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Kings Bay Plowshares 7 Activists Sentenced for 2018 Anti-Nuclear Protest at Georgia Naval Base

Father Stephen Kelly and Patrick O'Neill were sentenced to nearly three years and 14 months in prison, respectively.

Kings Bay Plowshares 7 activists before their April 4, 2018 protest at Kings Bay Navy Base in Georgia. (Photo: Kings Bay Plowshares 7)

The seven members of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, who entered the Kings Bay Navy Base in St. Marys Georgia on April 4, 2018 to protest nuclear weapons, are seen here holding a banner quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Photo: Kings Bay Plowshares 7)

A federal court on Thursday sentenced a Catholic priest to nearly three years in prison for trespassing on a Georgia naval base to protest U.S. nuclear weapons policy, but he could be imminently released due to time served—while on Friday another activist was sentenced in connection with the same demonstration. 

National Catholic Reporter reports Rev. Stephen M. Kelly, a 71-year-old Jesuit priest, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood to 33 months' imprisonment, three years' probation, and over $33,000 in restitution fees to be paid jointly with other defendants. 

"Father Kelly, it has been clear to me you are sincere in your beliefs," said Wood. "However, I would be remiss to discount the nature of the offense that we're looking at today and the risk to safety that you knowingly undertook."

Because Kelly has already been jailed for 30 months and is eligible for 54 days of annual good behavior credit, he could be released at any time. 

Kelly, a member of the Catholic peace activist group Kings Bay Plowshares 7, entered Kings Bay Naval Base in St. Marys, Georgia with six others at dusk on April 4, 2018. The group chose April 4 because it was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Nobel Peace Prize recipient who called the United States government "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."

The activists—Carmen Trotta, Patrick O'Neill, Martha Hennessy, Liz McAlister, Clare Grady, Father Steve Kelly, and Mark Coalville—said they wanted "to highlight what King called the 'evil triplets of militarism, racism, and materialism'" and to "make real the prophet Isaiah's command: 'beat swords into plowshares.'"

"Armed" with hammers, bottles of their own blood, crime scene tape, and an indictment charging the U.S. government with crimes against peace, the seven splashed the blood on a wall, spray-painted an anti-war slogan on a sidewalk, and hammered away at a monument to nuclear war. They caused minimal damage. 

Kings Bay houses at least six nuclear submarines, each armed with 20 Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles of the multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) variety. Each missile contains numerous nuclear warheads, providing a thermonuclear force multiplier and overwhelming first-strike capability.

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Put simply, Kings Bay's submarines are capable of killing many millions of human beings and making life on Earth a frozen hellscape for many millions more. 

McAlister spoke to Democracy Now! about the protest and the trials last October:

Kelly—who has spent more than a decade behind bars for numerous acts of peaceful protest over the course of his lifetime—told the court on Thursday that he is a "prisoner of conscience for Christ," and that he preaches against "the sin that flourishes in weapons of mass destruction."

"I answer to a higher authority in that my faith... [compels] me to respond to the needs of the poor, oppressed, [and] disenfranchised, in any locality," Kelly said in a written statement. 

Kelly also invoked the Nuremberg principles—enacted in response to Nazi genocide and crimes against humanity perpetrated during World War II—which established the framework of modern international law in a bid to prevent such crimes in the future. 

O'Neill was scheduled to be sentenced on Friday as this article was published. While no media reports have yet appeared, Kings Bay Plowshares 7 tweeted that the 61-year-old was sentenced to 14 months' imprisonment, three years of supervised release, and a share of the $33,000 in restitution fees, with credit for some time served. 

As for the other five activists, none except McAlister—who in June was sentenced to time served plus $25 a month in fines—has been sentenced, mostly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

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