Public Enemy No. 1? | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Reading through 10 months' worth of anti-terrorism bulletins compiled by the Institute for Terrorism Research and Response, you might assume the Brandywine Peace Community is anything but peaceful. Of the 137 bulletins publicly released by state Homeland Security officials, a City Paper tally found 27 that cited demonstrations planned by the Montgomery County-based activists. That's more mentions than any other activist organization in the state.

"We know we're in [the anti-terrorism bulletins] a lot," says Robert Smith, Brandywine's staff coordinator. 

A July 5 bulletin, for example, notes that the group was planning an Aug. 6 protest to mark the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. "ITRR analysts believe the ... event will be generally non-violent," the bulletin notes, "although it is unclear to what extent the organizers will take their 'civil disobedience' in this case."

Those who are actually familiar with the group, however, say the organizers intentions and tactics couldn't be clearer.

The Brandywine Peace Community is "very orderly and nonviolent," says Lt. James Early, whose Upper Merion Township police force regularly oversees the activist group's protests. "They have the right to protest," he adds, and "[w]e have no knowledge of them being related to any terror groups."

"If they're going after Brandywine, they're after the wrong people," says Beth Gross, editor and co-publisher of the Swarthmorean, a local weekly newspaper that has covered the organization's protests. "They're pacifists."

Tracking groups like Brandywine "is the biggest waste of taxpayer money," she adds. "That is laughable. In fact, it makes me ill." 

Smith says the group was founded by Vietnam-era war resisters in 1976. Since then, it has established itself as a "peace-and-justice activist organization" not unlike Pittsburgh's Thomas Merton Center. "We have placed an emphasis on nonviolent action and civil disobedience," Smith says.

Brandywine's first 20 years were dedicated mostly to protesting General Electric sites in Montgomery County; activists sought to call attention to the company's role in weapons production. After those local plants were taken over by defense contractor Lockheed Martin roughly 15 years ago, the activist group has made Lockheed its primary target.

Smith says his group holds small protests at Lockheed sites once a month. But four or five times a year, he says, Brandywine organizes larger protests, attended by roughly 150 demonstrators. 

But in any case, say locals, there is little reason for the state to worry about Brandywine's activists. 

When Brandywine holds its large protests, Early says 10 to 15 protesters typically volunteer to trespass on Lockheed Martin property and get arrested. "It's civil disobedience," he says -- and it's conducted civilly, with no rancor toward police. 

Smith says he's not surprised by the news that Brandywine and other activist organizations were being watched. "It's very much connected to ... the burgeoning post-9/11 security operations," says Smith. "It's used to stifle dissent." 

If that was the state's intent, however, Smith says government officials didn't get their money's worth. 

"All of the [ITRR's] information was just pulled from open sources," he says, including the organization's website. "The Brandywine stuff was just drawn from releases that I wrote."

Smith points out that the bulletins did little in the way of analyzing potential threats. For example, an August ITRR update regarding a Brandywine anti-nuclear demonstration notes that "The Brandywine Peace Community is best known for the use of legal, although disruptive, non-violent tactics." Protesters, the analysis warns, "may decide to take 'direct action' themselves, such as civil disobedience, against Lockheed Martin, nuclear facilities or military assets."

"To put it really bluntly, that's a big 'No duh!' That's what we do," Smith says. "I thought that was mildly humorous."

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