In the Steps of Rev. King and Dan Berrigan: Peace Activists Jailed for Targeting Militarism
May 5, 2018
World Beyond War & Art Laffin / Pax Christi USA
On April 4, the 50 anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., seven peace activists entered the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base. Carrying hammers and bottles of their own blood, they sought to enact and embody the prophet Isaiah's command to: "Beat swords into plowshares." For upholding the Constitution (through its requirement to respect treaties) and international law (through the UN Charter and Nuremberg Principles) they are now imprisoned and awaiting trial on May 10.
Kings Bay Plowshares Activists
Indicted in Southern District of Georgia Federal Court
World Beyond War
(May 4, 2018) -- On April 4, 2018, the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Liz McAlister, 78, Stephen Kelly S.J., 70, Martha Hennessy, 62, Clare Grady, 58, Patrick O'Neill, 62, Mark Colville, 55, and Carmen Trotta, 55, entered the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base.
Carrying hammers and bottles of their own blood, the seven sought to enact and embody the prophet Isaiah's command to:
"Beat swords into plowshares."
In so doing, they were upholding the US Constitution through its requirement to respect treaties, international law through the UN Charter and Nuremburg principles, and higher moral law regarding the sacredness of all creation. They hoped to draw attention to and begin to dismantle what Dr. King called, "the triple evils" of racism, militarism, and extreme materialism.
In an indictment filed this week in the Southern District of Georgia, Brunswick division, the seven were charged with four counts: Conspiracy, Destruction of Property on a Naval Station, Depredation of Government Property, and Trespass. They will appear before a magistrate in Brunswick on May 10th. Although currently being held at the Camden County jail in Woodbine, Georgia, they expect to be acquitted of all charges.
Attorney William P. Quigley, Professor of Law at Loyola University, New Orleans, LA, noted, "These peace activists acted in accordance with the 1996 declaration of the International Court of Justice that any threat or use of nuclear weapons is illegal."
Martha Hennessy, the granddaughter of Dorothy Day, responded from Camden County jail with the observation that, "the real conspiracy lies with those create unparalleled onmicidal weapons that violate national and international law."
Kings Bay Naval base opened in 1979 as the Navy's Atlantic Ocean Trident port. It is the largest nuclear submarine base in the world. The Kings Bay Plowshares hope to draw attention not only to the threat of nuclear annihilation posed by the weapons aboard the submarines whose homeport is Kings Bay, but to emphasize how the weapons kill every day.
Clare Grady wrote from Camden Country jail:
"We say, 'the ultimate logic of Trident is omnicide', and yet, the explosive power of this weapon is only part of what we want to make visible. We see that nuclear weapons kill every day by their mere existence. We see the billions of dollars it takes to build and maintain the Trident system as stolen resources, which are desperately needed for human needs."
In response to news of the indictment, Mark Colville, of New Haven, Connecticut, wrote from the Camden County Jail:
"Once again the federal criminal justice system has plainly identified itself as another arm of the Pentagon by turning a blind eye to the criminal and murderous course from which it has repeatedly refused to desist for the past 70 years."
Daniel Berrigan's Ethic of Resurrection
And the Kings Bay Plowshares
Art Laffin / Pax Christi USA Blog
April 30, 2018 marked the second anniversary of Dan Berrigan's home-going to God. Early this morning I held a sign at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker weekly Pentagon peace vigil that said: "Daniel Berrigan, S.J.-- Presente!" Below is an article about Dan Berrigan's "Ethic of Resurrection" and the recent Kings Bay Plowshares action.
-- Dan Laffin
(April 30, 2018) -- "This is our glory. From Peter and Paul to Martin Luther King, Jr. and [assassinated Salvadoran priest Oscar] Romero. Christians have known something that the 'nations' as such can never know or teach -- how to live and how to die. We are witnesses to the resurrection. We practice resurrection. We risk resurrection." Daniel Kerrigan (Testimony: The Word Made Fresh, p. 222-223)
April 30th marks the second anniversary of the death of Daniel Berrigan, SJ, the renowned prophetic priest, peacemaker, writer and poet. Dan was an important friend and mentor to me and countless others. His spirit lives on in the hearts of all he touched throughout his 94 years. And his writings and poems continue to instruct and challenge.
During this Holy Season of Easter, I have been pondering Dan's words in his profound and deeply challenging essay, "An Ethic of Resurrection," from Testimony.
How do we understand resurrection in a time of pervasive systemic racism, violence, oppression, inequality, perpetual war, rampant political instability and corporate domination, and the ever-present threats of nuclear extinction and climate chaos?
When I read Dan's words, this is how I interpret them and apply it to our present context: To be witnesses to the resurrection we must utter our 'No' to State-sanctioned violence, racism, oppression, injustice and all that endangers life and creation. We must utter an unequivocal 'No' to ALL that divides, demeans and destroys!
We must act in the hope of the resurrection -- a hope that is rooted in the conviction that Jesus has forever overcome the forces of sin and death! Thus, our 'Yes' to this belief compels us to resist the forces of death and evil in our world, to risk the cross and practice resurrection!
Dan Berrigan showed us how to be a witness to the resurrection. Clearly, his "No" and "Yes" were rooted in his faith in the crucified and risen Jesus. Dan's exemplary life witness is a powerful testimony to resurrection hope!
It is this hope that compelled him to risk traveling to a war zone in North Vietnam in 1968, and to be involved in two prophetic watershed peace actions: the Catonsville Nine Action (May 17 will mark the 50th anniversary of this action) and the Plowshares Eight witness.
Dan, along with his brother Phil and six other peacemakers, carried out the first of what have come to be known as "plowshares" actions. The Plowshares Eight action took place on September 9, 1980 at the General Electric Nuclear Re-entry Division in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
The eight hammered on the nose cone of a Mark 12-A nuclear warhead, poured blood on documents, and offered prayers for peace. They were arrested and initially charged with over ten felony and misdemeanor counts.
In their action statement, the Plowshares Eight declared:
"In confronting GE, we choose to obey God's law of life, rather than a corporate summons to death. Our beating of swords into plowshares is a way to enflesh this biblical call.
"In our action, we draw on a deep-rooted faith in Christ, who changed the course of human history through his willingness to suffer rather than to kill. We are filled with hope for our world and for our children as we join this act of resistance."
They were convicted by a jury of burglary, conspiracy and criminal mischief and sentenced to prison terms of five to ten years. This sentence was appealed and in litigation until 1990. They were resentenced and paroled for up to 23-1/2 months in consideration of time already served in prison.
The Plowshares Eight action has inspired over 100 similar actions to date, two of which, in 1982 and 1989, both directed at the Trident ballistic missile submarine, I was honored to be a part of.
The most recent of these occurred on April 4, 2018, when seven Catholic peacemakers entered the King's Bay Naval Base in St. Mary, Georgia. The base opened in 1979 as the Navy's Atlantic Ocean port for six Trident submarines which have the capacity to cause the devastation of 3,600 Hiroshima-scale attacks.
Elizabeth McAlister, 78, Jonah House, Baltimore; Fr. Steve Kelly SJ, 69, Bay Area, California; Carmen Trotta, 55, New York Catholic Worker; Clare Grady, 59, Ithaca Catholic Worker; Martha Hennessy, 62; New York Catholic Worker; Mark Colville, 55, Amistad Catholic Worker, New Haven, Connecticut; and Patrick O'Neill, 61, Fr. Charlie Mulholland Catholic Worker, Garner, North Carolina; chose to act on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., who devoted his life to addressing the giant triplets of militarism, racism and materialism.
Carrying hammers and small baby bottles containing their own blood, they sought to disarm weapons of mass destruction.
In their action statement, the Kings Bay Plowshares declared:
"We come to Kings Bay to answer the call of the prophet Isaiah (2:4) to "beat swords into plowshares" by disarming the world's deadliest nuclear weapon, the Trident submarine . . .
"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 . . . A just and peaceful world is possible when we join prayers with action. Swords into Plowshares!"
The peacemakers went to three sites on the base: the administration building, the D5 Missile monument installation and the nuclear weapons storage bunkers. They used crime scene tape, hammers and hung banners reading: "The ultimate logic of racism is genocide, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr." The ultimate logic of Trident is omnicide" and Nuclear weapons: illegal and immoral."
They also brought an indictment charging the US Government for crimes against peace.
All of the participants knew Dan. One is his sister-in-law, Liz McAlister, and the other, a brother Jesuit, Steve Kelly. During his homily at Dan's funeral, Kelly recommended that Dan and his brother Phil, be granted the title "Doctors of the Church!"
The seven are currently being charged with two felony counts and a misdemeanor and are being held without bond at the Camden County jail.
From jail, Elizabeth McAlister, explained the action in this way:
"Modest hopes is the title of one of the more than fifty books by my late brother-in-law Daniel Berrigan (RIP and Presente!) It might be fair to say that we came to Kings Bay Submarine base animated by the absurd conviction that we could make some impact on slowing, if not ending, the mad rush to the devastation of our magnificent planet. And this is no extreme overstatement.
"The six Trident submarines that consider Kings Bay their homeport carry enough destructive power to destroy all life on Earth. What difference can seven aging activists make?
"We come with hammers to imprint the pristine coat of the weapon . . . We come with blood (our own) to mark the weapons' purpose as the spilling of blood and yes,
We come with bolt cutters to violate the fences that protect the weapons that spell death to all life.
"But above all, we come with our voices and our lives. We raise our voices in a cry to dismantle the weapons -- all of them as we risk life and limb and our future hope to make this plea: dismantle the weapons."
Martha Hennessy, the granddaughter of Dorothy Day, who is part of the Catholic Worker in New York City, offered this reflection about the Kings Bay Plowshares action from jail:
"We walked in the dark, stars overhead, with Orion at our shoulder and the waning moon rising late. Praise to you Dear God, for this gift of Eden. There were fireflies and croaking frogs to keep us company. And to think the logic of Trident is the obliteration of Creation.
"What did God whisper to my ancestors and then to me? Swords into Plowshares! We don't mean to make everyone furious, but why turn our blood and hammers into spray paint and bolt cutters?
(In charging documents the Magistrate referred to their possession of bolt cutters and spray paint, but willfully ignored mention of the symbols of blood and hammers that were used in the action)
. . . Why continue to set the desecrated altar to the false idols of war? We walked onto a military base that harbors the ultimate destruction, and we prayed for the power of a message, of a witness that could reach many ears; conversion of free will towards life- giving work and away from death dealing false constructs.
We strung up crime scene tape over the model missiles and over the door to the Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic (SWFLANT), a place where war plans promise to take all we love. We wish to indict this war machine for what it is: immoral, illegal, and monstrous.
Our foolish plans desire to see a world in which the suffering is lessened, our leaders begin to know what it means if they pull the nuclear trigger. Our action is an invitation to all for a change of heart that will bring us to true revolution."
I have no doubt how Dan would view the Kings Bay Plowshares witness. He writes:
"We have yet to experience resurrection, which I translate: the hope that hopes on . . . A blasphemy against this hope is named deterrence, or Trident submarines, or star wars, or preemptive strike, or simply, any nuclear weapon . . .
"That is why we speak again and again of 1980 and all the plowshares actions since, how some continue to labor to break the demonic clutch on our souls of the ethic of Mars, of wars and rumors of wars, inevitable wars, just wars, necessary wars, victorious wars, and say our no in acts of hope.
"For us, all of these repeated arrests, the interminable jailings, the life of our small communities, the discipline of nonviolence, these have embodied an ethic of resurrection."
I am deeply moved by the courageous action of the Kings Bay Plowshares, who are friends to me and to many others who will celebrate their action.
Their prophetic witness is a clear testament to the truth of the Gospel and the hope of Easter. Let us do all we can to support the Kings Bay Plowshares, and their families and communities, as they continue their hope-filled witness in jail and as they face the courts.
Like Dan, they believe that the powers and principalities and the forces of death will never have the last word.
Art Laffin is a member of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in Washington, DC and is co-editor of Swords Into Plowshares
What You Can Do:
Please do all you can to offer support to the seven Catholic peacemakers who carried out this courageous action on April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
For more info regarding this action and how you can offer support please see: Kings Bay Plowshares on Facebook.
For jail addresses and info to how to write to the seven plowshares prisoners please see: http://www.nukeresister.org/inside-out/. Note: Inmates may only receive plain white pre-stamped postcards. Postcards may not have any pictures nor backgrounds on them.
And please do what you can to promote the UN Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons and work for a disarmed world! Please see: http://www.icanw.org/treaty-on-the-prohibition-of-nuclear-weapons/
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