Seven Catholic Worker peace activists go to trial next week facing up to 25 years in prison for a 2018 act of civil disobedience at the U.S. Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia where they initiated a symbolic closing of the Trident nuclear program in order to prevent the omnicide the groups warns is inevitable from such weapons.
The protesters received a public boost of support this week from renowned activist Daniel Ellsberg, whose 1971 leaking of the Pentagon Papers proved a decisive turning point in public U.S. opinion on the Vietnam War.
"I strongly endorse the action of civil resistance by the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 defendants ."
"I strongly endorse the action of civil resistance by the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 defendants who are now on trial for having 'nonviolently and symbolically disarmed the Trident nuclear submarine base at Kings Bay, Georgia,'" Ellsberg said in a statement. "The sign they displayed during their action on the base—'The Ultimate Logic of Trident is Omnicide'—is exactly right."
The demonstrators are claiming in their defense that the threat posed by nuclear weapons systems like the Trident allows for taking illegal actions to prevent greater harm, the necessity defense. Ellsberg endorsed the defense and said the group was, in his view, clearly in the right and that their actions should be seen as "necessary to avert a much greater evil."
"A key point is that without the impact on myself of actions of civil resistance during the Vietnam War like those of the defendants in this case—including those of Father Philip Berrigan, the late husband of the current defendant Elizabeth McAlister, and of Dorothy Day, grandmother of another defendant, Martha Hennessy—I would never have considered revealing the top secret Pentagon Papers: which legal scholars have described as having had, 'arguably at least,' a causal effect in shortening the Vietnam War," Ellsberg said.
McAlister and Hennessy were joined at the action and are joined in the defense by Steve Kelly, Mark Colville, Clare Grady, Patrick O'Neill, and Carmen Trotta. The members of the group are members of the Catholic Worker Movement, an ideology described as "Christian anarchism" which holds that the revolutionary ideals of Jesus Christ supersede the state and other institutions.
"You're scandalized by the sprinkling of blood. How come you're not scandalized by the potential of these bombs to actually spill blood around the globe?"
—Jeannine Hill Fletcher, Fordham University
The seven entered the naval site on April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and took actions intended to "nonviolently and symbolically disarm the Trident nuclear submarine base," including pouring their own blood on the facility to bring attention to the cost of war.
Hennessy told the Catholic News Service in August that she hoped the group would be allowed to make their case to jurors—though she admitted she was far from certain that would happen.
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"The bigger question is: Will we be allowed to speak? If limits are put in place, we won't be able to mention pacifism, faith, nuclear weapons, the shedding of blood as sacramental," said Hennessy. "That's what the jury needs to hear. It remains to be seen if they will hear it."
In their mission statement issued after the protest, the seven protesters tied their action to the ongoing struggle against militarism that King was a part of:
Fifty years ago today, April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee as a reaction to his efforts to address "the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism." We come to Kings Bay to answer the call of the prophet Isaiah (2:4) to "beat swords into plowshares" by disarming the world's deadliest nuclear weapon, the Trident submarine. We repent of the sin of white supremacy that oppresses and takes the lives of people of color here in the United States and throughout the world. We resist militarism that has employed deadly violence to enforce global domination. We believe reparations are required for stolen land, labor and lives.
Theologians interviewed by America Magazine expressed sympathy with the protesters and their ideological mission, though, as Yale Divinity School's Harold W. Attridge pointed out, the protests and their broader application across the world sparked some disagreement.
"It's one thing to say, 'Oh, let's not confront violence with violence,'" said Attridge. "It's another thing to say let's take a stand against the structures that support and foster violence. And nuclear weapons certainly are structures that support and foster violence in a major way."
But Fordham University's Jeannine Hill Fletcher said that such an approach to the demonstrations was short-sighted.
"You're scandalized by the sprinkling of blood," said Fletcher. "How come you're not scandalized by the potential of these bombs to actually spill blood around the globe?"