[MOTIONS HEARING STATEMENT: First Draft]
One of the blessings that has flowed in abundance during this time of incarceration is recollectedness – a mental and spiritual focus which I often find difficult to access with any consistency “out there in minimum security” (which seems an increasingly apt description of U.S. society these days). To repeat something mentioned in a previous posting, a jail cell can be very effective at stripping away the illusions and delusions about what defines me, what sustains me, and what locates me in the world. It’s more than a radicalization of thought and conscience that becomes prominent (and hopefully permanent) when viewing the world from the perspective of the bottom. On a more fundamental level, with time there comes the possibility of a kind of rebooting of the self, as the desert does its work on the ego which can so easily impede the work of the Holy Spirit in a habitually unrecollected soul such as mine. The notion of discipleship in a culture of death gradually shifts from the realm of spiritual aspiration to a deeply felt invitation to move from here to there. As Jim Douglass explains in his classic work Resistance and Contemplation: “In contemplating prison consequences which may be measured not so much in days and weeks as in months and years, I must confront the reality of prison not as an interlude in a white middle-class existence, but as a stage of the Way redefining my life.” This is the well I have been drinking more thirstily from as the weeks have turned to months; I must remember to thank the U.S. District Court of Brunswick County for its obvious devotion to my spiritual health!
Of course, the government is also doing its work this summer, and we mustn’t harbor any illusions or delusions about what that means, either. Sometime during the next forty-five days, while I’m eating baloney sandwiches and gazing at my radicalized, recollected navel, some paralegal in the U.S. Attorney’s office will be earning his or her keep by meticulously following a set of instructions handed down from on high. Those instructions will amount to the government playing what is essentially the only card it will have when this case finally finds a jury. She or he will file a pre-packaged, tried-and-true bundle of “motions in limine” which, when rubber-stamped without any real consideration by Magistrate R. Stan Baker, will set aside the Constitution and thereby place nuclear weapons and the criminal intent to use them beyond the reach of the law.
Quick disclaimer: I am not a student of the law, just a victim of its application. With all due respect to my lawyer and dear friend Matt Daloisio, I have neither the capacity nor nor the inclination to exchange my current headaches for his. Therefore, while my compromised position and previous experience with these legal dynamics might grant a certain authority from which to speak, the conclusions I draw should properly be subjected to whatever scrutiny or skepticism one may wish to apply. In that regard, I’d recommend as a starting point a excellent article by John LaForge in the March, 2018 issue of The Nuclear Resister: “U.S. Appeals Courts agree: facts about nuclear weapons can be kept from juries in protest trials” (p. 10). With that said, here is my understanding: the way motions in limine are designed, and the purpose for which they are normally used, is to protect the accused as much as possible from any pre-conceived bias on the part of a jury. For example, a person on trial for armed robbery would be severely compromised if they jury was permitted to hear of a prior conviction on a similar charge. Therefore, a competent defense attorney would, as a matter of course, file a motion to limit, or even exclude, the presentation of any evidence alluding to her client’s criminal history.
What the government has been allowed to do in Plowshares trials is to turn the protection afforded the accused by motions in limine on its head. Here, the accuser gets to claim to be the party subject to potential harm if evidence of its past, current or ongoing criminal activity is put before the jury, even if such evidence is constitutionally permissible and absolutely relevant to the defence of the accused.
[Excuse me for a moment while I take a few cleansing breaths and try to comprehend the absurdity of that last paragraph…Okay, never mind. Where was I? Oh, yes…]
Thus awarded the status of one exposed to harm before the jury, despite the fact that it does not stand accused of anything by the court, the government is then free to petition for the evisceration of our entire defense, keeping the jury in a perpetual state of enforced ignorance of the law, and the judge virtually always cooperates. It’s basically the juridical equivalent of wild animals eating their young. Quoting again from John LaForge:
“In view of the poisonous, indiscriminate, long term and uncontrollable effects of nuclear weapons, military and international treaty law can be interpreted as having already prohibited them…yet federal courts cannot tolerate any airing of these facts – which might prove that the Bomb is unlawful – and the ‘supreme law’ can’t be allowed within a jury’s earshot. To protect the Bomb from legal scrutiny, federal judges have created a legal vacuum…”
This “legal vacuum” extends to forbid any challenge to the official nuclear policy of deterrence, which could fairly persuasively be argued to constitute criminal behavior in the form of a public terrorist threat. Most significant, in terms of our (extremely relevant) motivation and intent, will be the exclusion of the clear requirements found in the Geneva Conventions and Nuremberg Principles, as well as the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force Field Manuals, which speak to the right and obligations of citizens to resist the commission of war crimes by their government. In a real and terrible sense, the federal courts have become a functional mirror image of the psychopathy of the Pentagon.
During the course of many months’ discernment for this journey of the Kings Bay Plowshares, I can recall Steve having urged us all repeatedly to view any potential trial as a second action, and to ready ourselves to approach it as such.nAt the motions hearing in early August, where the government’s powers of coercion will be on full display, that second action will begin. In a figurative, but no less truthful way, we must be prepared to take the same hammers and blood that exposed the dark terror and idolatry at Kings Bay, and wield them forcefully against an equally impenetrable edifice of legalized blasphemy. Our power to do this will never be found in a judge’s ruling or a clever legal argument, but only in our freedom to embrace this as a prophetic moment, and to be embraced by whatever it is that God is trying to do.
After all, the very history of this place calls us forward. The very cultre of this place still bears the scars from a time when the people’s was similarly beholden to a diabolical industry considered absolutely essential to the nation’s survival, security and economic health, blessed or ignored in its churches, and any resistance to which was mercilessly criminalized. Slavery’s “virtue” was affirmed in these same courts, especially in Georgia, by an impenetrable edifice of lies, which among its abominations exalted property rights above the Constitution and regarded an African as “legally” three fifths of a person. Certainly, then, we can beg our ancestors’ intercession, that we might receive a portion of the same spirit that embraced them as they stood accused, without defense, and were preemptively convicted of teaching a sister to read or helping a brother escape. Such a gift would be far more precious than any argument a judge might allow us to make.
For my part, it is the advice of Martha’s grandmother that will continue to sustain this witness, no matter where it leads or what impossibilities await. As Dorothy Day told us years ago (and here I am paraphrasing): Do the work that comes to hand. Whatever the work that comes to your hand, do it joyfully, with all your heart. And if God wants it to prosper, it will.
This is the work that has come to my hand. It is nothing more, and nothing less, than simply taking responsibility for what I know to be true. And I will continue to do it with a full heart, and with all the joy I can find, rejoicing that I am no longer capable of exchanging the real walls of a prison for the minimum security that would be the reward for my silence.