LANSING - On Oct. 6, U.S. Air Force guards and local authorities surrounded three nuns with M16s and grenade launchers at a missile silo in Colorado.
In an attempt to expose U.S. weapons of mass destruction, Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson broke into the silo dressed as weapon inspectors by cutting a linked fence surrounding the compound. Once inside, the sisters poured their own bottled blood in the form of crosses onto the silo cover that protected a 300-kiloton high alert nuclear missile.
The three nuns were undetected for about 45 minutes until the authorities intervened.
Sisters Carol Gilbert, foreground, and Ardeth Platte listen to supporters at the Central United Methodist Church, 215 N. Capitol Ave. in Lansing on Friday. Gilbert and Platte spoke about their pending criminal sentencing for breaking into a federal missile silo as a demonstration for peace.
"I kept saying, 'Brother, we're nonviolent,'" the 67-year-old Lansing-born Platte said. "We were not doing acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, we were doing nonviolent acts of civil resistance."
Platte and Gilbert were at the Central United Methodist Church, 215 N. Capitol Ave. in Lansing, on Friday. The two protesters spoke to a crowd of nearly 30 supporters about their upcoming sentencing and how the United States spends billions escalating their nuclear power capabilities.
"What is happening here is not only illegal under God's law, but illegal under our own Constitution," Gilbert said.
The nuns have already served seven months in a Colorado County jail, and are out on bond until sentencing on July 25. They face up to 30 years in prison on charges of sabotage and destruction of property. The sisters don't expect to receive maximum sentencing.
"We've been planning for eight years," the 55-year-old Gilbert said. "It could be more, it could be less."
Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Colorado, said the sentence probably will be five to eight years. He said the nuns' sentencing should deter others from committing similar crimes.
He added there is no parole in the federal system, and the nuns will have to serve at least 85 percent of their full sentence time.
"Our country is among the most accommodating when it comes to freedom of speech," Dorschner said. "This case is not a matter of freedom of speech, it's about protecting sensitive government installations."
Gilbert said she began protesting nuclear disarmament in the late 1970s.
Platte said she has been a protester since the Vietnam War and became active in the fight for nuclear disarmament in the 1980s, when Michigan was storing nuclear weapons.
Both nuns have been jailed for protesting many times. "I don't know how many times I've been arrested," Platte said. "It's been ongoing since the 1980s."
Cooley Law School Professor Anabel Dwyer is coordinating the sisters' defense and said the nuns were deprived of some basic rights at their trial, including not being specifically told what their charges were and being denied the right to present some of their evidence.
"The fact that these nuns are being tried and arrested shows our system is in real trouble," she said.
Dwyer said the nuns might seek recourse through an appeal.
But the sisters remain optimistic about their uncertain future.
Gilbert said they receive about 50 letters of support daily from all over the world. She said the support she's received has been incredible and hard time doesn't scare her.
"We're trying to prepare ourselves spiritually and one day at a time," she said.
©2003 The State News