In the face of rising Corona cases, thousands of prisoners were released from US prisons in the summer because their safety and that of the staff in overcrowded prisons could not be guaranteed in the pandemic. For peace activists, the US justice system has no mercy. Martha Hennessy and Carmen Trotta of the nonviolent group" Kings Bay Plowshares 7 " have just been sentenced to prison for a symbolic disarmament operation on a US nuclear site.
Martha Hennessy of the Catholic peace initiative “swords to ploughshares” and her six comrades Clare Grady (61), Patrick O’neill (61), Carmen Trotta (57), father Steve Kelly (71), Mark Colville (58) and Elizabeth McAlister (81) were put on trial from 21 October 2020. The “Kings Bay Plowshares 7”, as they call themselves, or in short: # KBP7, had invaded the U.S. Naval Base in Georgia, one of the largest nuclear bases of the U.S. war fleet, on April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. The plow activists cut through the security fence, poured their own blood on the official seal of the base, hung crime scene tapes and banners on an administration building – and hammered at a model of a Tomahawk missile displayed at the entrance. Civil disobedience to nuclear madness, which should not hurt anyone, but stir up many.
In court, the pacifists had to answer for their symbolic disarmament action on charges of conspiracy, destruction of property at the Kings Bay naval base and destruction of state property, as well as trespassing. After only four days of trial, a twelve-member jury found all the defendants guilty on all counts. The background of their protest action, the Motivation for their religiously based civil disobedience, the existential threat of nuclear weapons such as the Trident intercontinental missiles stored in the Kings Bay naval base, were not allowed to be presented in Brunswick Court. The sentence was to be announced in early 2020, with Martha Hennessy and the others of #KBP7 each facing up to 25 years in prison.
The Plowshares 7 risked their freedom by putting their Christian faith into practice. Martha Hennessy referred to the Old Testament in Isaiah 2: 4: “The Lord will rebuke many nations. So they will turn their swords into plowshares and their spears into Sickles. For no nation shall lift up the sword against another, neither shall they learn henceforth to make war.”
For the Plowshares activists, nuclear weapons are not just a sword of Damocles hanging over humanity, enabling its global destruction. Nuclear weapons kill every day by stealing resources from the poor, increasing white supremacy and contaminating the country, according to Martha Hennessy. In fact, with a fraction of the $ 1000 billion earmarked by the US government for the modernization of America’s nuclear arsenal, Hunger in the world could be eliminated at a stroke, opening up a development perspective for poor countries.
It is precisely this connection that Pope Francis points out. At a Vatican Symposium in 2017, he described nuclear deterrence as no longer ethically justifiable. During a visit to Hiroshima, Japan, in November 2019, the pope condemned the possession of nuclear weapons as “immoral”. In his encyclical Fratelli tutti published this October, Pope Francis calls the complete abolition of nuclear weapons a “moral and humanitarian duty”. The arms spending saved should be channelled into a World Fund “to put an end to Hunger once and for all and to promote the development of the poorest countries”.
The ploughshare activists welcome the initiatives from Rome. “The clear words of Pope Francis against wars in themselves and the weapons of mass destruction in this world give us hope to be heard more”, says Martha Hennessy.
On November 13, the sentence against her was announced. The announcement had been delayed by the Corona pandemic. Martha Hennessy, like everyone else connected to the trial by Video, affirmed that her faith, her social responsibility and her love for humanity had forced her to act as she and her associates had done. In the end, she was sentenced to ten months in a federal prison, which she had to start on December 14, Covid-19 hin, Covid-19 Hin, as well as Carmen Trotta, who received 14 months in prison. Patrick O’neill was sentenced to 14 months in prison and is scheduled to report in mid-January to begin this sentence. Clare Grady was sentenced to 12 months in prison and is awaiting trial next February.
In June, Elizabeth McAlister had already been sentenced to a prison term that coincides with the 17 months of pretrial detention she had to spend in Glynn County Jail. The harshest sentence was given to father Steve Kelly in October with 33 months. This corresponds to the time he has been in custody-continuously since his arrest at the Naval Base in April 2018. instead of being released in December, he has been taken by U.S. Marshals to Tacoma, Washington, where he is to serve a sentence from a previous Plowshares operation.
The sentence against Mark Colville was to be announced on 18 December. He had already been in custody for 15 months. Judge Lisa Godbey Wood postponed the announcement until 19 February.
In fact, the prison sentences were significantly lower than Plowshare activists had feared. They almost feel like a victory, Martha Hennessy declared after becoming known. The prison is subject to fines: the seven have to pay more than $ 33,000 each to cover the costs of the Navy to repair the damage caused by the protest action, as stated in the court’s reasoning. After their release from prison, they will also have to wear an ankle bracelet for three years, with which they will be monitored by the authorities and restricted in their freedom of movement.
On January 20, Joe Biden will be sworn in as US President. After John F. Kennedy, he is the second Catholic to enter the White House. During the election campaign against incumbent Donald Trump, the Democrat repeatedly invoked his faith. It is said that the regular churchgoer always carries a rosary with him. It would be easy to pardon his sisters and brothers of the plowshares and to show that he understands their motivations based on the Catholic faith.
And it would of course be a strong sign of international solidarity if the Vatican, which according to its own statement wants to continue to support a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons at the international level, finally also supported the Catholic opponents of nuclear weapons in detention. A good opportunity is 22 January, when the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty comes into force. The agreement was adopted by 122 countries at the United Nations in New York in the summer of 2017. More than 80 countries have signed it so far, including the Vatican as its own subject of international law. Germany is not one of them. The federal government wants to maintain nuclear participation in NATO and also the stationing of US nuclear weapons in Büchel.