Dressed in black, the seven intruders cut through a fence and stole along the perimeter of the naval base, trying to avoid detection from the guard towers, as a loudspeaker overhead blared: “Deadly force is authorized!”
When O’Neill and the others reached their target, they poured their own blood on the shield of the Kings Bay naval base in Georgia and attached a poster of Martin Luther King Jr. to a mock-up of a Trident II D5 ballistic missile at the welcome area.
The anti-nuclear activists — Roman Catholics who call themselves Plowshares, from the Biblical passage about “beating swords into plowshares” — followed the metaphor quite literally and took a hammer to the replica of the warhead.
The break-in on the night of April 4, 2018, ended with the arrest and conviction on charges of trespassing and destruction of property for the seven activists aged 58 to 81.
And in the midst of a pandemic that’s wreaking havoc on prisons and disproportionately affecting older people, six of them have been sentenced to up to 33 months in prison. The seventh is scheduled to be sentenced in February.
The Plowshares activists were seeking to revive the anti-nuclear movement by committing acts of civil disobedience.
Those days are long gone, but the threat of nuclear warfare isn’t. According to some atomic scientists, the threat may be even greater now, and the activists are frustrated that in their view hardly anyone is paying attention.
Which is one reason why they have broken into military bases and sometimes succeeded in doing damage to actual nuclear armaments. In a highly publicized protest in 1980, Plowshares activists hammered two missile nose cones at a General Electric complex in King of Prussia, Pa., causing tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage. In 2012, another group that included an 82-year-old Catholic nun defaced a bunker holding weapons-grade uranium at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Martha Hennessey, 65, had already been to prison three times before beginning her sentence at a federal prison in Danbury, Conn., on Dec. 14. She is the granddaughter of the journalist-turned-activist Dorothy Day, who founded the pacifist Catholic Worker Movement in the 1930s.
Rather than dwell on her own sentence, she drew attention to the mass incarceration of people who have committed minor offenses.