Published on Monday, June 25, 2001 in the Colorado Springs Gazette
Married To A Cause
Priest Will Serve Time Again for Missile Protest
by Barry Bortnick
DENVER -- Carl Kabat has spent more than 14 years in federal prison for trying to beat the nation's nuclear swords into plowshares.
The tally will likely go higher next month when the Catholic priest is sentenced in U.S. District Court for trespassing on a Weld County weapons site where he broke bread, poured wine and prayed over a Minuteman III missile silo near the Colorado-Wyoming border.
At 67, Kabat knows the sand is running out of his hourglass. He understands that he could die behind bars.
Kabat does not care. In fact, he laughs at the notion.
"It's worth it to me," a chuckling Kabat said during an interview at a federal detention center in Englewood, recalling 25 years of protests that have put him inside a handful of jail cells since the mid-1970s. "It is worth it even if I die in here tomorrow."
Kabat could receive a term for donning a clown suit, then scaling a barbed wire fence at the N-7 silo 30 miles north of Fort Morgan. The protest occurred Aug. 6 to commemorate the nuclear blast at Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.
Kabat may get additional federal time for committing the crime while on parole for past anti-military protests. His sentencing date is July 12.
"I expect to get three years," Kabat said, still smiling.
The Weld County Minuteman III silo is one of 49 nuclear launch locations in Colorado. The Minuteman III carries three independently targeted nuclear warheads. Each warhead is 15 to 20 times more powerful than the atomic bombs that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the close of World War II.
A self-described "fool for Christ," Kabat wore a clown suit, a rainbow-colored wig and white face paint at the Weld County site to draw attention to himself and to illustrate what he says is the absurdity of nuclear weapons.
"We are nutballs, fools, clowns," Kabat said of him and the small band of fellow protesters that has pestered the federal government for decades in an effort to eliminate weapons of mass destruction.
Federal authorities find nothing funny about the Catholic clown's antics.
Armed Air Force personnel surrounded Kabat after he ignored well-posted warnings and scampered over the barbed-wire fence with a sign that read, "We Have Guided Missiles and Misguided Men."
"They deployed security folks, who ran 10 yards and hit the dirt and surrounded us from the back," said Bill Sulzman, an ex-priest and Colorado Springs resident who helped the protest. "It was kind of rough. No broken bones. It was a face-down-in-the-gravel sort of thing."
A bad hip prevented Sulzman from scaling the fence. Authorities later dropped their case against him.
The federal government was not as lenient with Kabat. Prosecutors pointed out that Kabat's peaceful protests put the military on alert inside the weapons site.
"An alarm went off and people had to mobilize," Assistant U.S. Attorney George Gill said during closing arguments in Kabat's May trial. "Forty people had to spend hours dealing with this to make sure the area was secure and the people were not hostile or leaving booby traps."
Kabat's attorney, famed Denver defense counsel Walter Gerash, who represented the priest for free, wept as he tried to convince jurors that Kabat's actions were meant to save humanity from a nuclear holocaust.
"If a mountain lion was mauling a child behind the gate at N-7, wouldn't you go over the wall?" Gerash asked jurors. "He was not trying to save one child from being mauled but billions."
Gerash likened Kabat to nonviolent activists like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi, all of whom surrendered their freedom for a moral cause.
"He places his body on the line in order to do good and resist evil," Gerash said in court. "He is an uncommon person among us commoners.
"I'd be ashamed to prosecute this case."
Federal authorities maintain that Kabat planned his protest, expected to be arrested and knew he'd be punished.
"He wanted to get caught so he could extend the message, extend the playtime on this," Gill said in court. "One means of getting attention is to break the law."
The son of an Illinois farmer, Kabat went into the ministry at an early age. He became a missionary in the Philippines and Brazil in the 1960s.
Those posts put Kabat up close and personal with unspeakable poverty and starvation. Upon his return to the United States in the 1970s, he vowed to take a stand and save hungry souls.
He could not understand why the U.S. government spent billions on weapons while millions starved around the globe.
An epiphany of sorts occurred when he saw a detailed documentary on the Hiroshima bomb and its aftermath. He attended peace conferences and church meetings but grew tired of all the pledges and promises.
"All I heard was talk," he recalled. He was ready for action.
The breakthrough happened in 1976 when Kabat and a handful of nuclear proliferation protesters traveled to Plains, Ga., and demonstrated near then-President Carter's home.
Kabat stood by the side of the road with a sign that read, "No More Hiroshimas." He was arrested for obstructing traffic.
It was his first offense and his first taste of jail.
"My body shook my first night in a cell, but from the neck up I felt great," Kabat said. "Finally we had done something."
The charges were quickly dropped, but Kabat had found a lifelong calling.
"Some 6 million people can be killed with one Minuteman III," Kabat said. "That makes no sense."
The anti-nuclear fever sent Kabat on a mission across the country. He poured human blood on the Pentagon and at the White House in 1978 and got six months in prison for his efforts.
"The Pentagon sheds blood," he explained.
He helped anti-weapons activists sneak into a General Electric weapons facility in King of Prussia, Pa., in 1980. That got him a sentence of 18 months in prison.
"I distracted the guards while others went inside and used household hammers to bang on bombshells and beat them into plowshares," Kabat said.
He did six months in 1982 for illegally entering the Strategic Air Command in Omaha, Neb.
He was at it again in 1984 at a Minuteman III site in Missouri. This time he went after the silo cover with a jackhammer, causing about $30,000 damage.
The federal courts sentenced Kabat to 18 years in prison for that stunt. He served seven years but returned to the controversial calling again on April Fool's Day 1994.
The date coincided with Good Friday. Kabat seized on the irony, clothed himself in clown gear and headed to a bomb site in North Dakota where he beat a silo cover with a sledgehammer.
"Had North Dakota seceded from the Union, it would be the world's third nuclear power behind the United States and Russia," Kabat said. "They had 300 missile silos there."
The feds gave him 4½ years for his crime.
'I'd rather sing and dance'
Kabat walked free from the federal prison in Florence in 1998. He spent time with his brother and younger sister and managed to lie low until last August.
"I got to rest up once in a while," he said with a joyful giggle. "I am not Superman."
"He is the most Christ-like person I have met," said Kabat's sister-in-law, Shirley. "He will do anything for anyone and will sacrifice for anyone. This time in prison is a sacrifice for the rest of us."
Kabat's only surviving brother, Bob Kabat, said his sibling couldn't let people starve while money is "wasted" on weapons.
"He is dedicated and I know he is right," Bob Kabat said. " ... This is his life, and he honestly believes the good Lord wants him to sacrifice himself. Someone will eventually catch on to what he is doing."
Meanwhile, Kabat sits in yet another jail cell each night. He plays slow-pitch softball with fellow inmates and waits for one more federal hammer to fall.
And as always, he'll take his lumps with a laugh.
"I could lose heart, I suppose," Kabat said. "But I'd rather sing and dance, then spread mustard seeds and hope something grows."
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