By Garry Thomas
In the dark of night on April 4, 2018, seven anti-nuclear activists entered the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in St. Marys, Georgia, home to six Trident submarines to carry out a long-planned Plowshare’s action. It was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Ithaca’s Clare Grady, a person of conscience and committed Catholic Worker like the others involved in the action, was one of the seven. She and the others cut their way through an anchor chain fence, poured their blood on an administration building, spray painted religious messages, and partially dismantled a monument to the Trident missile. And then awaited their arrest.
The protestors, which included Liz McAlister (80), widow of Phil Berrigan, and Martha Hennessy (64), granddaughter of Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, called themselves the Kings Bay Plowshares 7. They took their name from the words of the prophet Isaiah (2:4), who called upon “nations to beat their swords into plowshares and neither shall they learn war anymore.” These were “sacramental actions,” they said, necessitated by the “omnicidal nature” of the nuclear weapons stored at the naval base. The Trident nuclear submarines at the base carry missiles capable of delivering the equivalent of 3,600 Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs. They wanted to put both the Tridents and nuclear weapons on trial.
Just days before the trial began in October 2019, US District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood instructed the defendants that they would be able to discuss neither their religious beliefs nor the nuclear weapons stored at the base. Taking its direction from the judge, the prosecution said quite simply, “this is a case of what the defendants did, not why they did it.” A non-violent, faith-based action was basically reduced to a charge of trespass and vandalism. A jury, arguably not of their peers, found them all guilty as charged.
Sentencing had been scheduled for this past January, but has been delayed again and again primarily because of COVID. As of this writing, three have been sentenced over these past few months, two (including Liz McAlister, 17 months) essentially to time already served in jail, and Patrick O’Neill to a prison term of 14 months. Clare and the other three are presently scheduled to be sentenced to prison on November 12-13.
Interestingly, while the Kings Bay Plowshares activists were unable call on the likes of Daniel Ellsberg (The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, 2017) to speak in their defense, during sentencing Judge Wood has allowed those who have been sentenced thus far to present character witnesses and speak at length to their motivation, deeply rooted in their pacifism and Christian beliefs.
At his October 16 court appearance (which we could listen in on by phone), Patrick O’Neill, 64, the father of eight and grandfather to two, spoke with incredible feeling:
“It is simply indisputable that Trident is part of a system of U.S. war making that, if deployed, would spell death for millions, perhaps billions of people. Humanity will never abolish war if we live in such deep denial of what we have done, and what we might do to God´s Creation because of Trident. This court, by its refusal to consider the lawlessness of weapons of mass destruction, is essentially declaring the end of the world to be acceptable. If the Trident D-5 missiles are ever launched and millions of people die, one fact will remain clear: No laws were broken.” (Patrick O’Neill’s full sentencing statement deserves a full reading: https://kingsbayplowshares7.org/2020/10/patrick-oneills-sentencing-statement/)
Over the years, Ithaca Monthly Meeting has been very supportive of the Ithaca Catholic Worker community, the Catholic Worker house on South Plain Street, the Peter De Mott Peace Trot and the Grady family. At the November business meeting, the Peace & Social Justice Committee will be recommending that $300 of its non-discretionary funds be donated this year to support the Kings Bay Plowshares 7. The financial contributions, past and present, are meant to support Clare for costs incurred during her many months of house arrest and for her and others’ travel to Georgia. We also want our contribution to be seen as an expression of Friends’ support for the courageous action taken that day – and as an homage to our historic peace testimony and an affirmation in our belief in non-violence.