Brian Okum, center, and 20 other activists affiliated with Extinction Rebellion appeared in court last week. Okum is now facing upgraded charges. Courtesy photo

Hanscom expansion protester could face felony charges in July

June 26, 2024

By Erin Tiernan —

A climate justice protester arrested in April alongside 20 of his peers could be facing a new felony charge for participating in the action that grounded planes at Hanscom Airfield for the better part of the morning.

Brian Okum of Medford will appear before a clerk magistrate in Concord District Court on July 10 for a hearing to determine whether he will be charged with destruction of property of more than $1,200, a felony. 

“It’s kind of an absurd charge. There was nothing even remotely done that day to warrant this. It’s really, really hard to imagine what they could construe as damaging property,” said Okum, who received a letter in the mail from State Police on June 17.

Okum and the other 20 protesters arrested are all already facing two misdemeanor charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct for their involvement in the April 20 act of civil disobedience at Hanscom airport.

He and others are due back in Concord District Court for a hearing on those charges on July 15. So far, Okum is the only one facing additional charges.

Clerk magistrate hearings are secret proceedings that determine whether a court will move forward with increased charges. 

The protesters are affiliated with the climate action group Extinction Rebellion.

A spokeperson for the group, Jamie McGonagill, said “it’s concerning to see a potential escalation in charges for peaceful disruptive protests, because that process inherently requires more effort from our team and creates more legal risk.”

McGonagill added that “it could also be seen as a sign that the other side feels threatened enough to take desperate swings.”

State Police did not respond to a Concord Bridge request for comment. 

A protester sits in front of the wheel of a private jet at Hanscom Airfield. Photo by Lauren Feeney

Extinction Rebellion

The April action was what Okum called an “escalatory movement” in objection to a planned expansion at Hanscom airport that would add 17 new private jet hangars and 80,000 gallons of new fuel capacity. 

Opponents are at odds with developers, who are backed by Massport — the quasi-public agency that operates the airport — over whether the project will increase jet traffic and emissions at the airfield that borders Concord, Lexington, Lincoln and Bedford.

Local officials and community members have spoken out against the expansion, which in part inspired the civil disobedience that ended in the arrest of Okum and others.

“We take direct action as the next logical step when nothing else is working,” Okum said. 

Stephan Bader and Kate Kavanagh on Main Street at a standout protesting the expansion of private jets at Hanscom Field. Photo by Betsy Levinson

For instance, “on June 14, Stop Private Jet Expansion, the local group working with us to stop this project, submitted a petition with like 13,000 signatures to Gov. [Maura] Healey. It was totally ignored,” Okum said.

Stop Private Jet Expansion organizer Alex Chatfield of Lincoln said more than 30 activists from communities that directly neighbor the airport were there in April in solidarity with Okum and other protesters.

“Members of the community didn’t commit civil disobedience, but we were very much in solidarity with what Extinction Rebellion was doing, and we saw it as a courageous and legitimate way to call out what Massport and the developers are trying to do,” Chatfield said. 

“We also want to use this as a way to highlight Massport’s role [in] this very dangerous project.”