Meet Two of the Activists Who Secretly Entered a Nuclear Submarine Base

We look at the resistance against nuclear weapons here in the United States. On April 4, 2018 — the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination — seven Catholic Plowshares activists secretly entered Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia, one of the largest nuclear submarine bases in the world. They were armed with just hammers, crime scene tape, baby bottles containing their own blood, and an indictment charging the US government for crimes against peace. Their goal was to symbolically disarm the nuclear weapons at the base, which is home to at least six nuclear ballistic missile submarines. Each submarine carries 20 Trident thermonuclear weapons. The activists said they were following the prophet Isaiah’s command to “beat swords into plowshares.” It was the latest of 100 similar anti-nuclear Plowshares actions around the world beginning in 1980 in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. The first Plowshares action in 1980 was led by the late Daniel Berrigan and Phil Berrigan. Phil’s wife, Liz McAlister, was one of seven arrested at the April 4 action. McAlister and two other activists, Jesuit priest Stephen Kelly and Mark Colville, remain locked up in pretrial confinement in Brunswick, Georgia. Four others — Patrick O’Neill, Carmen Trotta, Martha Hennessy and Clare Grady — are under house arrest. All seven could face years in prison, if convicted. We speak with Martha Hennessy and Carmen Trotta. Hennessy is the granddaughter of Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement. Carmen Trotta helps run the St. Joseph Catholic Worker House in New York.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we look at the resistance against nuclear weapons here in the United States. Last April 4th, the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, seven Catholic Plowshares activists secretly entered Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia, one of the largest nuclear submarine bases in the world, armed with just hammers, crime scene tape, baby bottles containing their own blood, and an indictment charging the US government with crimes against peace. Their goal: to symbolically disarm the nuclear weapons at the base, which is home to at least six nuclear ballistic missile submarines. Each submarine carries 20 Trident thermonuclear weapons.

The activists said they were following the prophet Isaiah’s command to “beat swords into plowshares.” It was the latest of a hundred similar anti-nuclear Plowshares actions around the world beginning in 1980 in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. That first Plowshares act was led by the late Daniel and Philip Berrigan. Phil’s wife, Liz McAlister, was one of the seven arrested at the April 4th action. Liz McAlister and two other activists, Jesuit priest Stephen Kelly and Mark Colville, remain locked up in pretrial confinement in Brunswick Georgia. Four others — Patrick O’Neill, Carmen Trotta, Martha Hennessy and Clare Grady — are under house arrest. All seven could face years in prison, if convicted.

Well, I recently spoke to Martha Hennessy and Carmen Trotta here in New York at Mary House, a Catholic Worker home here in the city. Hennessy is the granddaughter of Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement. Carmen Trotta helps run the St. Joseph Catholic Worker House here in the city. I spoke to them shortly before Clare Grady was released and put under house arrest. I began by asking Martha Hennessy about what they did when they entered the nuclear sub base April 4th.

MARTHA HENNESSY: I was with my friends, seven of us. And we spent nearly two years discerning and praying about what we could do. And we walked onto the base at Kings Bay. It’s not a well-known site of the US military. And we walked there on behalf of people who couldn’t do such a thing or take such an action. And we walked there to expose the Trident nuclear arsenal. And we symbolically disarmed the nuclear weapons. We were not anywhere near nuclear weapons. But Carmen’s group got a little bit closer to the bunkers. But, essentially, we left Daniel Ellsberg’s book, The Doomsday Machine, there on site at the administrative building of the Strategic Weapons Facility of the Atlantic. We posted an indictment on the doors of the facility. We also had banners that read, “The ultimate logic of Trident is omnicide.” And we put up crime tape.

AMY GOODMAN: And where did you go? Where did your —

MARTHA HENNESSY: I was at the administration building.

AMY GOODMAN: And why did you feel this was so important to do?

MARTHA HENNESSY: I believe that the United States nuclear arsenal is the linchpin of white imperialism being wrought upon the world. I think that we have used these nuclear weapons in ways, since Hiroshima 73 years ago. We have used this threat against the world in many different ways throughout history. And I felt that, for myself, I was able to take this kind of action, to do this kind of discernment, and offer up an effort to wake the world to the terrible dangers that we face. These weapons, as long as we have them, at some point, they will be used. And I have had trips to Russia, Korea, South Korea, and Iran. And when I hear President Trump threatening these other countries, I can only take him seriously and take responsibility, personal responsibility myself, to try and raise a voice to make it obvious what is in the minds of these war planners.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Carmen Trotta, you, together with Martha Hennessy and five others, went on this military base, the Kings Bay naval base. Describe what you did that day?

CARMEN TROTTA: Took a very long walk inside the base. The small group that detached with myself wanted very much to get as close as we possibly could to the heart of evil, which is to say the weapons systems themselves, and therefore we were disgruntled, really, initially, that there were no Trident submarines being worked on at the base at the time. If that were so, we would have tried to get to the Trident itself. The fact was that that was not so at that time, and therefore we went to go to the bunkers, where the nuclear weapons themselves are housed, and managed to cut a few fences and were very perplexed by the complexity of the last fence, frightened by it, frightened by being in a lethal-force zone.

And as we were contemplating getting through that last fence, there was finally, after a couple of hours on the base, a response from the base itself. And then we held our banner, which said that nuclear weapons are illegal and immoral, and wanted to show to the military something soothing to be able to say to them when they came. And so, when they came, we told them immediately that we come in peace, that we were unarmed, that we were American citizens, that we meant them no harm.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you have with you when you got to that area near the bunker?

CARMEN TROTTA: There were — we had hammers and blood and bolt cutters.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, blood?

CARMEN TROTTA: They’re vials of blood that were taken from people in the community, so it was our own blood. And the blood gets used as a symbol of life. Particularly within the Catholic and Christian faith, blood is the symbol of life. It is also — that level of red is also a constant danger warning. And as I think I tried to say before, the Plowshares actions are designed to sort of slap people awake to the reality that is before them. It is more alarm than anger. We are more alarmed than we are angry. Although I don’t want to put down the notion of being angry in the sort of persistent failure of what could and should be, you know, one of the greatest nations in the world, and the ongoing, persistent failure, particularly after World War II.

AMY GOODMAN: Martha Hennessy, what happened when you went to the administrative building? How money people did you go with? What did you come with? And how did the military find you on the base?

MARTHA HENNESSY: Well, they ignored us for a while. They had their hands full with the people at the bunker. They were most concerned about the people at the bunker.

AMY GOODMAN: With your group?

MARTHA HENNESSY: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: With Carmen and his group.

MARTHA HENNESSY: The three people. And so, I was with one other person. And the two of us brought little hammers and vials of blood and Dan Ellsberg’s book, The Doomsday Machine. And we put up our posters, and we saw that there were people working in the building. And we did not go into the building. The door was unlocked. But it was very quiet, very eerie.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened when the soldiers came?

MARTHA HENNESSY: Well, we were able to post our indictment and pour our blood and write “Love one another” and “May love disarm us all.” We wrote that on the sidewalks. And then we joined two other people who were at the display, the missile display, which welcomes visitors into the complex. And we joined them, and we probably were there for perhaps an hour, in both settings, before — we saw the cars going towards the other site, where our friends were. But they didn’t bother to handle us until at least an hour later.

AMY GOODMAN: Who were you with?

MARTHA HENNESSY: I was with Clare Grady, Patrick O’Neill and Mark Colville.

AMY GOODMAN: And they are?

MARTHA HENNESSY: They’re all still — well, Patrick is out. Three of us are released. We have family members to attend to. And four are still in. Clare, Elizabeth McAlister, Stephen Kelly and Mark Colville are all still at the Brunswick detention facility.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the people you were there with? Can you talk about Liz McAlister and the significance of her engaging in this Plowshares action? She is one of those who remains imprisoned, has now been in prison since April 4th. That’s three months.

CARMEN TROTTA: Right. You often hear of the Berrigans. Every time you hear of the Berrigans, you should think of Liz McAlister, because she is — you could say she is certainly among the Berrigans. And I think, you know, a very compelling force in drawing this community together was that, at this kind of late stage in her life, she still had the heart and courage and soul to want to confront this enormous crime, war crime, ongoing, something that the family had engaged in for years. I mean, after — these are — you know, the Berrigans, along with Liz, after the war in Vietnam, they recognized — having recognized the horror of Vietnam, having resisted it persistently for years, when the war finally ended, they said, “OK, so this episode, this episode of American history, has ended. The empire is still here. And the empire needs to be exposed by an informed citizenry, if we are to continue to live in a democracy.” And they’ve been fighting that battle until the present day. Indeed, our action was the latest version of it.

AMY GOODMAN: There have been scores of Plowshares actions ever since Liz McAlister’s husband, Phil Berrigan, and her brother-in-law, Dan Berrigan, led that action on the King of Prussia GE plant in 1980, almost 40 years ago. Explain what the Plowshares movement is, why it’s called Plowshares.

CARMEN TROTTA: Well, comes out of the prophecy from Isaiah 2:4, that there would come a point in time where men, people of faith, would beat swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks. We would no longer wage war upon — nations would no longer wage war upon other. Nor would they study war anymore. Nor would they study war anymore to get better and better at it, to continue in that drive of violence, of competition.

AMY GOODMAN: This wasn’t Liz McAlister’s first Plowshares action?

CARMEN TROTTA: No, no, no. She did one — I think it was in ’83.

MARTHA HENNESSY: 1983, the Griffiss Air Force Base.

AMY GOODMAN: Was your first action, Carmen?

CARMEN TROTTA: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Martha, this — was this your first action?

MARTHA HENNESSY: Yes, my first Plowshares action.

AMY GOODMAN: What made you decide to engage in this?

MARTHA HENNESSY: Well, I had participated in a previous group, and the discussion around the fact that this kind of a process brings us to a place of self-disarmament really resonated with me. And I wanted to understand that at a deeper level. If we are trying to live lives, Christ-like lives, of caring for those who most needy and opposing war, I felt that I needed to really explore what this kind of an action would look like. It’s a faith journey for me. It certainly has deepened my faith and understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ in our own times. But it’s that self-disarmament. And that also goes along with the work that we do with taking care of the homeless, where we must wear the rough edges off of ourselves to make ourselves holier and more available to this kind of work, that willingness to self-sacrifice.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about the charges against you now and the years in prison that you face?

MARTHA HENNESSY: Yes. We were initially given state charges, which a month later were turned into federal charges. And the four charges are — and we considered having four charges to be very redundant. But they are conspiracy, trespass, depredation of government property, destruction of naval property — something like that. And I think, for each count — the trespass is a misdemeanor, facing six months, but the others are more serious, anywhere from five to 10 years. But they tend to threaten us with the worst, because they do not want citizens going onto these military bases. And so, yes, we do face serious charges.

AMY GOODMAN: Now let’s talk about the trial. Will you be able to bring up your reasons for doing what you did?

MARTHA HENNESSY: Highly unlikely. I mean, the federal courts have done an excellent job, since 1980, of disallowing any kind of necessity defense. Of course, we want to talk about the Nuremberg principles. We want to talk about the Geneva Conventions. We want to talk about nuclear weapons, Trident submarine system. But typically what has occurred is prosecution demands a whole list of terms that cannot be presented. So the jury never hears who we are, what we did, why we did what we did.

AMY GOODMAN: So what do they think? You went onto the base and…

MARTHA HENNESSY: Everything gets reduced to destruction of property and trespass. So, we end up focusing on cut fences rather than focusing on what’s behind those fences.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, your lawyers have presented a motion to dismiss in court. And among those they cited were the declarations of Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, who declared that the actions of the Kings Bay Plowshares are totally consistent with and supported by Catholic social teaching that any use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is totally immoral. Will the jurors be able to hear this?

MARTHA HENNESSY: It will be a miracle if any of those declarations, both from a religious perspective, from a Physicians for Social Responsibility perspective, from a military perspective and from a professor of the law perspective — it will be a miracle if any of those testimonies get into the court.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, why do you do what you do?

MARTHA HENNESSY: We do what we do because that’s what we’re called to do. And it’s not necessarily a question of success or failure. And who knows? The holy spirit works in strange ways. Perhaps there is some kind of window in this current climate where some of these discussions can happen. I mean, it’s a dialogue that desperately needs to happen. And the world is waiting for the US courts to do what’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: How are you preparing for years in prison, Martha?

MARTHA HENNESSY: It’s hard to say how one would prepare for something like that. It’s a stripping-down process. I mean, I spent two months recently in prison, and that gave me a taste of what life would be like. And —

AMY GOODMAN: Before you were released now with your ankle monitors.

MARTHA HENNESSY: Yes. And, you know, the works of mercy require us to attend to the imprisoned. And one very good way of doing that is living with them. And so, I do my best to prepare emotionally and spiritually.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Carmen, how are you preparing?

CARMEN TROTTA: I’m not sure that there is a way to prepare. I will say that there came a point — so, I didn’t mind that — my initial fears of going to prison had to do with violence among the prisoners. And I saw almost none of that. In fact, I saw a lot of cohesion amongst the prisoners. There was the potential for violence from the guards.

But it was after two months that for the first time I realized that the great — the greatest fear about prison is depression about having your life so neutralized, so stopped short, which is why I say write cards to people, keep in touch with people, see how they’re feeling in prison, because there did come a time where I thought to myself, “You know, brother, you are sleeping too much, because there’s nothing outside that cell door to go to, and you need to sort of change that and get out there.”

And I had a Guatemalan cellmate, who was a joy to me. And so, in many ways, he kept me sane.

AMY GOODMAN: Was he an immigrant prisoner?

CARMEN TROTTA: Oh, yeah. There were five of them in our cell.

AMY GOODMAN: Immigrant detainees?

CARMEN TROTTA: Yeah, yeah. They had been — there are five of them. They’re all sort of heroic. They came here to labor and send money back to their families. And yeah — and they were a remarkably good set of people. I wish I spoke Spanish and could have gotten more deeply involved with them. In fact, I forgot my roommate’s name immediately upon hearing it. He forgot my name or couldn’t believe, perhaps, that my name was Carmen. And so, I always called him compañero, and he always called me “my friend” or “sir,” “sir, my friend.”

AMY GOODMAN: So, as we move into the 73rd anniversary of the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and you move towards your trial, starting with President Obama, then on to President Trump, there is a multibillion-dollar, they call it, updating of the nuclear arsenal, and that’s moving forward. President Trump is castigating his NATO allies to spend more money on military, to engage in more military spending, demanding this of Germany and France and other NATO allies. Your final thoughts, Martha Hennessy?

MARTHA HENNESSY: Well, William Hartung has spoken to that with regards to the cost. I mean, it is a theft from the poor. It is bleeding our society. These billions of dollars are going directly into the pockets of a very few weapons manufacturer. There’s no democratic aspect to this process whatsoever. A lot of the decision-making is very hidden, very secret. Donald Trump is taking care of his friends. And it’s an absolute theft from the globe. And it’s also an environmental catastrophe. So —

AMY GOODMAN: In what way?

MARTHA HENNESSY: Well, just there have already been probably a million casualties, what with the actual dropping of the two bombs on these open cities, but also in the production and the open-air testing, Rocky Flats, Hanford, Oak Ridge —

CARMEN TROTTA: Marshall Islands.

MARTHA HENNESSY: — Marshall Island peoples. All of these people have been affected over the decades. There have been many, many, many casualties already.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Carmen Trotta?

CARMEN TROTTA: It’s the ongoing sort of promotion of competition as opposed to cooperation — cooperation with the Earth, with the planet, cooperation with other human communities. Your friend, very much admired here, Noam Chomsky, talks about the end of organized life, that what we are looking at in 2018, what the next generation is looking at, is the end of organized life. And the two things that he goes on in the speech about are global warming, on one hand, and the nuclear arms race.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Carmen Trotta, who helps run the St. Joseph Catholic Worker House here in New York City, and Martha Hennessy, granddaughter of Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement. I spoke to them at Mary House, the other Catholic Worker house here in New York City, both wearing ankle monitors before trial, so the government can track them.

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