Even after spending six months in jail, they are optimistic, focused and confident.
The three nuns are calm as they prepare to fend off charges that could send them to jail for the next three decades.
Sisters Carol Gilbert, Jackie Hudson and Ardeth Platte don’t deny they entered a Minuteman III missile site off Colo. 14 and Weld County Road 113 — about 10 miles west of New Raymer — on Oct. 6, 2002. But they say they had a duty to bring attention to first-strike weapons prohibited by international treaties.
Their federal trial begins today in Denver. Each woman is charged with one count of willful injury, interference or obstruction of national defense and one count of causing more than $1,000 in damage to federal property.
These woman have a history of defending farm workers, fighting for civil rights and protesting nuclear weapons.
Catholic nuns Ardeth Platte, left, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson were arrested at gunpoint Oct. 6 after they used bolt cutters to enter a fenced Minuteman missile site in Weld County. They poured some of their own blood in the shape of crosses on the lid of the missile silo. (Photo/Bill Sulzman)
They are so serious that they declined personal recognizance bonds because they couldn’t promise to avoid demonstrating again.
Platte, 66, grew up the daughter of a missionary who worked in Mexico and Guatemala.
“I grew up learning about justice and peace. My family was very religious,” she said in a phone interview from the Clear Creek County jail.
After joining the Grand Rapids, Mich., Dominican order in 1954, she worked as an educator and principal and was elected to the Saginaw, Mich., city council.
She got involved in the peace movement during the Vietnam era. In 1980, she spent seven months in prison for an action at a Texas military base.
She and Gilbert, 55, worked together to protest nuclear weapons in Michigan and Maryland. Gilbert, whose father was a U.S. Marine in World War II, entered religious life in 1965 after she completed high school. She was a junior high school teacher.
At 68, Hudson is the oldest of the trio. She joined the order in 1952 and was a piano, band and music teacher.
Platte and Gilbert are members of Baltimore-based Jonah House, a group that advocates disarmament. Hudson is from Washington where she is a member of the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action.The women say God led them to the Weld County missile silo. For nine months before their arrest — as war with Iraq seemed more and more likely — the women gathered for prayer and discussion.
“It’s like the Spirit led us to Colorado and there it was. It was something we had to do,” Platte said.
She said the N-8 site was ideal because it is visible from the road. They picked Oct. 6 because it marked one year since military action began in Afghanistan.
As Platte, Hudson and Gilbert entered the site about 7:35 a.m., they wore jumpsuits displaying the letters CWIT, standing for Citizen Weapon Inspection Team.
Once inside, they cut a chain-link fence, hammered at a silo and railroad tracks with a ball-ping hammer and painted crosses on the tracks and silo with their own blood, which they carried in baby bottles. The plan was a symbolic disarmament, they said.
Hammering at the silo couldn’t have triggered a blast, said Sgt. Bryan Gatewood of Warren Air Force Base. The silo includes a 110-ton blast door made of concrete and reinforced steel.
Then they waited, singing hymns and praying.
An hour later, military personnel and law enforcement officials arrived, surrounding them with weapons and ordering them to the ground. A bomb squad helicopter flew above.
Sisters’ main defense denied Platte, Gilbert and Hudson insist international law is on their side and that they were doing what the Germans didn’t to prevent the Holocaust.
The Nuremberg trials after World War II established that citizens are obligated to violate domestic laws to prevent their country from committing crimes against humanity.
“We are trying to call the government to be accountable. At this point we have criminal acts at the highest level of government,” Hudson said from jail.
However, the jury won’t hear that defense. U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn decided last week that international law does not apply to this case.
In his decision, he wrote that there were other legal options for voicing their objections, such as letter-writing campaigns and demonstrations.
But Denver attorney Walter Gerash, who represents Hudson, said they still have a case.
“They didn’t interfere with national defense unless you think painting a cross on concrete does that,” Gerash said.
Attorney Scott Poland is advising Platte, who is representing herself.
“At best, this was a trespass with very minor vandalism. What the government is trying to do is to place them in such jeopardy that they’ll send a message to other individuals,” he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Brown is prosecuting the case, but said he could not comment. However, Bill Taylor, the office’s chief of major crimes, said it’s important to take the nuns’ actions seriously.
“These military installations contain some of the most sensitive and sophisticated weaponry in the country. They are a critical part of our national defense and must be protected,” he said in a statement. “Those who interfere with these installations will be prosecuted.”
If convicted, Platte, Gilbert and Hudson face a 30-year sentence, which could be the rest of their lives.
“No one wants to be in jail, but we would give our lives to save lives,” Platte said. “Peacemakers are here to give life. If it comes to it, it will be a sacrifice for life that none of us looks forward to.”
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