United Methodist enters prison after civil disobedience arrest
April 26, 2006
|A photo by Ginny Moore Kruse
Brancel (center) prays with supporters April 11 before entering Oxford
Federal Penitentiary. The Rev. Cecil Findley (right) organized the
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
A United Methodist layman, arrested for civil disobedience last fall, is spending
three months at Oxford Federal Penitentiary in Wisconsin.
Fred Brancel, 79, of Madison, Wis., was one of 29 people who reported to
federal prisons April 11 to begin serving sentences for acts of nonviolent
at Fort Benning military base in Georgia.
Since 1990, human rights advocates have called for the closing of the School
of the Americas there — now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for
Security Cooperation — because of documented abuses connected to soldiers
from Latin American countries who are trained at the school. According to SOA
Watch, a grass-roots, faith-based organization, the school continues to support “known
human rights abusers.”
Four others already are serving prison time for the November protest, which
drew an estimated 19,000 demonstrators, according to SOA Watch. Those sentenced
in age from 19 to 81.
The Rev. Cecil Findley, a retired United Methodist pastor and friend of
is active in Madison’s SOA Watch group and helped organize “farewell
sendoffs” for him with Sister Maureen McDonnell. The sendoff services,
one in Madison and one outside the prison, also saluted fellow protesters Buddy
Bell, 23, and Delmar Schwaller, 81, who entered Oxford that day. “We honored
them for going to prison,” Findley said.
|A photo by Ginny Moore Kruse
The back of Fred Brancel's shirt conveys his message to close the School of the Americas.
As of April 25, Findley reported, Brancel was being treated well by prison
officials. His wife, Mary Ann, told Findley that Brancel is able to
call home nearly every
day. Because he is a “notoriously slow eater” and was having trouble
with the 30 minutes allotted for standing in line and eating meals, Brancel has
been allowed to eat with the kitchen crew before each meal period, Findley said.
A Wisconsin native, Brancel served from 1951 to 1971 as a Methodist
missionary in the African countries of Angola, Zimbabwe and Zaire
(now the Democratic
Republic of Congo). In 1961, he was imprisoned for three months as
an alleged “instigator” in
the Angolan independence movement.
After returning to the United States, Brancel became a lay associate
at the University United Methodist Church in Madison and later
served as director-manager
church camp in Northwest Wisconsin for 11 years until retirement.
As a retiree,
he traveled extensively and participated in numerous Volunteer
in Mission trips. He went to Iraq in 2004 with a Christian Peacemakers
In a statement about his actions last fall, Brancel
by a book study at church and remembering President Eisenhower’s cautioning
about the impact of our military-industrial complex, I decided to commit civil-disobedience
at Fort Benning because of the growing deficit, growing disparity, growing
distrust and growing discord/animosity and the need I see to ?change
the direction of the wind’.”
|A UMNS photo by Linda Panetta
Demonstrators protest at the site of the former School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., on Nov. 21.
Brancel is not the only United Methodist to serve time in prison for a
School of the Americas protest. In 2000, the Rev. Charles Butler, then
73, spent several
months at the federal prison in Waseca, Minn., after being found guilty of
trespassing on School of the Americas property.
Legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., would suspend activities
at the school and calls for a review of foreign military training in Latin
America. It could come to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for
a vote as early as May, according to SOA Watch. The bill currently has 128
Findley, who has been involved in SOA Watch for about five years, is optimistic
about the bill, and said the demonstrations at Fort Benning have made a difference.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.