Seven anti-nuclear activists face up to 20 years in prison after a jury in Georgia on Thursday found the activists guilty of four counts of destruction and depredation of government property in excess of $1,000, trespassing, and conspiracy, charges that could land each member of the group in prison for up to 20 years.
"I really think that the verdict was, frankly, reactionary," defendant Carmen Trotta said in a statement.
Trotta and Steve Kelly, Mark Colville, Clare Grady, Patrick O'Neill, Elizabeth McAlister, and Martha Hennessy on the night of April 4, 2018 entered the U.S. Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia and took part in a symbolic closure of the facility in protest of its housing of the base's Trident nuclear program and then "split into three groups and prayed, poured blood, spray-painted messages against nuclear weapons, hammered on parts of a shrine to nuclear missiles, hung banners, and waited to be arrested."
The Kings Bay Plowshares Seven hoped to use a necessity defense, claiming the omnicidal potential of the Trident program—that the weapons could end all life on the planet—made their actions a moral imperative. On October 18, Judge Lisa Wood rejected the defense and in her ruling (pdf) barred the defendants from using it or calling on expert witnesses like Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg to address the jury.
As Common Dreams reported, Ellsberg on October 19 said he supported the group's actions and saw the activism in Georgia as essential to stopping the potential of nuclear war wiping out life as we know it.
"I believe that omnicide, the end of civilization and most of humanity, will not be averted without a moral transformation and political mobilization that requires actions of civil disobedience—including that of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7—to inspire," said Ellsberg.
A jury fund the group guilty within hours of closing testimony on Thursday.
"The Pentagon has many installations—and we just walked out of one of them," defendant Colville said after the verdict was read. "It's a place where they weaponize the law."
After the verdict, the group's lawyer Bill Quigley expressed his frustration that the necessity defense was ruled out for trial.
"As the jury was not allowed to hear, the submarines, nuclear weapons submarines, that are at Kings Bay have 3,800 times as much destructive power as the weapons that were used on Hiroshima, enough power to destroy life on Earth as we know it," said Quigley. "After two years of prayer and action and practice, they came together and took action to go onto Kings Bay and preach the word—preach the word of love, preach the word of life, preach the word of peace, and they are paying a huge price for that as you all know."
The trial also included edited video, as activist Marianne Grady-Flores, sister of defendant Clare Grady, told journalist Luke O'Neil Thursday:
Video the group took of themselves protesting showcased documents they brought with them to the base—including Ellsberg's book "Doomsday Machine," which was placed inside of a spray-painted heart—in order to make clear their motivations but it was either not allowed into evidence or withheld by the prosecution the women I spoke to explained.
"There has never been a Plowshares action where the defendants videotaped themselves," Grady-Flores said. "What that video did was it proved the motivation, their intent, their frame of mind, peacefulness, and care for those they were going to encounter. But guess what the government did? On Tuesday we got to see video from the government. Clare got up and cross examined him asking if this was edited, which he admitted. It cut out all their prayers and their reading out loud of the war crimes indictment."
The group have not yet decided whether they will appeal the verdict. In her comments, defendant Trotta said that the seven activists saw themselves as one part of an ongoing activist struggle.
"We all know which way the wind is blowing," said Trotta. "There's the Black Lives Matter movement. There's the Extinction Rebellion. There's the Me Too movement."
"There's an activist community waiting just behind us," she said.