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Activist's prison time doesn't deter his drive to close school

Sunday, November 13th 2005

Ken Thurman, Albany Times-Union (New York)

Three years removed from a three-month federal prison term, Rich Ring is as committed to closing a controversial school as the day he "crossed the line."

Ring, 36, formerly of Cambridge, believes the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, located at Fort Benning, Ga., trains Latin American military personnel to torture and kill civilians in the name of democracy. Deposed Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega is an alumnus.

From Nov. 18 to 20, Ring will descend upon the fort alongside 15,000 other nonviolent demonstrators. They hope their annual vigil at the sprawling army post will spark a political dialogue and close the school. Their protests began with 10 demonstrators in 1990, a response to the killing of six Jesuit priests in Guatemala in the late 1980s. Since then, more than 180 protesters have served prison terms of up to two years.

Ring, an ecologist-turned-landscaper, said thousands have been killed as a result of the school's training, and he predicts more will die if it isn't shut down.

He said it's his patriotic duty to close the school, formerly known as the School of the Americas, even if it costs him his own freedom.

"It was frightening, but empowering," Ring said of the day he and 43 others peacefully passed through the main gate of Fort Benning and were promptly arrested for trespassing.

"My speech offended the government," Ring said. "I can walk on that land any other day of the year, but they block us on that one day."

Ring said he won't cross the line this year because of the huge disruption to his life, but will help others do so.


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