COURT WATCH: 80-Year-Old Protestor Avoids Jail for Blocking Entrance to ‘Killer’ Drone Base

By Crescenzo Vellucci

The Vanguard

CARRIZOZO, NM – An 80-year-old woman who wants to stop U.S. “killer” drones from killing people in sorties all over the globe was sentenced to just four hours of community service—she faced up to 30 days in jail—by a Lincoln County magistrate judge here Wednesday in a virtual hearing.

Denise Sellers, who hails from San Diego, pleaded no contest to obstruction of a roadway before State Magistrate Judge Katie Graham, who agreed to waive $81 in court costs and jail time if Sellers agreed to four hours of community service with a nonprofit group of her choosing, and a $50 donation to a New Mexico “crime stoppers” group.

Jeff van Kuelen, a private defense attorney working under a county contract, encouraged the court to offer community service instead of jail.

“Denise is motivated to try to correct wrongs this country has done. She’s 80 and still working, not financially privileged,” said Toby Blomé, an organizer with “Shut Down Drone Warfare,” which organizes protests at U.S. drone bases at Creech AFB, Nevada, Beale AFB near Sacramento and New Mexico’s Holloman AFB.

Blomé, on the virtual hearing call, asked the judge to be “compassionate” and sentence Sellers only to community service for protesting “very illegal and criminal drone bases.”

Sellers commented, “It’s been a real privilege to get to know people in Alamogordo. We feel very strongly about the (drone issue),” noting locals “heard why we’re here and why we’ll be back.”

Sellers recommended the court and others view the documentaries, “National Bird,” “This is Not a Game” and “Battle Beyond the Horizon” to learn more about the U.S. killer drone program.

“We are losing those (drone) pilots at a higher suicide rate than combat vets, and (drone operators) are not considered vets. This really has to change. We need to turn this around … putting money into peace. The war budget leaves every child behind (and) has a horrific impact on people and planet. The best we can do is stand in front of a (drone base) gate. We are committed to nonviolence,” said Sellers in the hearing.

Last April, Sellers was one of 32 people who participated in all or part of Shut Down Drone Warfare week, at Holloman AFB, in Southern New Mexico, where, they said, “700+  pilots and operators are trained every year to become remote drone assassins. The week of protest culminated on April 24, in a peaceful blockade to nonviolently interrupt the illegal and immoral US Drone Training Program.”

Sellers was one of six people arrested and charged with “blocking the road” although they claim their real intent was to “block the criminal activities that occur at the base daily with impunity.”

Denise Sellers (R) vigiling with Paul Phillips at Holloman Drone Base, April 24, 2024

Of the six arrested, activists said only Sellers was prosecuted. About 40 people attended the hearing Wednesday in support of Sellers.

In a communique issued last April, the peace activists said, “This morning the West then Main Gate to Holloman AFB were blocked during the morning commute.  Initially five peace activists blocked entry for 20 minutes to the West Gate of Holloman AFB using banners/signs stating: U.S. Drone Warfare is Terrorism; Holloman: Stop Training Drone Assassins!!!; No Tax $$ for Genocide.

“Some of the blocked cars crossed the highway to go back to the main gate.  Otero County Sheriff officers arrived. The activists went to the Main Gate. At the Main Gate, six activists blocked the roadway just feet away from the entrance into Holloman AFB using signage stating: Drone Pilots Refuse to Fly; Free Palestine; Honor our Vets, End War; No More War.”

Activists, including military veterans with Veterans for Peace, reportedly chanted, “We will not be complicit; Stop the drone killing; Stop the Genocide.”

Sellers and others claim, “Holloman AFB, on Hwy 70 in southern NM, has become the largest drone training program in the U.S., graduating over 700 pilots and operators annually. Activists from 4 different states in the region will be participating in the week’s protest,” culminating with “a day of nonviolent civil disobedience…to peacefully interrupt ‘business as usual’ for as long as possible by blocking the early a.m. commute.”

Scott Thompson, Alamogordo resident and SDDW participant, said, “Our government primarily serves an elite class that profits from wars and is unconcerned with the suffering we inflict on other humans. It is the duty of every good citizen to look beyond the headlines and understand the inhumane waste of resources making unconstitutional wars on others. Via public outreach and thoughtful actions we hope to get the attention of the misinformed.”

Organizer Blomé said at the time, “In spite of 14 years of persistent opposition to the U.S. drone program and the terror it brings to vulnerable communities, the Pentagon and the drone industry profiteers are plowing forward, creating an ever more destabilized world of weaponized drones.

“We will not be silent while young recruits continue to be trained in these heinous acts of remotely controlled killing, ultimately becoming victims themselves due to the consequences of severe moral injury. This is not the world we want for our grandchildren, nor for the generations that follow them.”

About The Author

Veteran news reporter and editor, including stints at the Sacramento Bee, Woodland Democrat, and Vietnam war correspondent and wire service bureau chief at the State Capitol.

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