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Jesuit priest detained by Feds at Sea-Tac continues resistance to nuclear weapons

In the face of a budget dedicated to war profiteering

Sea-Tac, April 1. Father Steve Kelly, S.J., a Jesuit priest and longtime nuclear resister, was brought in chains to Tacoma on March 30 to appear in the US District Court on a warrant for a previous probation violation. Father Kelly came from Brunswick, GA where he had been imprisoned for his part in the 2018 Kings Bay Plowshares action.

Symbolic disarmament—a felony

The Kings’ Bay action took place on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Kelly and others, known as the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, entered the US Navy’s East Coast Trident nuclear ballistic missile submarine base at Kings Bay. At trial, they pled not guilty, because they had not entered the base to commit a crime, but rather to prevent one from occurring; the crime of “omnicide,” the destruction of the human race in a nuclear war. In the face of the threat that the US nuclear arsenal poses to the world, they believed what they had done was not illegal, but a “symbolic disarmament,” an act of necessary civil resistance.

All seven were found by a jury to be guilty on three felony counts and a misdemeanor charge.

Father Steve Kelly, S.J. had earlier been arrested in March of 2017 in Silverdale, WA on a charge of trespassing at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor during a Pacific Life Community nonviolent direct action. Father Kelly refused to cooperate when a judge imposed supervised release so a warrant for his arrest was issued. After a preliminary hearing, the probation office agreed with the priest’s attorney, who pointed out that by the time a new hearing was scheduled, Father Kelly would have served his maximum sentence. The probation office then agreed to recommend that Father Kelly be sentenced to time served.

A lethal combination: tactical and strategic nuclear weapons

The combined fourteen ballistic missile submarines at Bangor and Kings Bay, carry the Trident II D5 ballistic missile armed with some combination of W76-1 (100 kiloton) warheads and W88 (475 kiloton) warheads, in addition to some of the newer “low-yield” W76-2 warheads. These are, in addition to being what the US government calls “the most survivable leg of the US nuclear triad,” arguably a first-strike nuclear weapon that is inherently destabilizing and an impediment to efforts toward cooperation with Russia and disarmament. The continuing warhead modernization and construction of the next generation of ballistic missile submarines, with plans for a new warhead and missile, is speeding more rapidly toward nuclear catastrophe.

Courts in the US have consistently refused to allow Kelly (and other Plowshares activists) to present any reasonable defense of their actions.

The right to act in accord with one’s religious beliefs is not uniformly honored

Reaching to the heart of Gospel teachings, in Kelly’s own words: “The Gospel has many instances in the parables of Jesus inserting himself between the flock and the dangers; namely the thief and the wolf. In today’s or rather contemporary application of the Gospel is that Christ is incarnate in the poor in the flock and the thief is the budget dedicated to war profiteering and nuclear annihilation. The wolf is the ever-present danger of the threat and, God forbid, the use of nuclear weapons. So it is my life long quest to imitate the Good Shepherd. I will insert myself between the dangers and the flock.”

Kelly was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in the Jesuit order in 1990, and participated in numerous Plowshares action since his first– “Jubilee Plowshares”– in 1995. Since then he has spent over 10 years behind bars, and roughly a third of that time in solitary confinement (non-cooperation).

Elsewhere in the world, courts are willing to listen

Courts in the US have consistently refused to allow Kelly (and other Plowshares activists) to present any reasonable defense of their actions. In nearly every case, judges have agreed with Federal prosecutors to prohibit the defendants from introducing anything constituting a reasonable defense—including religious motivation, international law and treaties, Nuremberg principles, necessity defense, or the existence, numbers, or lethality of nuclear weapons, all of which are established, public knowledge and/or precedent.

In contrast to US courts, jurors in many other countries where Plowshares actions have been carried out have acquitted activists. In the case of the Pitstop Ploughshares, five members of the Catholic Worker Movement who damaged a US Navy C-40 transport aircraft (enroute to Iraq) at Shannon Airport, Ireland in 2003, were allowed to present a reasonable defense. They were acquitted by a jury that determined the defendants had acted to save lives and property in Iraq.

Punishing the messenger

Rather than prosecute Fr. Kelly and others who attempt to shine the light of conscience on the profound danger of nuclear weapons and a new arms race, the US government should listen to their warnings and begin to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date.” The next step would be “a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” This is required by Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), to which the US is a signatory.

This is an edited version of a press release issued by Leonard Eiger of the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action


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