KANSAS CITY, MO. Defense attorney Henry Stoever meekly approached the bench of Presiding Judge Ardie Bland Dec. 13, complaining that security had refused to let him bring certain pieces of evidence into the courthouse: a full-sized wooden door with a banner proclaiming, “Open the door to a nuclear weapons free world!”, as well as an array of picket signs.
Stoever was representing eight nuclear protesters on this unlucky trial date, and Bland, who had sentenced other nuclear activists to jail just two years prior, was the inauspicious icing on the cake.
Bland’s eyebrows rose at Stoever’s odd request and the packed courthouse tensed for the inevitable ridicule.
“Well, I permit it!” Bland said.
With that statement, Bland set the tone for the next three hours, as protest songs, jokes about national security and even the elderly reveries of Oblate Fr. Carl Kabat, 80, and Franciscan Fr. Jerome Zawada, 76, were permitted in the Kansas City municipal courtroom.
The eight activists were pleading not guilty to charges of trespassing onto the relocated National Nuclear Security Administration’s Kansas City Plant July 13. Since 1949, the plant has produced or acquired “about 85 percent of the components that go into a typical nuclear weapon,” according to the Government Accountability Office. It took a year to move the nearly 3 million-square-foot facility 8 miles, and the relocation alone cost $80 million, according to a plant press release.
After listening to Stoever’s impassioned closing argument, Bland invited the eight defendants to approach the bench. Offhandedly, he pronounced them guilty of trespassing.
“I volunteered to take this case because I’ve done this before with Mr. Stoever and I find it interesting,” Bland said, in reference to the activists he sentenced to jail two years ago. “If you’re not getting to anyone else, you’re getting to me. I think you’re educating, because every time I learn something.”
“I want to do something a little different,” Bland continued. “I want to say, I totally understand the argument made about Rosa Parks. I’ve done a significant amount of research on the civil rights movement, and they all suffered the consequences. … However, I think the more significant thing is that the world was changed by their actions. I can sit here before you, as a black man, doing justice.”
Then Bland announced the sentence, shocking the courtroom.
“I want each one of you to write a one-page, single-spaced essay on each of the following six topics,” Bland said. “Your responses will be attached to the court record, which is a public record. They will exist as long as Kansas City exists. My way will give you a chance to say what you want to say.” (See sidebar below.)
The defendants were not given a printed copy of the essay questions. It appeared that Bland had come up with the questions during the trial.
A sentence of six essay questions
The following are six questions posed on the spot by Presiding Judge Ardie Bland in the Dec. 13 trial against eight nuclear protesters charged with trespassing onto the Kansas City Plant. Bland found the defendants guilty of the crime, but instead of jail or community service, he sentenced the group to writing a one-page, single-spaced answer to each of the questions.
1. If North Korea, China or one of the Middle Eastern countries dropped a nuclear bomb on a U.S. city tomorrow, would that change your opinion about nuclear weapons?
2. If Germany or Japan had used nuclear weapons first in World War II, do you think that would have changed your opinion?
3. What would you say to those who say, “If we [the U.S.] do not have the big stick, that is, if we get rid of our nuclear weapons, and other countries develop nuclear weapons, then we do not have the opportunity to fight back”?
4. You defendants say you are Christians and one is a Buddhist. Fr. [Carl] Kabat says that you should disobey ungodly laws. How do you respond to someone who believes there is no God? Who is to say what God believes, for example, when Christians used God to justify slavery and the Crusades?
5. How do you respond to those who have a God different from you when they argue that their religion is to crush others into dust?
6. Who determines what “God’s law” is, given the history of the USA and the world?
— Compiled from notes taken in the courtroom by NCR and defense attorney Henry Stoever
For photos and more see here.