Protests of Nuclear Testing on Bimini Atoll


At the same time this was happening in the South, there also was a focusing on the United States' avowed intention to do nuclear testing out in the atolls of the Pacific. So this gave people who weren't otherwise enlisted in protest something else to go about doing. The atoll that was involved was Bimini. They would come and march in the street. At the same time, some of them were building a boat—a trimaran. A trimaran is a boat that has a hull, and then you have on both sides of it what looked like the hull of a boat itself, but it was two structures to balance on the waves. They were building this thing and were going to take it out there and themselves get into the target zone, and this scared the heck out of people back in Washington, because while they hoped that they wouldn't even make it that far out, they didn't know.

So, I got a call from Nicholas Katzenbach, who was at that time the deputy attorney general. He said, "We want you to go into federal district court and get an injunction against them proceeding out to the atoll." I argued with him that that would really serve to give shape and dignity to what they were doing and it wouldn't stop it. I thought if we just kept quiet on that, it would die of its own, because with that little, flimsy boat that they had, they weren't going to make it out that far. And he

said, "that's precisely the problem we have. If they go out there and disappear, they'll become heroes."




Martyrs, that's right. And he said, "We don't want that to happen, so we want you to go and get an injunction." So I went to Judge [William C.] Sweigert, District Judge Sweigert, and presented the case to him. He issued an order demanding that they cease doing it and so forth until he had time for a hearing. The papers were served upon them, and then they said they were going anyhow. But they hadn't gone anywhere.

Early one morning, I got a call saying that they had gone out and they were headed out west.


Was this an organized group? Greenpeace or—


No, but these were people who became Greenpeace, and there were some of them also who belonged to ACLU, or so they claimed anyhow. This wasn't an official ACLU project. The ACLU was on record as being against the experiments out there because of the pollution of the peaceful, lovely area out there. That was the argument they made. So they were gone, they said.

I said, "When did they leave?" They said, "They left about three hours ago." We had prepared for a contingency. The Coast Guard was standing by. If I gave them a call, they were going to come to Fort Point, and we would do whatever we thought it was appropriate to do. The United States marshal and a couple of his deputies and I and one of my assistants went there. The plane gave us an aerial message of where they were. They were out near the Farallon Islands. I got on the boat and we went out to where they were. They put out a little dinghy from the Coast Guard cutter, and there were a couple of marshals on it. The marshals went over there and read them the order and placed them under arrest [laughter] and eventually brought them back to the boat. I was in back and was getting really queasy in the stomach. They brought the big boat in, which was a 300-ton boat, or 3,000, I don't know. It was a big boat.


Coast Guard?


Yes, the Coast Guard. It was sort of like on dry land almost on that boat. So they brought them back in, and they were a little sick themselves by that time. The marshals put them under arrest and they took them down to custody. They asked me what about bail for them, and I said, "Why don't you say something reasonable— $100 bail for each of them?" They did, because there was going to

be a hearing. They had a hearing and the court scolded them for disobeying the court's order. They seemed to be fairly contrite, and we put a libel on the boat; a libel is a claim in admiralty, so that the boat that has been engaged in unfair or illegal conduct is therefore subject to forfeiture to the United States government.

So there they were, and the hearing was being set. We went to the hearing. Judge Sweigert was somewhat sympathetic with their cause, but he said they were doing the wrong thing about it. I think what he did was—there may be a couple of them that he ordered in jail for a couple of days. But mostly, he was pretty easy on them and let them go with the instruction that they agreed not to do it. They were ordered not to do it, and if they did it again, there was going to be some punishment.

A delegation of them came to me in my office to ask if I would lift the restraint of the libel from their boat. They said they owed the boat maker a large sum of money, but the boat was worth a little bit more than that. If they could get the boat, they would let the maker of the boat—it was the Cappas Boat Harbor people that made the boat; I don't know whether they're still there or not now, but they were around Sausalito, around that way.

So, old soft-hearted me, I took them at their word and said, "I'll probably have to fight this out with the Department of Justice, let them take your word for it." They left. The Department of Justice didn't really want the boat. They said there was no particular judgment about it, but you know, "Their people probably can't be trusted not to try it again." I said, "I don't think they will." Well, came a Saturday morning, I got a phone call from one of the assistants who said, "They've gone again. What they did was they had a meeting, and the people who had given the commitments to you urged them not to do it because they had given their word on it. They voted them out. This is the dissident group that went down and took over the boat, and they've gone again."

I'm a little bit ahead of my story. I wasn't in San Francisco then. I had gone to Seattle to the World's Fair. My wife and I and two kids had gone to Vancouver Island and then over to Vancouver, and from there we had driven down to Crater Lake, which was one of the most marvelous things I've ever seen.


Yes, in Oregon.


In Oregon. Then we went from there to a lake in California. On a Saturday morning, a ranger came to the cabin where we were and said I had a call—there was no phone in the cabin—that I had a

call down at the ranger headquarters, would I come with him. So I went down there, and one of my assistants was on the phone again, and he told me they voted these people out and they've gone out.

I said, "Where are they now?" He said, "They have been located about fifty miles out. They don't have the right maps, and some of them are seasick. What shall we do?" I said, "Tell the Coast Guard to go out and order them back and shadow them back in. Leave them on the boat." He said, "Well, a couple of them are seasick." I said, "Leave them especially on the boat [laughter] and bring them back in. When you get back to Fort Point, put them under arrest and let them make bail like everybody else." So that's what they did, but it was long and slow getting back in.

The judge was outraged that they had disobeyed his order. He put some of them in jail. The most may have been thirty days, I'm not sure. We filed the libel, we pressed the libel. The boat was sold. We prorated the charges between the maker of the boat and somebody else who had in interest in it. I've forgotten what it was. I think that pretty much exhausted what the boat had brought in. Not everybody wanted a trimaran. That ended that. There was some marching through the street, and some signs about the government taking their boat, an act of vandalism, and that sort of stuff.