Jury Convicts 7 Catholic Pacifists of Breaking Into Nuclear Submarine Base

The Kings Bay Plowshares 7. From left to right: Elizabeth McAlister, Stephen Kelly, Carmen Trotta, Mark Colville, Martha Hennessy, Clare Grady and Patrick O’Neill. Photo courtesy of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7

A federal jury on Thursday (Oct. 24) convicted seven Catholic peace activists of three felonies and a misdemeanor for breaking into a nuclear submarine base in Georgia last year.

The seven now face up to 25 years in prison each for trespassing on the U.S. navy base, which houses six Trident submarines capable of carrying hundreds of nuclear weapons.

The seven were charged with conspiracy, depredation of government property, destruction of government property and trespassing.

On the night of April 4, 2018, they cut a padlock and later a security fence at the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in St. Marys, Georgia. They spilled human blood on a Navy insignia affixed to a wall, spray-painted anti-war slogans on a sidewalk and banged on a monument to nuclear warfare with hammers made of melted-down guns.

The seven were caught more than an hour into their actions as three of the activists prepared to cut a heavily electrified fence leading to the nuclear storage bunkers.

A facilities management specialist testified in court that the expenses of cleaning and repairs totaled $31,833.

The 12 jurors, nine women and three men, took less than two hours to deliberate. The verdicts were announced shortly after 4 p.m. in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.

Known as the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, the group is part of a 39-year-old anti-nuclear movement called Plowshares. Inspired by the prediction of the biblical prophet Isaiah that the nations of the world shall “beat their swords into plowshares,” its activists have made a signature of breaking into nuclear weapons bases to hammer on buildings and military hardware and douse them with human blood.

The group was started by the peace activists and Jesuit priests Daniel Berrigan and his brother Philip Berrigan.

The activists, who took pictures and videos of their actions, did not deny that they had committed the acts but argued they were beholden to divine law that called them to bear witness to the immorality of weaponry that can wipe out human civilization in seconds.

“I draw a correlation with Jesus cleansing the temple,” said Patrick O’Neill of Garner, North Carolina, one of the defendants. “He did it because there was a grave injustice, like nuclear weapons.

“We cut locks and did symbolic property damage to say, ‘This is an idol.’ That display is a shrine to missiles. It is not something we should honor. It is the same as the golden calf smashed in the Hebrew Bible.”

Early in the proceedings, their lawyers said they would cite the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 federal law that says the government may not burden the faith practices of a person with sincerely held religious beliefs. Judge Lisa Godbey Wood, however, disallowed that defense.

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Source: Religion News Service