By Sam Husseini
Catholic activists argued that their faith, and international law, allowed them to stage a protest at a nuclear facility in Georgia. But last week they were convicted in a US district court.
On October 21, the trial of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 began in Brunswick, Georgia. A year a half before, on April 4, 2018, this group of seven Catholic peace activists had entered the Kings Bay military facility—which stores much of the US government’s Trident nuclear arsenal—in St. Marys, Georgia. They spray-painted messages on walls and sidewalks, spilled small bottles of their own blood, and hammered on the monuments to nuclear weapons that had been erected at the base. The activists were willingly arrested two hours later; some were held in jail for more than a year afterward. As they stood trial this month, the Plowshares insisted that, in the face of the threat that the US nuclear arsenal poses to the world, what they had done was not illegal. Their actions were intended as “symbolic disarmament”—an act of civil resistance.
“The government has set up a religion of nuclearism,” said activist Elizabeth McAlister—cofounder of the Baltimore resistance community Jonah House with her late husband, Philip Berrigan—before the trial began. “It is terrifying and dead, dead wrong. It is a form of idolatry in this culture.”
In her testimony, Clare Grady, of the Ithaca, New York, Catholic Worker community, had tried to explain to the jury the motivation and urgency of their protest: The group had wanted to show that the US government’s nuclear weapons are like a gun pointed at the head of the planet. But as she spoke, she had a series of legal guns pointed at her own head. She and her fellow defendants had been threatened with charges of contempt of court if they disobeyed the edicts of the judge, Lisa Godbey Wood, who had already ruled that they could not invoke arguments of justification, necessity, or international law. Thus, a sort of legal brinkmanship ensued throughout the trial, with frequent vigorous objections from the prosecution, as well as sidebars with the judge and litigants.
During the trial, Trotta told the jury that after entering the base in 2018, they had looked over the bunkers that housed the Trident missiles: “Each one of them the equivalent of a mass grave…and that’s an understatement.” But it was unclear whether the jury understood that there really were weapons housed at Kings Bay—especially because Wood allowed prosecution witnesses who worked at the base to state under oath that they could “neither confirm or deny” the existence of nuclear warheads at the base.
Also excluded by Wood was theaffidavit filed by Ellsberg in support of the Plowshare activists, arguing that the defendants were justified in their actions because they are attempting to prevent a far greater evil: that of nuclear war and “omnicide.” Ellsberg also highlighted the history of civil disobedience—or, as the Plowshares activists prefer to call it, civil resistance—echoing testimony from Howard Zinn in a Plowshares trial from the 1980s.
Instead of hearing from Ellsberg and other experts on the side of the defense, the jury heard Assistant US Sttorney Karl Knoche deriding Grady, saying that it was as if she thought she should get to “decide to run red lights”; he accused her of being a “bully,” even as he attempted to convict her on charges that could lock her up for decades. In response, Grady’s codefendant Mark Colville testified that he had run every single red light when he drove his wife to the hospital to give birth. And Grady herself cited a statement from Martin Luther King Jr.: “When a fire is raging, the fire truck goes right through that red light, and normal traffic had better get out of its way.”
Read more at Religious Beliefs Are Struck Down as Defense for Nuclear Protest
Related article at Threatened with Long Prison Sentences, Anti-Nuclear Activists Decry Pentagon “Brainwashing” via Truthout (Portside)