"And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." (Isaiah 2:4).

Anti-nuclear activists Kings Bay Plowshares 7 found guilty


BRUNSWICK, G.A. — The Kings Bay Plowshares 7, including Ithacan Clare Grady, were found guilty Thursday of all of the federal charges they were facing related to entering the Kings Bay nuclear submarine base in April 2018 in protest.

After four days of trial and two hours of jury deliberation, a jury found the activists guilty of conspiracy, depredation of government and naval property, and trespassing. They could face up to 20 years in prison.

On the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination 18 months ago, a group of Catholic workers who call themselves the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, broke into the U.S. Naval base in Kings Bay Georgia where the Atlantic Fleet’s Trident nuclear submarine arsenal is based. There, the activists spray-painted messages, poured their blood on various structures, damaged statues of missiles and cut fences into a high-security area. Their protest was meant as a non-violent symbolic disarmament of the Trident nuclear base.

Grady and six others — including Martha Hennessy, granddaughter of Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day; Elizabeth McAlister, widow of Philip Berrigan; Patrick O'Neill; Carmen Trotta; Mark Colville; and Fr. Steve Kelly — were convicted Thursday after a trial that spanned four days in Brunswick, Georgia, this week. A jury deliberated for two hours before finding them guilty of all charges.

The defendants faced an uphill legal battle. The group made no effort to disguise their activities. Two of them wore GoPro head-mounted cameras to record the entire evening. Those recordings were shown for hours in court as evidence in the case. The government presented dozens of articles of evidence including hammers, bolt cutters and even the piece of the chain link fence they cut.

Six of the seven defendants, including Grady, were released on bond as they were going into the trial. Within 60 to 90 days they will attend a sentencing hearing where Judge Lisa Godbey Wood could send them to prison for up to 20 years. That sentence will likely be lower for the defendants since they weren’t violent among other reasons.

The activists' legal defense postured mostly on trying to convince the jury that their actions on the base were not to vandalize or damage the property, but rather to convey a “message of peace,” as Grady testified.

“Our action was not the crime, Trident was the crime,” she said in her closing statement, urging the jurors to see beyond the damaged property and to interpret what they did as a peaceful protest.

The defense had originally sought to use several other arguments in the trial, however they were overruled by Judge Wood in pre-trial hearings. They included applying international nuclear law, religious opposition, and that their action was necessary to prevent an immediate conflict. The defense was also barred from calling expert witnesses to testify like former nuclear planner, Daniel Ellsburg among others.

But this case did separate itself slightly in the amount of religious evidence that was able to be presented as a way to demonstrate the defendants’ motivations. Several of the hammers and banners that were confiscated from the base purposely included biblical references. Other times witnesses incorporated it into their testimony on the stand.

A government exhibit of a sign at the administration building of the Kings Bay Trident Submarine base, on which the defendants poured blood. (Provided by Garry Thomas)

A government exhibit of a sign at the administration building of the Kings Bay Trident Submarine base, on which the defendants poured blood. (Provided Photo)

That Wood allowed the religious material into evidence at all, may set major precedents for similar Plowshares activists’ cases in the future.

“We weren’t successful, but we think that we put on a good enough record that this might be an opportunity to appeal that and try to get another court to take a look at how religious freedom intersects with the horrors and the murders of nuclear weapons and the like,” said Bill Quigley, a defense attorney who represented this group and several others in defense of Plowshares actions.

The jury deliberated for about two hours before they handed down 28 counts, four for each defendant, all of them guilty.

When the verdict was read in court Thursday, not a single defendant, nor their counsels, shed tears. Patrick O’Neill, one of the seven, held his head in his chin and whispered to himself several prayers. Grady looked down at the table several times but otherwise kept her strong Irish complexion in-tact.

All of the defendants moved from the well of the courtroom which had been packed with nearly 50 supporters, as well as more watching a live feed in another room. As the defendants began to retire the audience broke out into song: “rejoice, rejoice, again I say rejoice.”

The audience moved into the hallways of the federal courthouse, lining the walls snaking toward the stairwell as they continued to sing. The chorus moved its way out to the sidewalk.

“We’ve been through four years with each other. We still love each other,” Grady told a group of supporters gathered outside the courthouse afterward.
"Everything that has ever happened to us is there to make us stronger."
-John Trudell