On April 4, 2018, seven Catholic peace activists broke into a military base to protest nuclear weapons. What motivated them to do it?
I am one of seven Catholic pacifists awaiting sentencing in a Georgia federal court for three felonies and a misdemeanor. The charges stem from an April 4, 2018, protest we organized at Naval Station Kings Bay. Kings Bay is the Southeast home port of six of the Navy's Trident submarine fleet. We face the likelihood of one-to-three year prison sentences.
- Elizabeth McAlister, 80, widow of Philip Berrigan and grandmother
- Martha Hennessy, 64, granddaughter of Dorothy Day, a 20th-century Catholic pacifist likely to be canonized by the Catholic Church
- Fr. Stephen Kelly, S.J., 70, Jesuit priest and theologian
- Catholic Worker Clare Grady, 61
- Catholic Worker Carmen Trotta, 57
- Catholic Worker Mark Colville, 58
- Catholic Worker Patrick O'Neill, 63
Our Catholic faith compelled us to come to St. Marys, GA on the 50th anniversary of Georgia-native Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination to warn the world about the dangers of Trident nuclear missiles.
After cutting a lock on a perimeter fence gate and entering the base, the seven of us split into three groups—Fr. Steve, Carmen and Elizabeth went to the "restricted area" where we believe WMDs are kept in underground bunkers. They cut a fence, entered the bunker area, and held anti-nuclear banners until they were arrested by U.S. Marines.
Martha and Clare went to the base's administrative headquarters building. They hung crime scene tape and an indictment of the base on the door. They poured blood, and spray painted the words, "May Love Disarm Us All" on the sidewalk.
Mark and I went to an area we call the "Nuclear Missile Shrine." It is a public memorial where the Navy has erected statues of D-5 and other missiles. We hammered on those statues in a symbolic expression of smashing idols. I also splashed blood on the base logo.
A major component of our action was also to promote the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. We carried a copy of the treaty with us to the base. The United States and the eight other nations that possess nuclear weapons have refused to sign the treaty.
Acting on the words of the Biblical prophet Isaiah, we decided to "beat swords into plowshares." Our actions were a minor transgression of the law, yet we are facing long prison sentences. The court is protecting Trident, and leaving creation vulnerable to nuclear destruction.
It was our use of blood that was most unsettling to jurors. I told the jury what I see as the obvious truth. The blood makes real the purpose of Trident: omnicide. "I believe the blood was already there," I told the jurors. "I just made it more visible."
During our October trial, the judge asked the jury pool of 73 people if any of them held strong personal opinions—pro or con—about nuclear weapons. Not one person raised a hand. This reveals a tragic truth. Most people have come to accept the fact that all of us live in a world on 24/7, hair-trigger alert. The constant presence of nuclear weapons is now normal.
The risk of nuclear weapons being used, whether by accident, computer hacking or intentionally in a war, has become an "acceptable risk" for our world. We act as if the threat to use nuclear weapons is the only way to ensure peace for our children and grandchildren. This is madness.
U.S. nuclear weapons are not just a deterrent. The U.S. deploys them and, like other nuclear powers, we train our military personnel to launch them without question when ordered to do so. The U.S. has refused to sign a No First Use policy. And, under the Pentagon's 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, the U.S. might consider the use of nuclear weapons in retaliation for some conventional attacks.
This is our peril every second of every day. Worse, our WMDs represent our willingness as a nation to inflict horror of an untold magnitude on our fellow humans. Humanity is in a race against time. Either we abolish nuclear weapons or their eventual use will abolish us.
Patrick O'Neill, a father of eight children, is cofounder of the Fr. Charlie Mulholland Catholic Worker House in Garner, NC. He and the other six Kings Bay Plowshares are awaiting sentencing in federal court in Brunswick, GA.