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Man Who Disrupted Reagan Speech Flees 4-Month Jail Term

July 16, 1993|JENIFER WARREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — An anti-nuclear activist who smashed a crystal sculpture presented to former President Ronald Reagan in Las Vegas last year has been on the lam since June 2, when he was to surrender for a jail sentence in Northern California.

Rick Paul Springer, whose last known address was in the North Coast city of Arcata, failed to turn himself in to begin serving four months at the Shasta County Jail in Redding, authorities confirmed Thursday.

Instead, Springer faxed a news release to a Las Vegas television station recently, declaring that he will not surrender until the United States honors all treaties "calling for the cessation of all nuclear weapons tests in all atmospheres for all time."

In a separate letter to his lawyer and the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, Springer condemned the United States as an "oppressor nation" that has mistreated Nevada's Western Shoshone Indians and unjustly jailed one of the tribe's elders.

"With much thought and prayer, I have decided to deny the Courts (sic) order for my surrender," wrote Springer, 42, who sent a quotation from abolitionist Frederick Douglass with his statement.

Federal officials issued a warrant for Springer's arrest June 7 and the U.S. Marshals Service has interviewed his friends and fellow activists in California and Nevada. Dave Romeo, supervising deputy of the Marshals Service in Las Vegas, declined to discuss the search, except to say: "He's still wanted, and we intend to find him."

Assistant U.S. Atty. John Ham said he has not heard from Springer since February, when he was sentenced after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of interfering with the Secret Service. Ham said Springer's failure to surrender will bring a new charge punishable by up to one year in jail.

Springer's Las Vegas attorney, William Carrico, said he fully expected his client to turn himself in last month. The peace activist had received permission to bring his word processor into his cell and planned to use his time behind bars to complete a book about the anti-nuclear movement, Carrico said.

Tall, thin and bearded, Springer is a carpenter and former youth counselor who has trained as a paramedic and served in the U.S. Merchant Marine. A veteran activist, he is the founder of The Hundredth Monkey, an anti-nuclear group that organized demonstrations at the Nevada Test Site north of Las Vegas last year.

Friends describe Springer as a man who is deeply devoted to the anti-nuclear cause. Cindy Burkhardt, also an activist in Las Vegas, said he "speaks the truth in a way that comes from the heart, and is a person with a strong allegiance to his ideals."

Jack Cohen-Joppa, editor of the Tucson-based journal Nuclear Resister, said he received a letter from Springer in April but does not know his whereabouts now. "Wherever he is, Rick is sincere in his beliefs and is doing good works," he said.

Springer vaulted into the spotlight in April, 1992, during a speech by Reagan to the National Assn. of Broadcasters. Using media credentials, Springer marched on stage and smashed a 30-pound crystal sculpture of an eagle that had just been presented to Reagan. Shards of glass struck the former president, but he was not injured.

Springer later said he had hoped to use the microphone to announce government plans for an underground nuclear weapons test in the Nevada desert the next day.

"He regretted any threat he posed to Reagan, but this is a man with a mission," Carrico said Thursday. "No matter what you think of his methods, he is sincere in his convictions."

In his recent letter to Carrico, titled "Why I Refuse to Go to Jail," Springer called nuclear weapons testing "a crime against not only humanity and all life, but against God."

"My work is not done," he wrote. "I would no more surrender to Nazis than to a nation that threatens the world with portable Auschwitz ovens capable of delivery anywhere in the world."

In addition to his federal conviction, Springer faces trial in November on a state charge stemming from the Reagan episode--the malicious destruction of property. If convicted, he could face a $2,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

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