Court proceedings began Tuesday for three pro-Palestinian demonstrators who face felony charges for vandalism at a business in New Hampshire that’s affiliated with an Israeli-owned defense contractor.
Three people were arrested after employees at the Elbit Systems of America facility in Merrimack, N.H., called police just before 8 a.m. on Monday to report that protestors were blocking the driveway and multiple people had gone onto the roof.
Police said they found red paint on the building, windows had been smashed, and a bicycle lock had been placed on an entrance. The protestors expressed messages of support for Palestinians and the Gaza territory, which Israeli military forces have been bombarding in recent weeks after the Oct. 7 attack that Hamas militants carried out against Israel.
The group Palestine Action US posted photos from the scene on social media. The images showed red paint dripping from the top of the two-story building and splattered across the building’s glass entrance.
Vandals used red spray paint to write several messages on the front of Elbit America’s building, including “Free Gaza,” “Elbit Kills,” and “Genocide Profiteers,” according to a probable cause affidavit prepared by a Merrimack police officer.
The defense-related work carried out by Elbit America’s more than 650 employees in Merrimack includes developing a targeting system product for the US Army, along with a variety of other projects for defense, commercial aviation, medical instrumentation, and other work, according to the company.
“We take the safety and well-being of our employees extremely seriously, and we will continue to work closely with local officials to ensure safety for all,” a spokesperson said.
While the company supports the rights of protestors to express themselves peacefully, the incident on Monday constituted “violent criminal behavior,” the spokesperson said.
Merrimack police said officers gained access to the roof on Monday and arrested three people — Sophie M. Ross, 22, of Great Barrington, Mass., Calla M. Walsh, 19, of Cambridge, Mass.; and Bridget I. Shergalis, 27, of Dayville, Conn. — without incident.
Officers reportedly found smashed skylights and damaged HVAC equipment on the roof, as well as an incendiary device used to generate smoke.
This isn’t the first time Elbit America’s sites have been impacted by incidents like this. The company’s facility in Cambridge, Mass., has been hardest hit, with multiple protests and acts of vandalism in the past month or so, the spokesperson said.
Walsh was reportedly among nine people arrested three weeks ago for a similar action in Cambridge.
In the Merrimack matter, two of the defendants, Walsh and Shergalis, made their initial court appearances Tuesday in Hillsborough County Superior Court’s southern district in Nashua. The third waived arraignment. All three are accused of conspiracy to destroy property, attempted burglary, riot, and conspiracy to commit criminal mischief. They also face a misdemeanor charge of criminal trespassing.
Bail was set at $20,000 cash for Walsh and $5,000 cash for Shergalis. Details on the conditions of Ross’s pretrial release were not immediately available.
News of the incident in Merrimack drew a swift response from New Hampshire’s political leaders. Republicans and Democrats alike condemned the group’s actions.
“The antisemitism, hate, and significant damage protesters brought to Elbit America’s campus ... has no place in our state and will not be tolerated. I am confident law enforcement will work to bring those responsible for this vile act of hate to swift justice,” Governor Chris Sununu said, adding that the state stands with Israel and Elbit America.
New Hampshire House Speaker Sherman Packard, a Republican, said the incident was an “attack” that sought to intimidate innocent people. He called it “the calling card of antisemitism and hate.”
Majority Leader Jason Osborne, a Republican, said the incident was a “cowardly criminal attack” motivated by hate and antisemitism. “These are terrorist acts that will not be tolerated in our state,” he said.
Members of New Hampshire’s all-Democratic congressional delegation said the incident Monday was vandalism, not free speech. Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Representative Chris Pappas each called for the matter to be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law.”
The group Palestine Action US previously published a list of Elbit-affiliated targets, but Google removed the map for violating its policies or terms of service. The group has said it aims to “strike fear in the hearts of their staff and their investors.”
Spokespeople for the Merrimack Police Department and the FBI did not respond Tuesday to requests for additional information. A press release indicated police are working to identify all co-conspirators in this case.