25 Years Jail-time for Protecting the Planet?

February 18, 2018

The Nation

25 Years Jail-time for Protecting the Planet?

by Frida Berrigan

The Kings Bay 7 were trying to put an end to the threat of nuclear war. Now they face a quarter-century behind bars.

25 years in prison.

That is the possible fate of seven Catholic anti-nuclear activists awaiting trial for their action on April 4, 2018 at the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in St. Mary’s, Georgia—the largest base of its kind in the world.

The Kings Bay 7 chose to act on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in order to lift up King’s analysis of the “triple evils of militarism, racism and materialism.” There are six Trident submarines based at Kings Bay, Each submarine can carry 24 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) designated Trident D5. Each of those missiles can carry up to eight 100 kiloton nuclear warheads (about 30 times the explosive force of the Hiroshima bomb). Plowshares activist Patrick O’Neill, one of the co-defendants, called Trident “the most insidious and evil weapon of mass destruction ever constructed.”

Carrying hammers and baby bottles filled with their own blood, the seven attempted to convert weapons of mass destruction using the ancient metaphors of “swords into plowshares” and “spears into pruning hooks” from Hebrew Scriptures. With their action, they hoped to call attention to the ways in which nuclear weapons kill every day, by their mere existence and maintenance. They are charged with three federal felonies and one misdemeanor for their actions.

It bears repeating, they could face 25 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

On Sunday, nearly 200 people came to Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus to hear from the four of the Kings Bay 7 who are out on bond. Clare Grady, Martha Hennessey, Patrick O’Neill and Carmen Trotta were all able to participate in the event. Father Steve Kelly, Mark Colville and Elizabeth McAlister(my mother) remain jailed in Brunswick, Georgia.

The event began with a 15 minute excerpt of The Nuns, The Priests and the Bombs. The film focuses on two Plowshares actions—one at a naval base near Seattle in 2009 and another at the Y-12 nuclear facility in Tennessee in 2012—and the role of the Catholic conscience in spurring the activists to this radical form of action.

Helen Young, one of the filmmakers, was present at the event. She hopes that her film encourages the public to pay closer attention. “Sadly” nuclear weapons have “become the purview of security experts and activists, while the public has remained largely disengaged,” she said, “ or not engaged on a level commensurate with the existential threat we face. I believe we all owe a debt of gratitude to the activists featured in this film who have put their lives on the line in an effort to wake us all up and pull us back from the nuclear brink.”

The 2012 action at Y-12 drew widespread media attention and triggered Congressional hearings because it highlighted lapses in nuclear weapons complex security. As William D. Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy noted on Sunday, “the mainstream media coverage and the reaction in Congress was more about how to protect the weapons from protesters than to protect us from the weapons. This rhetoric about safety and security of the weapons complex, and protecting ‘special materials’—a euphemism for ingredients for bombs that can end life as we know it—distracts from the real issue: these are weapons of mass slaughter that must be eliminated before they eliminate us.”

The Kings Bay Plowshares action has not garnered the same kind of front page, bold type treatment from the mainstream media and the event on Sunday was the first time the defendants have been able to appear together and speak publicly about their action,

Carmen Trotta, a long time member of the New York Catholic Worker, shared that he had never committed a felony before. “I could not NOT do it” because they “were all dear friends” and he felt compelled to act. The April 4, 2018 action was the most recent of more than 80 nonviolent disarmament Plowshares actions that have been carried out since 1980. Trotta said that with each action the message is the same: “nuclear weapons are necessarily evil.” That “message is not what the courts want to hear. But that is the message that we keep bringing.”

Read more: https://www.thenation.com/article/nuclear-activism-kings-bay-plowshares/

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