The seven Catholic peace activists who were convicted on October 24 for their symbolic protest against nuclear weapons at the Kings Bay Naval Base are now facing a two-to-three-month wait to hear their prison sentences. They could face more than 20 years in prison.
"Our own lives are uncertain regarding the possible length of prison sentences," defendant Martha Hennessy told Truthout in an exclusive interview. "But we rejoice in the fact that more scrutiny is being directed at the purpose of the Kings Bay Naval Base in southern Georgia."
The Kings Bay Naval Base is home to nuclear armed submarines with two dozen ballistic Trident D5 missiles, each of which is 30 times more powerful than the atomic bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. The seven peace activists Martha Hennessy, Mark Colville, Clare Grady, Jesuit Fr. Stephen Kelly, Patrick O'Neill, Carmen Trotta and Elizabeth McAlister, who are collectively known as the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 were convicted by a Georgia federal jury of conspiracy, destruction of property on a naval station, depredation of government property, and trespass after entering the base on April 4, 2018.
They came onto the base bearing hammers, baby bottles containing their own blood, crime scene tape, a copy of Daniel Ellsberg's book, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, and an indictment that charged the U.S. government with crimes against peace. They cut a fence and entered the base without being detected. They used the hammers to deface a monument to the Trident, poured their blood and left a sign that read, "The Ultimate Logic of Trident is Omnicide." They went to three different sites on the base, including a storage bunker for nuclear weapons where they damaged statues and poured their blood on various structures.
"We understand the efficiency of the State is a formidable force, and we ourselves are not surprised with the guilty verdict on all counts," Hennessy told Truthout. "In a time of withdrawing from nuclear treaties and promoting violence in foreign policy, we are left to wonder what the future may hold for the world."Facing a Jury Without Opinions on Nuclear Risks
The jury that convicted the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 activists was self-avowedly apathetic about the risks posed to humanity by nuclear weapons, and the judge and prosecution worked together to prevent the defendants from sharing information or arguments to raise jurors' consciousness on the issue.
Sam Husseini, communications director at the Institute for Public Accuracy, a progressive nonprofit organization, attended the three-day trial. "It was a subtly but insidiously controlled courtroom with the judge and prosecution working hand in glove," Husseini told Truthout. "The defendants were allowed to speak about their religious beliefs and to some degree how they relate to nuclear weapons. But it was all presented as subjective, and expert testimony on international law, and justification and necessity of urgent action were excluded."
The defendants, who said they were following the command of the biblical prophet Isaiah to "beat swords into plowshares," were denied the right to present the defenses of necessity, which allows one to commit a crime in order to avoid a greater harm. They were also denied the right to discuss the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which "ensures that interests in religious freedom are protected." Thus, they were limited to their own testimony about their subjective motivations for their acts.
"Defendants were allowed to briefly discuss their moral objections to nuclear weapons but were cut off quickly. No outside evidence or testimony was allowed," defense attorney Bill Quigley told Truthout.
Husseini added: "The manner that the judge allowed the case to be made did not make it clear that the house was indeed on fire or even that there was a house. The reality of the nuclear weapons, the threat they pose, and certainly their illegality, were not objectively communicated" to the jury.
Speaking with Truthout in an exclusive email interview, defendant Patrick O'Neill shared an anecdote that further highlights the degree to which the jury reflected the widespread ignorance about nuclear risks that exists in the U.S. now.
"When Judge Lisa Wood asked the entire jury pool: 'Do any of you have a strong opinion about nuclear weapons pro or con, would you raise your hand?' Of 73 people, not one raised a hand," O'Neill told Truthout. "That is an indication that people living in the throes of the nuclear age, at two minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock, have come to see [weapons of mass destruction] as inconsequential nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert 24/7 is now a 'normal' part of people's lives."
O'Neill added, "The Pentagon has brainwashed people to just trust a government that is imperiling the earth and risking the end of life as we know. That's why we went to Kings Bay to hopefully wake people up."Refusal to Allow the Necessity Defense
If the judge had allowed the peace activists to raise a "necessity defense" in other words, arguing that their actions were necessary to avoid the use of nuclear weapons the jury could have come to a very different decision. There was abundant evidence to support a necessity defense.