested During Sit-In at Leahy's Burlington Office


Roger Bourassa and Rosanne Greco - DEREK BROUWER
  • Derek Brouwer
  • Roger Bourassa and Rosanne Greco
Two leading critics of the F-35 fighter jets tried to lay blame for the noisy aircraft's imminent arrival at the feet of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Monday by staging a sit-in at the senator's Burlington office.

Rosanne Greco and Roger Bourassa, both retired military officers, were eventually cited for trespass — but only after Burlington police deputy chief Jon Murad tried for 30 minutes to persuade them to leave voluntarily by citing political theorists.

Trailed by a gaggle of reporters, the pair arrived at Courthouse Plaza an hour before the close of business and vowed to remain inside Leahy's office lobby until the senator agreed to a written demand that he direct the U.S. Air Force to delay its plan to base F-35s at the Burlington International Airport.

The jets are expected to arrive this month.

All three members of Vermont's congressional delegation support the F-35s, but Leahy lobbied aggressively for Burlington to be chosen as a base, leading an unnamed whistleblower to tell the Boston Globe in 2013 that the site-selection process was "fudged."
As a result of the basing decision, around 2,600 homes near the airport will be subjected to high-decibel noise levels as the jets take off and land — triple as many as were affected by the F-16 jets.

Without Leahy's "direct interference and manipulation and pressure," the Air Force would not have stationed the F-35s in Vermont, Greco said Monday.

She demanded that the senator agree to an investigation of improprieties involved in the site-selection process.
The senator was in Washington, D.C., on Monday. He has denied acting inappropriately to influence the basing decision.

In a statement, Leahy's state director, John Tracy, described the Air Force's study as "comprehensive" and rebutted suspicions that the jets may be used to carry nuclear weapons.
Greco and Bourassa chatted with reporters until Burlington police arrived about 40 minutes after the office was scheduled to close. Murad sought to convince the military vets to leave on their own, without police intervention. First, he noted, it "was not exactly fair" to arrive late in the afternoon with a list of demands and expect the senator to sign off.

"We think it's reasonable," Greco replied.

Murad changed tack, suggesting instead that the success of their stunt didn't require an arrest to be successful.
Roger Bourassa, center, and Rosanne Greco, right, debate the merits of their sit-in strategy with Burlington deputy police chief Jon Murad - DEREK BROUWER
  • Derek Brouwer
  • Roger Bourassa, center, and Rosanne Greco, right, debate the merits of their sit-in strategy with Burlington deputy police chief Jon Murad
Greco countered that their arrest for civil disobedience would "elevate the conversation" by showing that some Vermonters care enough about the issue to be willing to go to prison.

So Murad, a Harvard University graduate, invoked the late American political philosopher John Rawls to make his case.

"Yeah, but John Rawls will tell us that civil disobedience is really only possible in a near-just state, and it has to be done in a place where there is actually enough justice to have a situation that can be corrected by that act of civil disobedience," Murad said. "Do you believe that this situation is going to be corrected by this act of disobedience? Because I don't."

At one point, the deputy chief turned to news reporters huddled around the philosophical discussion and asked if their coverage plans hinged upon the activists' arrest. 

As his persuasion techniques proved unsuccessful, Murad and other Burlington officers escorted Greco and Bourassa down the elevator and outside, where they wrote up trespass citations.