Wearing all black and decorated in a sad clown face, Nashua Chantal climbed over the perimeter fence Sunday before standing on the Fort Benning sign on the final day of the annual School of the Amerias Watch protest.
Chantal, also known as Robert Norman Chantal, was promptly taken into custody at 11:45 a.m. by the Department of the Army security guards. His arrest came nearly three hours after Eve Tetaz was stopped at 9 a.m. as she attempted to enter the Interstate 185 gate on post.
Chantal, 62, of Americus and Tetaz, 83, of Washington, D.C., were the only two arrests from an energized crowd of about 1,336. A spokesman for the Washington-based group said both protesters will face criminal trespassing charges on Jan. 13 in U.S. District Court.
Two years ago, Chantal was charged with trespassing after placing a canvas over the barbed wire fence and climbing onto the post. Tetaz, an author, veteran peace and justice activist and retired public school teacher, has been active with SOA since 2010. She was arrested with the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch, in front of the White House when they called on President Obama’s administration to close down the institute. With “Study War No More” written on the back of his shirt, Chantal was cheered on by the crowd as he climbed inside the perimeter fence.
A ladder was tossed to Chantal on the other side and it was used to climb the Fort Benning sign at Stone Gate. Atop the sign, Chantal was on the post and in violating of the law.
Hundreds gathered at the gate with wooden crosses after a funeral procession was held to remember the victims of violence in Latin America. Sunday marked the 25th year SOA Watch has called for the closing of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation since the 1989 massacre in El Salvador was linked to graduates of the School of the Americas. The school operated on post from 1984 to 2000 before closing and reopening in 2001 as the institute.
Even as as a thunderstorm rolled through the area, former Georgia NAACP State Conference president Edward DuBose stirred the crowd by stating why he’s still calling for closure of the institute 25 years later. “I come out every year because I believe that one day WHINSEC is going to be closed,” he said. “I believe one day the city and the general will hear our voices.”
DuBose called the names of Trayvon Martin who was gunned down in Sanford, Fla., by a neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012, the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown by an officer in Ferguson, Mo., and other incidents across the country. “I come out here because there is a revolution,” DuBose said. “You can’t stop the revolution general. You cant stop the revolution city.”
Mel Beltran, a native of Mexico but now a resident of Arkansas, said it was her first visit to the SOA Watch protest. She is aware that Mexico sends many soldiers for training at the institute. “I’m against it,” she said.
Louis Wolf, who served six months in federal prison after crossing into Fort Benning in 2008, voiced concerns about the recent disappearance of 43 students in Mexico. During his federal court hearing, Wolf said he was asked why would trainees from the school hurt their own people?
“I couldn’t answer,” Wolf said. “The obvious answer is they are just doing what they are trained to do.”
While the crowd was slightly smaller this year than the 1,750 in 2013, Bourgeois said the weekend was a turning point in the movement calling attention to the Stewart Detention Center for immigrants Saturday in Lumpkin along with the normal protest on Benning Road. “We are here but we are kind of connected to Stewart,” he said. “This is kind of a historic moment for us.”