Peaceniks protest TOPOFF 3

From Connecticut’s Shore Publishing group of community newspapers:

New London — Drawing parallels to Cold War-era paranoia and fear mongering, a regional group is organizing protests of next month’s TOPOFF3 drill, which will simulate a chemical attack on New London. Department of Homeland security officials have said the drill, beginning on April 4, will take place mostly at Fort Trumbull State Park, and will not interfere with daily activities in the city. Culled from the memberships of the Southeastern Connecticut Peace and Justice Network and the War Resisters League, the Mock Terror Task Force has been holding informational forums with promises of future protests in front of City Hall during the exercise. The group, which has printed stickers proclaiming "We Are Not Afraid," held an informational lecture at All Souls Unitarian-Universalist Church last week. Speakers included Megan Bartlett, an emergency medical technician from New York who responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, and the Rev. Edward Rodman, a civil rights activist and professor of pastoral theology and urban ministry at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass. The speakers attempted to frame the mock terror attack as government overstepping its bounds, drawing comparisons to the excesses of McCarthyism. There will also be weeklong prayer services at the First Congregational Church on State Street, during the exercise. Members of the task force object to DHS’s decision to stage the mock attack within the city limits, and not at a military installation such as the Naval Submarine Base in Groton or the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. "Why should these TOPOFF drills include the public?" asked Joanne Sheehan of Norwich, chair of the War Resisters League. "I think drills are needed," Sheehan said. "But to have a scenario with mock terrorists only raises the level of fear and does not provide the kind of training first responders need." Laura Burfoot, a key organizer for the taskforce, said the drill "isn’t really about the first responders." "It’s more for the benefit of the officials," she said. Sheehan believes the Department of Homeland Security has not "gauged the economic, psychological aspects" of the drill. Many of anti-TOPOFF would rather DHS pay more attention to possible hazardous material that could be shipping into the country. "What about container vessels?" Sheehan said. Sheehan also objects to a part of the drill that includes mock reporters gathering information for a fake news channel; the mock reports will not be released to the public. "Are they testing themselves to see how they can manipulate the media?" Sheehan said. Members of the real media will be observing the exercise from a viewing area. Burfoot said members of the task force have written a letter to New London City Manager Richard Brown, asking him for more information about the TOPOFF drill. "He hasn’t responded to it," she said. Members also object to the $16 million Homeland Security is spending on the drill, which will also simultaneously take place in New Jersey, Great Britain and Canada. "Why are we spending so much money on a fake issue," Burfoot said, "when there are serious problems in the community?" As an example, Burfoot pointed out the possible closing of the pre-natal clinic at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital. "We’re not against training first responders, " she said. "We’re against doing it in a way that terrifies local people."

See our last post on the drill.