I came to Helsinki to ask Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin questions about the threat of nuclear weapons and to distribute an open letter about the need for secure elections and true national security. Instead, I was dragged out of their press conference before it even began and into a Finnish jail. No charges were pressed against me.
Here’s what I would have asked, had I been given the chance.
Your governments pledged in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to conduct good faith efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons. But 50 years later, Russia and the United States are nowhere near eliminating them. President Trump, you’ve said that you’d like to get rid of nuclear weapons, but your government is spending over $1 trillion “modernizing” its arsenal. A year ago, 122 nations voted at the United Nations for the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) won the Nobel Peace Prize. Why are both of you not living up to your commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? And why are you blocking the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons?
And a question for President Trump: Your administration has echoed the line of the Israeli government by refusing to acknowledge the existence of Israel’s clandestine nuclear-weapons arsenal. Will you end that policy by acknowledging it here and now?
But how would I get a chance to ask such questions? Over the years, I’ve worked to increase access to our leaders, asking questions when I could at the National Press Club and questioning politicians at the stakeouts as they depart the big Sunday chat shows. I’ve also recently started attending State Department briefings for The Nation.
I’ve experienced what is obvious: If government officials don’t like your questions, they just won’t call on you.
That’s why—after discussing the matter with my colleague at the Institute for Public Accuracy, Norman Solomon, a long-time journalist in his own right—I came up with the idea of holding up a small piece of paper that might draw Trump or Putin’s attention. We settled on a reference to the treaty that Russia and the United States are blocking: nuclear weapon ban treaty.
I had been encouraged by a news report last week from Reuters: “Asked what would be the best possible result from his meeting with Putin, Trump said: ‘What would be the ultimate? Let’s see. No more nuclear weapons anywhere in the world, no more wars, no more problems, no more conflicts.… That would be my ultimate.’” Of course, Trump has the capacity to completely contradict himself in the span of a minute. Nonetheless, I was hoping to use his own statements to force a serious conversation on the Damocles sword hanging over humanity’s head.