Oct. 23, 2019 Day three of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 trial in federal court in Brunswick, Georgia, began with an objection raised by Stephanie Amiotte for the defense, which had been presented with a new piece of evidence minutes before the prosecution intended to put its witness on the stand. The judge disallowed the document but said information could be presented in testimony.
And with that, we were off. The final defense witness testified the damages exceeded thirty thousand dollars—fences fixed, new lock purchased, paint and blood cleaned off with pressure washing and missiles repainted, lighting, letters, and custom molded metal emblems replaced.
Throughout the trial, language differences have been apparent—the defense might ask if something is located on the base, the prosecution asks, “Is that onboard the base?” The large ring of mock missiles that became the focus of the action of Patrick O’Neill and Mark Colville, and later Martha Hennessy and Clare Grady, has been called “the missile shrine” by the Plowshares activists. With his last witness on the stand, Prosecutor Karl Knoche couldn’t abide it any longer. On redirect, he asked the Facilities Manager, “Does anyone at the base call that a shrine?” “We call it the missile display,” came the answer.
Judge Wood had the prosecution read into the record every exhibit it had tendered into evidence, along with a description of it, and then she excused the jury for morning break.
Bill Quigley stood to move for a judgment of acquittal, the standard Rule 29 motion arguing the government failed to make its case. There was testimony of evidence of damage at two sites—the Limited Area and the missile shrine—but the connection between them was not proven with evidence sufficient to sustain a conviction. There also, he said, was no evidence of malice, an element of the first two counts. Finally, there was insufficient evidence of depredation as legally defined.
The prosecution countered with a rebuttal of Quigley’s first point and then seemed content until Judge Wood prodded Knoche to address the second part of the motion. He then declared that the definition of maliciously was “intentional and deliberate disregard”. And he said depredation meant simply to damage.
“I am not going to grant the motion at this time,” said the judge, explaining her reasons briefly. After checking with the defendants, five of whom had reserved the right to make opening statements, and ascertaining that three still intended to make statements, she called a recess.
Opening Statement for Martha Hennessy
Stephanie Amiotte made the opening statement for Martha Hennessy, beginning with her history, her marriage, her children and grandchildren, her small farm in Vermont. “She is a granddaughter of Dorothy Day,” Ms. Amiotte said, “who is being considered by the Catholic Church for sainthood.” A small spark of electricity shivered through the room.
“She was taught that nuclear weapons are a violation of God’s law, immoral and illegal. These are the beliefs that brought her to Kings Bay. You will hear that there is no suggestion of anything of a malicious nature. Ms. Hennessy is not anti-American, she loves her country. She is anti-nuclear weapons, and this is what she says when she is speaking internationally.”
“Nuclear weapons are immoral. When she was a child, she learned what nuclear weapons can do…”
The prosecution objected, the judge called a sidebar meeting and that sentence disappeared; Ms. Amiotte concluded by reviewing what the evidence would show Martha had done on August 4 and 5 during the action on the base. “We hope you will consider the evidence and deliver justice, a finding of not guilty on all counts.”
Next up with his opening statement: Patrick O’Neill
“Good morning”, he opened. “We haven’t met, though you heard my headless voice on the video for more than an hour yesterday. I am happy to be here, happy that the grace of God has brought us together.”
Patrick noted that as a follower of Jesus, he saw the face of God in each member of the jury, each member of the court, and everyone in the courtroom. “You heard the prosecution’s case and saw the video,” said O’Neill. “They told you it is simple. Rules were broken. Your job is to listen to the facts,” he said, “and draw your conclusion from the facts of law and your conscience.”
“I came to Kings Bay to deliver a message,” Patrick said. “I want my children and grandchildren, and yours, to grow up in a world free of the nuclear threat. I came to save creation from being obliterated by nuclear weapons. Some of the evidence you will hear is normal for a trial of this nature. But some other stuff is unusual: the rosary, bottles of blood, a book, our faith-based statement. We will tell you about that.”
“And you will hear our testimony. For me, it is about the survival of the planet. We chose to use ‘high drama’ that illustrates nuclear weapons on the base are deadly first-strike weapons.”
“I draw a correlation with Jesus cleansing the temple. He did it because there was a grave injustice, like nuclear weapons.”
“We cut locks and did symbolic property damage to say, ‘This is an idol.’ That display is a shrine to missiles. It is not something we should honor. It is the same as the golden calf smashed in the Hebrew Bible.”
“We came to reveal what goes on there that nobody wants to go into—what weapons are and what they did… The symbol of blood is a little hard to understand. But in the context of faith, —here the prosecution’s objection was overruled—there are two simple components. One, the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. And then there is the blood that is the everlasting covenant. It’s also what happens in war. Kings Bay is nice and clean and you never see the blood. But the plans for war go on there. So we made it more visible.”
“We did what we did because of the Biblical injunction, God is love. Trident is the opposite of love and the opposite of God. Kings Bay Plowshares stand with God’s love. What we did was deliberate, and also discerning. We used restraint. There was no effort to disown our action or flee from the consequences. The vast majority of the case you heard was provided by us; we wore cameras and recorded our actions.”
“As jurors, you will consider the law, your experiences, your heart and your conscience. You will hear the evidence and search for truth—for deep truth.”
Patrick O’Neill returned to his seat. Steve Kelly, next scheduled to open, declined. “I will adopt,” he said. And with opening statements finished, it was time for witness testimony.
Defense Opens its Case with Martha Hennessy’s Testimony
The first defense witness was Martha Hennessy. Her history was reviewed, her 40-year marriage, her childhood, influenced by her grandmother and mother. She recounted reading old Catholic Worker publications. Attorney Stephanie Amiotte asked, “Did you read We Go on Record, the article your grandmother wrote in the Catholic Worker after Hiroshima?” Yes. “Did that shape your beliefs?” Yes. “What did you come to believe?” That nuclear weapons are illegal and immoral.
When Ms. Amiotte attempted to offer We Go on Record as an exhibit, the prosecution objected and everyone convened in the corner of the room for a chat with the judge, and the proposed exhibit disappeared into oblivion.
The testimony returned to Martha’s beliefs as formed by the Catholic Worker teachings and her grandmother. Asked what the elements of that faith are, Martha said, “To see Christ in others, compassion for the suffering, the Sermon on the Mount, feed the hungry, visit those in prison. Catholic Social Teaching—take care of creation and work for common good.”
What did you learn from your grandmother? “She handed me a book called Hiroshima by John Hersey and I learned what the Bomb does, its illegality; it is indiscriminate, it destroys whole cities, women, and children.”
The judge interrupted. “Now would you turn your attention to this case?”
Ms. Amiotte said, “As an occupational therapist, have you personally witnessed the effects of nuclear weapons on patients?” Even as Martha answered, “Yes,” the prosecution was objecting, and in the same breath, the judge sustained.
When asked about the indictment she posted on the door of the Engineering Services building, the prosecution objected again calling it “self-serving hearsay.” The judge overruled, noting it was the document she posted. When the document was offered as evidence, the judge accepted it, saying to the jury, “It is not offered for you to accept the truth of its contents, but it is the document left on the door.”
Martha then read a paragraph of the document. As she reached “Whereas the Nuremberg principles…” the prosecution rose to object; the judge overruled. “Whereas the Nuremberg principles prohibit crimes against peace and humanity, they render nuclear weapons illegal under any circumstances.”
They reviewed Martha’s actions on-site—posting the indictment, pouring blood (“I put the empty bottle in the trash,” she said.), delivering Daniel Ellsberg’s book The Doomsday Machine, stringing crime scene tape between two poles, and painting “May Love Disarm Us All” with a peace sign on the sidewalk at the Engineering Services Building, and painting “Abolish Nukes Now” and stringing more crime scene tape at the Missile Shrine.
Why crime scene tape, she was asked. “Because the true crime, I feel, is what the government does. And I am complicit. I have the need and the right to express myself in what the Base is doing. I pay taxes that are a necessary expense for the arsenal…”
The testimony returned to Catholic social teaching. “We are taught to hold on to our faith. Paul says faith without works is dead. We can hold on to our beliefs, but we also must express them. Teresa of Ávila said ‘Our feet are the feet of Christ, and our hands are the hands of Christ.’ It’s not enough to attend mass on Sunday. I have to show through my works what I have learned of the gospel’s teachings.”
What message did you intend to convey? “To alert the public. These weapons are on hair trigger alert,” said Hennessy, “they can decimate cities. They are against God’s will.”
And you chose the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination? “I studied who he was, and I learned about the giant triplets: racism, excessive materialism, militarism. We felt this was appropriate considering what is happening in so many places in our country and in the world. And we wanted to convey that nuclear weapons are the keystone of systems of violence and dominance. Not just ours, but other nations’ too—
The prosecution objected and was sustained.
“And your beliefs about nuclear weapons?”
“Objection—irrelevant!” said the prosecutor.
“Sustained”, said the judge.
Prosecution Cross Examines Hennessy
The cross examination of Martha began. The prosecutor asked her about planning with her colleagues for the action. “My entire life has been preparation,” said Martha.
“You didn’t just wake up and decide to go to Kings Bay?” asked the prosecutor. I pause to note that on several occasions, always and only when dealing with women, the prosecutor tempered his professional demeanor with a dollop of sarcasm. Martha didn’t bite. “It was a difficult discernment,” she said. “For about two years.”
Martha told the jury there have been more than 100 Plowshares actions, efforts to protest nuclear weapons and to enflesh Isaiah’s words, to make swords into plowshares, since the first action in 1980.
Moments later, Knoche turned once again to sarcasm. Displaying a photo of Gate 18, where the activists entered the base, he pointed out the chain, the lock, the concrete barriers. “Are any of those a welcome mat?” he asked. “You didn’t have ‘permission’” he said, putting the word in verbal air quotes.” No. “You came ‘under cover of darkness,’” he said. And then, “You never sought ‘permission.’” No.
When he suggested protests happen legally outside the base gates, she said, “A sacramental action has to take place where the sin exists.”
On redirect, Martha was asked why they call the missile display a “shrine.” She said, “We, our country, many countries, replace God with these weapons. We don’t put our trust in God. We need to study Christian teachings; it is idolatry to trust these weapons.”
Testimony by Carmen Trotta
Carmen Trotta was next to take the stand. Reviewing the basic facts of his bio, he noted that he lived for 30 years at the New York Catholic Worker, the house Dorothy Day founded. Moments later, his standby counsel who was doing the questioning, started his question: “Now at the Doris Day House…” “Dorothy”, Carmen corrected as the audience chuckled.
Asked why he went onto Kings Bay on April 4, 2018, Carmen took a moment to educate the jury. “One-fourth of the US nuclear arsenal is deployed out of Kings Bay,” he said, “the single most sophisticated weapon on our planet. If used, they will destroy all life on the planet. They can’t be legal.”
He described the ease with which they entered the base and carried out their action—on the base and not stopped by security personnel for nearly two hours. “This is also a kind of metaphor for the instability of our nuclear arsenal,” he said.
Describing the choice to go to the Limited Area, Carmen noted he had no dependents, so he was willing to take a risk with possibly higher consequences. “I’m not brave,” he said. “Not so much about being shot, but being maimed.”
Carmen said the action was an attempt to deliver a message. Invoking Dwight Eisenhower’s admonition that democracy requires an informed and diligent citizenry. “Part of that is to expose the base for what it is.” He agreed with Martha that a goal was to deliver a sacrament, to initiate Isaiah’s prophecy. “We have to listen to Eisenhower, Kennedy and King,” he said, growing animated. “These things are not aspirational. We have to live them into being now.”
The judge broke in. Please lower your voice.
Carmen said, “I shouldn’t preach.”
“Right”, said the judge.
The particulars of the action were reviewed, how the guards arrived and approached without raising weapons. Trotta testified that they had prepared a greeting to display an unthreatening manner:
“We come in peace, we mean you no harm;
We’re American citizens, and we are not armed.”
Carmen also noted the moment he stood and looked at hundreds of bunkers. “Each one of them the equivalent of a mass grave,” he said, “and that’s an understatement.
One function of our action, he said, was to open the base to the moral scrutiny of the American people. Another was to demonstrate the outrage of Christ at these weapons.”
Under cross-examination, the prosecution got absolutely nowhere. Carmen agreed to almost everything said. When finally he refused to agree, the prosecutor kept pushing for the answer he wanted until finally the defense objected to the attempt to start a debate. The judge sustained.
Carmen’s testimony concluded at 12:10, and the judge declared a lunch break.
Clare Grady Testifies
Clare Grady took the stand after lunch. After reviewing her basic biographical materials, Clare talked about the influence of her parents’ Catholic faith. “It was not just going to church on Sunday,” she said, “the cornerstone is faith in action—it’s not enough just to talk about Jesus; our whole lives are about learning to understand that God is love.”
In reviewing the activities of the Kings Bay plowshares action, she described the banner they hung. “We used the word ‘omnicide,’ she said. A word that didn’t exist before the nuclear age—the death of all living things. We put up crime scene tape, she said, because Trident is the biggest crime we now.”
Describing the purpose of her action, Clare said, “There were several. We wanted to sound the alarm. We did not come here to force anyone else to do something but to take responsibility for my part. I am withdrawing my consent. I needed to do something to say, ‘I do not consent.’”
Describing the things she took on to the base with her, Clare noted she had a bell given to her by a hibakusha (survivor of the atomic bombing of Japan), reminding her of his urging that we must say “No more nuclear weapons.”
Clare insisted that she was obeying a higher law when she entered the base. “Did you do anything wrong?” she was asked. “I wouldn’t have done it, wouldn’t have accepted responsibility, would not be here today if I thought it was wrong.”
Prosecutor Bullies Grady on Cross
Under cross examination, prosecutor Knoche resumed his semi-sarcastic stance. “I do not consent to red lights,” he said (which was probably not true at all). “Can I withdraw my consent?” I was following laws passed by Congress, said Clare. Big laws.
“So Clare Grady can just overrule that,” he said. “Is that a question?” Clare asked.
“So you have the power to overrule 320,000,000 who have elected Congress to make laws…” Clare interrupted him. “Karl, no! I read the book by Daniel Ellsberg. He was given a high-security clearance by the President, the elected president, to study nuclear weapons, and what he found, after six months, was that the US President had no idea.”
“You said you don’t like bullies,” said the prosecutor. He noted that she had painted a message on the sidewalk of the Engineering building—he put a picture of it on the screen—the message was “May Love Disarm Us All” with a peace sign and a heart. “Do you think that people who came to work and saw that message might feel bullied?” he asked. “I put a heart,” she said. “If someone did that, put a heart, and stayed to take responsibility for their actions, I would be grateful to them.”
“If they defaced your workplace…,” he pushed on. “But weapons are bullying,” she responded. “We didn’t accost a single person. The encounters we did have were all positive encounters.”
“So, if Clare Grady says ‘This isn’t bullying…’” he continued. “You’re asking me?” she said. “I say let others decide. I wasn’t threatening.”
Then he began a litany, in full bully mode, attacking Clare. When he reached, “So you have a superior conscience…,” the defense table erupted in objections and he was shamed down.
After a few more questions, the prosecutor turned Clare back for a redirect. “In your understanding, is a red light the same as a nuclear weapon?” he queried.
“Can you tell me what you mean by Supreme Law?” he then asked. “The banner said nuclear weapons are immoral and illegal. The law of God and the law of the land resonate. Human laws should not go against God’s law.”
When the prosecutor objected, it was noted that a door had been opened by the cross-examination. The judge called a sidebar conference and the line of questioning went away.
The redirect concluded: Has any bully ever given you a valentine or a heart? No, said Clare. “Has any bully ever said love to you?” No, Clare said. “Do you believe your action was lawful?” I do, said Clare, and I’ve studied quite a bit.”
Colville on the Stand
Mark Colville took the stand. He reviewed the details of his personal life and his theological education and segued into his motivation. “My religion says faith is a myth or a lie without action,” he said. “St. Francis taught us to make peace at all times, and if necessary, use words.”
Under direct examination, he answered one of the questions sent to the judge by a juror: Why did they replace the lock with a new one?
“We wanted to do as little harm as possible and tread as lightly as possible. We wanted to close it when we came in—and we had no intention to flee or escape by any means.”
He described the shrine as “a display of replicas of missiles and weaponry arranged to give honor and invite reverence. Including religious symbols. It’s—to my mind, that place is a religious site.”
Asked why he chose to put up a banner of Martin Luther King, Jr. with the quote: “The ultimate logic of racism is genocide,” Colville said, “Reluctantly—to face reality—my faith requires that I get a grasp on what’s going on around me. And my baptismal commitment, prophecy, is to understand what it means and tell it.”
Asked about the second banner, omnicide, which he hung on the D-5 Trident missile, he said, “It’s important to address that weapon. That reflects what we hear King saying to our present reality.”
“We learned with the first swing of the hammer that the missile is solid concrete. But it was a symbolic and sacramental action. Sacrament is a requirement of my faith—calling into reality what is not yet real.”
About the words idolatry and blasphemy, he said, “It goes to what I believe about nuclear weapons. A core understanding. Idolatry is our greatest obstacle—placing something other than God at the center, whether it is security or ultimate security. If you see that, the Bible doesn’t say to make a speech or to vote, but remove it. That drove me from the table at Amistad (Catholic Worker House) to Kings Bay. I would use words from the Pope…”
After a few more questions, the lawyer asked, “Are you allowed to run red lights?” Mark said, “When my wife was in labor, I ran every red light from the Bronx to Mt. Sinai.”
The cross examination of Mark was straightforward and understated. Eventually, the prosecutor tried to push a little.
“Is it you who decides what needs to be transformed?” No, said Colville, Christianity is not practiced individually. We are called as individuals into community. We are saved together.”
But you decided which idols to transform. “Through our communal discernment.”
“You were having a good time, laughing…” No, not a good time. No. I was frightened. Watching the video yesterday, I was exhausted.
“You found it hard to watch because—“
I can tell you why I found it hard to watch. Others can tell you what they thought.
With the conclusion of Colville’s testimony, the court recessed for the afternoon break.
After the break, Patrick O’Neill took the stand. He reviewed his personal history and present circumstances, including the experiences that sharpened his faith and pointed him to activism.
“I see our action as part of a long tradition of nonviolent resistance,” he said. “Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, abolitionists, people who have changed the world. We are thinking a lot about where all this is going to go. Nine nations have nuclear weapons…”
Does your faith have anything to do with your actions? “It’s the reason.”
Did you have a choice? asked the counsel. Patrick said, “We all have free will. I had a choice. Maybe you mean to ask if I felt compelled?”
Did you feel compelled? asked the counsel. “I did. I worry about the fate of the earth and my grandkids. Two of them are one year old. They will be alive, I hope, at the turn of the next century. I want to say to God, ‘I saw injustice and tried to do something.’ I’m not saying I am sure we are right. I’m not so arrogant. But I believe we are following God in all we did.”
Could Kings Bay be considered a work of mercy? asked the counsel. “It was a prophetic, sacramental action. You go where sin is taking place and address it. The seven of us, I suppose we are unusual. This may be new to you. We are living in the nuclear age and people aren’t thinking about it. Our action was to say ‘Can we have some discussion about what’s happening behind the fence?’ Maybe you’ll think we are crazy—the prophets were called crazy.”
O’Neill described his actions, including the encounter with the concrete missile. “When I hit the missile with the hammer, the head came off.”
Patrick answered the same questions as the others about intention and threat and reviewed sections of the GoPro video that were not shown to the jury by the prosecution, including the reading of Bible verses and a portion of the statement. “We pray for our church,” he read. “We can’t pray for peace and prepare for war at the same time. Pope Francis says the threat of use, as well as possession… concluding with: This is our statement of love and hope.”
Patrick’s cross examination was comparatively brief. He was asked what he meant by his reference to “we rehearsed” what they would do when confronted. “Play-acting,” he said. “Someone played the soldier and came up to confront us and we discussed and tried out, what would be a good thing to say? We tried things. We tried “We come in peace,” and it worked.
The court proceedings overall provided several opportunities for monetizing plowshares action with product placement ads: for U-Line bolt cutters, and ACE locks, for instance. But shown the Ryobi angle grinder, O’Neill pronounced it junk, though some conjectured that it did as well as it could on concrete when it had a metal blade.
When pressed to say why he chose Kings Bay, O’Neill said it was a group decision, that he had been protesting here since the 1980s, and that they knew there had not been a plowshares action here. “Our action was designed to wake people up,” he said, “or to encourage a conversation.”
At the conclusion of Patrick’s testimony, the judge called for Steve Kelly. He declined to testify.
Quigley Examines Liz McAlister
Bill Quigley stepped up to examine Liz McAlister. Quigley ran through a list of questions eliciting her biographical information. She spoke of teaching at Marymount College, a women’s school, when many of her students knew men who were deployed to Vietnam. “We suffered with them. You couldn’t teach without being aware of their grief and concern. I knew at least thirty students whose boyfriends or fiancés came back from Vietnam in body bags. The grief was unspeakable. It led me—I had to learn how to more deeply say no to war and to weapons of war.”
She spoke of a life of devotion and action. “Prayer three times a day, but I had to do more. That meant marches, vigils, fasts for peace.” She explained that discernment meant looking clearly and critically at things they were called to do, asking what is drawing us? Is it a good spirit? Is it ego? Why would I take part in this particular thing?”
Getting to the plowshares action, she described the meetings in their long process. We did meet, a couple days at a time. Asking, “How are you doing? What are you feeling? Where are you being drawn? Every meeting began, was pock-marked, and ended with prayer.”
Eventually, Attorney Quigley called for Exhibit 26; the NCIS Special Agent went to the front of the room and retrieved a cardboard box sealed in a plastic bag. “You may open it,” said the judge—but Quigley already knew that. “Is there a special way to open this?” he asked about the evidence bag. The prosecutor provided scissors. Quigley opened the bag, then the box, then withdrew the long-hidden banner and held it in his outstretched arms, taut, for all to read. NUCLEAR WEAPONS IMMORAL ILLEGAL it read.
“Kings Bay has nuclear weapons, Liz said. They are poison and illegal. If you understand the kill power—if they aren’t illegal, they ought to be.”
Asked how she balanced her priorities—the risk of jail against her family, the soon-to-be eighty year old grandmother said, “I need to witness against these weapons for the sake of these children and grandchildren.”
On cross-examination, the prosecutor asked Liz McAlister three questions and sat down.
Last Defense Witness
Before resting, the defense called the Kings Bay public affairs director to recall his announcement the day after the action, to the Washington Post, that no personnel or military assets were ever at risk. He declined to own the words initially, but when Stephanie Amiotte presented him with a card with talking points prepared by his office and asked him to read the first point, he read:
“At no time were any personnel or military assets threatened.”
Is that still your testimony? she asked. “Yes,” he said.
Shortly thereafter, at 4:55 pm, the defense rested. The jury was sent out and the judge outlined the procedure for Thursday when the court will resume at 9:30 am.