It seemed absurd we would have a shrine to nuclear weapons

Even if you don’t pull that trigger you’re using that gun

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UPDATE: The Kings Bay Plowshares 7 have been found guilty on all charges. More at the end of this post.

“It’s gone better than expected” Mary Anne Grady-Flores told me on Thursday morning. She’s spent the week in Georgia attending the trial of her sister Clare Grady and six other co-defendants known as the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 and closing arguments were expected to follow shortly. The group of seven Catholic Worker peace activists will await a decision from a jury now on charges of trespassing, conspiracy, and two felonies including depredation of and destruction of government property for a protest action last April in which they ‘nonviolently and symbolically disarmed’ the Trident nuclear submarine base at Kings Bay, Georgia. They face up to twenty five years in prison and many of them have spent over a year in jail in the lead up to the trial while others among them have been forced to wear ankle bracelets to monitor their movement as if they were lethally dangerous criminals.

On the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination last year the group entered the base which is home to an arsenal of nuclear submarines and missiles and among other things painted messages of peace throughout the facility, doused the area with their own blood, and attempted to symbolically hammer a statue of a nuclear missile in an action that invoked the words of the prophet Isaiah:

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

“It seemed absurd we would have a shrine to nuclear weapons,” Patrick O’Neill one of the defendants explained in a video posted to Facebook after trial on Wednesday. “In North Carolina where I live we’re taking down Confederate monuments, but here we have monuments, literally phallic monuments, that were replicas of weapons of mass destruction surrounded by flags... I thought this is the most incredible example of modern day idolatry we could find, maybe anywhere on planet Earth. And it’s our responsibility to smash idols.”

O’Neill said the statue was too strong and that his hammer broke before he could do any actual damage.

The Plowshares Movement has performed dozens of such high profile anti-nuclear and pacifist protests over the years. The defendants in this case include veterans of the movement or family members of prominent activists from throughout its history. They are also affiliated with the Catholic Workers Movement “an ideology described as ‘Christian anarchism’ which holds that the revolutionary ideals of Jesus Christ supersede the state and other institutions,” as Common Dreams recently explained.

Started in 1933 by Dorothy Day, whose granddaughter Martha Hennessey is on trial this week, and Peter Maurin, the Catholic Worker Movement began as a newspaper founded to give a voice to the voiceless. From that grew around 200 communities of Catholic Workers around the world intent on ministering to the poor, carrying out acts of mercy, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and carrying out non-violent revolutionary actions. In other words taking all of the good parts of what Jesus said and following through on them, which is not something you see too often among the more stridently capitalist Christianists these days, particularly those in power. (More on the Catholic Workers below).

Nuclear weapons are by their very existence inherently illegal they believe and they are correct about that.

I spoke on the phone with Grady alongside Holly Gump and Kathleen Rumph, two other veterans of the movement on hand in Georgia, who explained that the judge overseeing the case had set out trying to restrict the scope of the defense they could use in terms of invoking international law and religious imperatives for their actions, and also the type of expert witnesses they could introduce. They said she refused to allow Daniel Ellsberg, the activist most famous for exposing the Pentagon Papers, to testify on their behalf.

Ellsberg released a statement in the group’s defense leading up to the trial.

I strongly endorse the action of civil resistance by the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 defendants who are now on trial for having ‘nonviolently and symbolically disarmed the Trident nuclear submarine base at Kings Bay, Georgia.’ The sign they displayed during their action on the base — ‘The Ultimate Logic of Trident is Omnicide’ — is exactly right. I believe they are definitely entitled to the legal defense, among others, of ‘Justification’ or ‘Necessity:’ that an action which would under other circumstances be illegal can be justified as legal by a reasonable belief that it is necessary to avert a much greater evil: in this case, omnicide, the collateral murder of nearly every human on earth in a war in which the nuclear missiles aboard Trident submarines were launched.

…A key point is that without the impact on myself of actions of civil resistance during the Vietnam War like those of the defendants in this case — including those of Father Philip Berrigan, the late husband of the current defendant Elizabeth McAlister, and of Dorothy Day, grandmother of another defendant Martha Hennessy — I would never have considered revealing the top secret Pentagon Papers: which legal scholars have described as having had, ‘arguably at least,’ a causal effect in shortening the Vietnam War.

I believe that omnicide, the end of civilization and most of humanity, will not be averted without a moral transformation and political mobilization that requires actions of civil disobedience — including that of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7– to inspire.

Others like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Noam Chomsky have signed a petition on their behalf calling for the dismissal of the charges.

Video the group took of themselves protesting showcased documents they brought with them to the base — including Ellsberg’s book Doomsday Machine, which was placed inside of a spray-painted heart — in order to make clear their motivations but it was either not allowed into evidence or withheld by the prosecution the women I spoke to explained.

“There has never been a Plowshares action where the defendants videotaped themselves,” Grady-Flores said. “What that video did was it proved the motivation, their intent, their frame of mind, peacefulness, and care for those they were going to encounter. But guess what the government did? On Tuesday we got to see video from the government. Clare got up and cross examined him asking if this was edited, which he admitted. It cut out all their prayers and their reading out loud of the war crimes indictment.”

The intent from the government they said was to make the defendants appear more sinister than they actually were.

“What they’re doing in the court room is preventing the motivations of the activists from getting out,” Gump added. “Instead they’re describing them as criminal.”

“If you see something you’re obliged to say something,” Grady-Flores said. “They were doing that in the context of faith-based people trying to follow the prophetic word, everything that the prophets call us to do, go up to the mountain of God and be instructed, then come down and beat swords into plowshares and study war no more.”

“This is a systemic problem, the Trident missile is being held to the head of the planet, like the cop’s gun, it enforces all of our interventionist wars,” Grady-Flores said, paraphrasing something her sister had said previously.

“I really see and understand that these weapons are not just omnicidal if they’re launched, they’re deadly now every day,” Clare Grady explained in an interview with Democracy Now earlier this year. Grady previously spent two years in federal prison for a similar protest she and others including Rumph conducted in 1983 at an Air Force base in New York in which they hammered planes and shed blood throughout the base.

The first such action took place in 1980 in Pennsylvania.

“I see [the missiles] as the capstone to the systems of violence, from the top down to the police gun in the street that kills and threatens to kill, but that these weapons are the bully stick that’s used in the same way that a gun is used when it’s held to the head of someone” Grady explained in the interview.

“Even if you don’t pull that trigger, you’re using that gun. So we’re using these weapons every day. And I’m not just concerned about if they’re launched, but how they’re used every day…to extort. So they are the enforcement mechanism that’s necessary to enforce these systems of white supremacy and global capitalism, is how I see it. And so, going to Kings Bay with my friends was my way of withdrawing my consent from that system.”

Grady further explained why the choice of the date, MLK’s assassination, was important.

“The triplets that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King identifies, of racism, extreme materialism and militarism, are the key things that work together, all the time together. Not one by itself, but all together make a deadly, deadly combination. And so, Dr. King is known for many, many things, but I feel like he’s been stripped of many of his messages and life’s purpose. And so I want to honor what he gave us in that moment.”

Ultimately the defendants were provided some unexpected freedom in explaining their anti-nuclear philosophy and their religious motivations at trial, which, as they explain in part on their website, amounts to this:

Nuclear weapons eviscerate the rule of law, enforce white supremacy, perpetuate endless war and environmental destruction and ensure impunity for all manner of crimes against humanity. Dr. King said, “The ultimate logic of racism is genocide.” We say, “The ultimate logic of Trident is omnicide.” A just and peaceful world is possible when we join prayers with action. Swords into Plowshares!”

“We were given a lot of leeway by the judge to discuss our religious motivations for going onto the base,” Patrick O’Neil explained in his video. “We were also allowed to speak about the reality of nuclear weapons… She held us to some limits on that, but she didn’t force them too hard.”

Elizabeth McAlister another one of the defendants described her life as a nun and her involvement in the peace movement on the stand. She was a college professor during the Vietnam War and thirty of her student’s boyfriends came home in bodybags she explained.

“One could not be a teacher of these young women without sharing their grief. I felt that we were being called to more.”

She would go on to marry Philip Berrigan founder of the Plowshares Movement and establish the activist community Jonah House in Baltimore.

She also talked about the idea behind using blood in these protests.

“War involves radical bloodshed. [Using blood as a symbol] is a way of remembering that war is bloodshed, and we long to see the end of war and the end of shedding the blood of another human being.”

It’s something most of us ignore.

“Before the trial the potential jury was asked if any of the seventy three had strong feelings about nuclear weapons and none of them raised their hands, which says something about how normal living in the age of nuclear weapons has become for people,” O’Neill said.

“They don’t think about the fact we’re on hair trigger alert 24/7 every day, every minute of our lives, and that every major city in the world could be destroyed in fifteen minutes. It’s something people don’t even think about.”

After hearing from his group he says he suspects they’ll think about it now.

Donate to the group’s legal defense fund here.

UPDATE: Here’s a press release sent out on Friday after the group were found guilty on all charges.

Kings Bay Plowshares 7 Found Guilty on All Counts

BRUNSWICK, GA – More than 18 months after they snuck onto the site of one of the largest known collections of nuclear weaponry in the world, a jury found the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 guilty of all four of the charges brought against them.  

The defendants face more than 20 years in prison for destruction and depredation of government property in excess of $1,000, trespassing, and conspiracy.

Late at night on April 4, 2018 Mark Colville, Clare Grady, Martha Hennessy, Fr. Steve Kelly, S.J., Elizabeth McAlister, Patrick O’Neill, and Carmen Trotta used a bolt cutter to enter a remote gate at Naval Base Kings Bay in St. Mary’s GA and walked two miles through swamp and brush. They then split into three groups and prayed, poured blood, spray painted messages against nuclear weapons, hammered on parts of a shrine to nuclear missiles, hung banners, and waited to be arrested.

“The Pentagon has many installations – and we just walked out of one of them,” Colville said outside the courthouse. “It’s a place where they weaponize the law. And they wield it mostly against the poor, the people who have all the red lined neighborhoods in this county know that very well.

"And once in a while the people who are privileged like us get a taste of it. And when we do we should hear the word guilty as a blessing on us because it gives us an opportunity to stand with people who hear guilty all the time every day.”

The seven expect to be sentenced in 60 to 90 days. Until then, six of them have been released under bond conditions each had prior to trial.

During the course of the trial, which began Monday morning, the defendants and their supporters had expressed pleasure with the unexpected amount of information they had been able to provide to the jury about their reasons for undertaking their protest. Federal Judge Lisa Godbey Wood had issued an order late last Friday night restricting any evidence or testimony having to do with a necessity defense, international law and treaties restricting nuclear weaponry, and religious and moral reasons.  

“I really think that the verdict was, frankly, reactionary,” Trotta told supporters outside the courthouse. “They heard a lot. The judge allowed them to hear a lot. And it’s a little frightening that nuclear weapons could be hidden in plain sight. We have to understand that we are a remnant.… We remain a remnant of the spirit that I think was stronger in our country at other periods on time.

“But we all know which way the wind is blowing. There’s the Black Lives Matter movement. There’s the Extinction Rebellion. There’s the Me Too movement. There’s an activist community waiting just behind us.”

I was going to attempt to try to summarize how the Catholic Worker Movement explains their positions and goals but found so much that seemed worthy of quoting in this piece it seemed easier just to reprint the entire thing.

The Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker

Reprinted from The Catholic Worker newspaper, May 2019, 86th Anniversary Issue

The aim of the Catholic Worker movement is to live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ. Our sources are the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures as handed down in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, with our inspiration coming from the lives of the saints, "men and women outstanding in holiness, living witnesses to Your unchanging love." (Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer for holy men and women)

This aim requires us to begin living in a different way. We recall the words of our founders, Dorothy Day who said, "God meant things to be much easier than we have made them," and Peter Maurin who wanted to build a society "where it is easier for people to be good."

* * *

When we examine our society, which is generally called capitalist (because of its methods of producing and controlling wealth) and is bourgeois (because of prevailing concern for acquisition and material interests, and its emphasis on respectability and mediocrity), we find it far from God's justice.

--In economics, private and state capitalism bring about an unjust distribution of wealth, for the profit motive guides decisions. Those in power live off the sweat of others' brows, while those without power are robbed of a just return for their work. Usury (the charging of interest above administrative costs) is a major contributor to the wrongdoing intrinsic to this system. We note, especially, how the world debt crisis leads poor countries into greater deprivation and a dependency from which there is no foreseeable escape. Here at home, the number of hungry and homeless and unemployed people rises in the midst of increasing affluence.

--In labor, human need is no longer the reason for human work. Instead, the unbridled expansion of technology, necessary to capitalism and viewed as "progress," holds sway. Jobs are concentrated in productivity and administration for a "high-tech," war-related, consumer society of disposable goods, so that laborers are trapped in work that does not contribute to human welfare. Furthermore, as jobs become more specialized, many people are excluded from meaningful work or are alienated from the products of their labor. Even in farming, agribusiness has replaced agriculture, and, in all areas, moral restraints are run over roughshod, and a disregard for the laws of nature now threatens the very planet.

--In politics, the state functions to control and regulate life. Its power has burgeoned hand in hand with growth in technology, so that military, scientific and corporate interests get the highest priority when concrete political policies are formulated. Because of the sheer size of institutions, we tend towards government by bureaucracy--that is, government by nobody. Bureaucracy, in all areas of life, is not only impersonal, but also makes accountability, and, therefore, an effective political forum for redressing grievances, next to impossible.

--In morals, relations between people are corrupted by distorted images of the human person. Class, race and gender often determine personal worth and position within society, leading to structures that foster oppression. Capitalism further divides society by pitting owners against workers in perpetual conflict over wealth and its control. Those who do not "produce" are abandoned, and left, at best, to be "processed" through institutions. Spiritual destitution is rampant, manifested in isolation, madness, promiscuity and violence.

--The arms race stands as a clear sign of the direction and spirit of our age. It has extended the domain of destruction and the fear of annihilation, and denies the basic right to life. There is a direct connection between the arms race and destitution. "The arms race is an utterly treacherous trap, and one which injures the poor to an intolerable degree." (Gaudium et Spes)

* * *

In contrast to what we see around us, as well as within ourselves, stands St. Thomas Aquinas' doctrine of the Common Good, a vision of a society where the good of each member is bound to the good of the whole in the service of God.

To this end, we advocate:

--Personalism, a philosophy which regards the freedom and dignity of each person as the basis, focus and goal of all metaphysics and morals. In following such wisdom, we move away from a self-centered individualism toward the good of the other. This is to be done by taking personal responsibility for changing conditions, rather than looking to the state or other institutions to provide impersonal "charity." We pray for a Church renewed by this philosophy and for a time when all those who feel excluded from participation are welcomed with love, drawn by the gentle personalism Peter Maurin taught.

--A decentralized society, in contrast to the present bigness of government, industry, education, health care and agriculture. We encourage efforts such as family farms, rural and urban land trusts, worker ownership and management of small factories, homesteading projects, food, housing and other cooperatives--any effort in which money can once more become merely a medium of exchange, and human beings are no longer commodities.

--A "green revolution," so that it is possible to rediscover the proper meaning of our labor and our true bonds with the land; a distributist communitarianism, self-sufficient through farming, crafting and appropriate technology; a radically new society where people will rely on the fruits of their own toil and labor; associations of mutuality, and a sense of fairness to resolve conflicts.

* * *

We believe this needed personal and social transformation should be pursued by the means Jesus revealed in His sacrificial love. With Christ as our Exemplar, by prayer and communion with His Body and Blood, we strive for practices of:

--Nonviolence. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God." (Matt. 5:9) Only through nonviolent action can a personalist revolution come about, one in which one evil will not simply be replaced by another. Thus, we oppose the deliberate taking of human life for any reason, and see every oppression as blasphemy. Jesus taught us to take suffering upon ourselves rather than inflict it upon others, and He calls us to fight against violence with the spiritual weapons of prayer, fasting and noncooperation with evil. Refusal to pay taxes for war, to register for conscription, to comply with any unjust legislation; participation in nonviolent strikes and boycotts, protests or vigils; withdrawal of support for dominant systems, corporate funding or usurious practices are all excellent means to establish peace.

--The works of mercy (as found in Matt. 25:31-46) are at the heart of the Gospel and they are clear mandates for our response to "the least of our brothers and sisters." Houses of hospitality are centers for learning to do the acts of love, so that the poor can receive what is, in justice, theirs, the second coat in our closet, the spare room in our home, a place at our table. Anything beyond what we immediately need belongs to those who go without.

--Manual labor, in a society that rejects it as undignified and inferior. "Besides inducing cooperation, besides overcoming barriers and establishing the spirit of sister and brotherhood (besides just getting things done), manual labor enables us to use our bodies as well as our hands, our minds." (Dorothy Day) The Benedictine motto Ora et Labora reminds us that the work of human hands is a gift for the edification of the world and the glory of God.

--Voluntary poverty. "The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge and belief in love." (Dorothy Day) By embracing voluntary poverty, that is, by casting our lot freely with those whose impoverishment is not a choice, we would ask for the grace to abandon ourselves to the love of God. It would put us on the path to incarnate the Church's "preferential option for the poor."

* * *

We must be prepared to accept seeming failure with these aims, for sacrifice and suffering are part of the Christian life. Success, as the world determines it, is not the final criterion for judgments. The most important thing is the love of Jesus Christ and how to live His truth.