In protest of nuclear weapons
By Leonard Eiger
On August 10, 2016 the eight activists crossed the blue line onto Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, which represents the largest operational concentration of nuclear weapons in the US arsenal, in an act of nonviolent civil resistance. Some staged a die-in, spreading ashes around others’ bodies on the asphalt, while two members of the group attempted to deliver a letter to the base commander urging him to uphold international law regarding nuclear weapons.
All were charged with trespassing onto a closed military installation and released on the same day; they were arraigned in November 2015.
The Trident submarine base at Bangor, just 20 miles from Seattle, contains the largest concentration of operational nuclear weapons in the US arsenal. Each of the eight Trident submarines at Bangor carries up to 24 Trident II (D-5) missiles, each capable of being armed with as many as eight independently targetable thermonuclear warheads. Each nuclear warhead has an explosive force of between 100 and 475 kilotons (up to 30 times the force of the Hiroshima bomb).
The eight defendants, who call themselves the Bangor Eight, are Mary Gleysteen of Kingston, WA; Anne Hall of Lopez Island, WA; Ann Kittredge of Quilcene, WA; Betsy Lamb of Bend, OR; Peggy Love of East Wenatchee, WA; Emilie Marlinghaus of Bend, OR; Elizabeth Murray of Poulsbo, WA; and Michael Siptroth of Belfair, WA.
The Honorable David W. Christel, United States Magistrate Judge, presided over the April 1, 2016 trial in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Tacoma. Attorney Ken Kagan, who has represented nuclear resisters for many years, assisted the defendants. Kagan represented five of the defendants, while Lamb, Murray and Siptroth acted in their own defense (pro se).
Judge Christel accepted the motion by the government to exclude a wide range of evidence that could be used in the defense including necessity defense, international law, in-force treaties, and policies of the US government regarding the use of nuclear weapons.
The prosecution opened, stating that there is a “thin blue line” [on the roadway entering the base] marking the boundary of Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor. All protest and other forms of speech are allowed outside of the blue line. The defendants crossed the line, were ordered to leave, and did not comply. Therefore the court should find them guilty.
Kagan opened for the defense by saying that, “each person has a very definite point of view as to why they were there” He further stated that he would, “let the testimony unfold as it will.” He then offered the August 10, 2016 letter, which the defendants attempted to deliver to Commander Zwolfer, to be entered into evidence.
The Judge examined the letter and stated that he found, “no foundation for this” [the letter], and would hold defendants’ exhibit 1 for decision later in the trial. The letter was ultimately entered into evidence.
Although the defendants felt severely hamstrung by the court’s decision to disallow the many reasonable defenses they sought to use, they nevertheless proceeded with their testimonies. The defendants spoke eloquently and passionately on their own behalf. The defendants were called, one at a time, by Judge Christell.
Betsy Lamb was the first to take the stand. She said, “it is so important for me to stand up and call our nation to lead the international effort to abolish nuclear weapons.” The judge allowed her to read portions of the August 10 letter into the record. Lamb said that, “we [as a nation] need to conform to what we expect of other nations” and that “we were calling on Capt. Zwolfer” to act in good conscience. “In my defense, I say only that as a person of faith and conscience, when I see something as wrong as our proliferation of nuclear weapons systems and their current and proposed use, I have to act.” Lamb asked the judge “to step outside the box that is contiguous with your comfort zone. Act in whatever way(s) you feel appropriate to address the menace of nuclear weapons. Perhaps—for one thing—here today, find our actions justified, as an initial step.”
Mary Gleysteen told how, in 1955 as a child of a military family living in Quantico, Virginia, her mother allowed her to drink from the “colored only” drinking fountain, telling her “if you see something that is wrong you need to say or do something to correct it.” Her growth in activism went from signatures to action; from protesting weapons shipments from Bangor to Vietnam to protesting Bangor’s first-strike ballistic missile submarines. Gleysteen stressed that she has engaged in every form of “legal” protest over the years all to no avail. She has also spent decades leafleting at Bangor and “felt compelled by the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing off Nagasaki” to take action. She concluded by stating that her opposition to nuclear weapons was based on the belief that their presence at the base is “immoral, irresponsible and unsafe.”
In defense of her action on August 10, Ann Kittredge spoke emotionally of her sense of duty to her (and other people’s) children and grandchildren. While her testimony was brief, it was strong and to the point.
Emilie Marlinghaus listed the names and ages of her children and grandchildren to illustrate why she took action against nuclear weapons—her first ever. Following the death of her husband, and having raised her children, she came to the realization that those skills developed through her early life would serve her well in her new life of activism. This new life began with protests against the Iraq war. To explain her passion for activism Marlinghaus quoted the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. “I want my whole life to be a protest against war and political tyranny. No to everything that destroys life. Yes to everything that affirms it.”
Elizabeth Murray, who spent 27 years as an analyst with the Central Intelligence Agency, explained how her experience as a government bureaucrat made her understand that so often the “last thing on [the government’s] mind is collateral damage” when making so many decisions involving the potential loss of lives through the use of “kinetic action.” Murray also quoted Robert Shetterly, the painter of Americans Who Tell The Truth. “Dissent is the prerequisite for democracy.”
Michael Siptroth began by quoting Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson. “We’ve never said protests are the answer, but protests create space for the answer. Protest is disruption. Protest is confrontation. Protest is the end of silence, and what protest does is it creates space for other work to happen.” Siptroth went on to say he would not “be silent as my government prepares for war, developing weapons of mass destruction while depriving millions of people basic human dignity and peace,” and violating “domestic and international law.”
Peggy Love shared that she was born on August 8, 1945, between the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That has been an important reminder for her. August 2015 was the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings and her 70th birthday—the first without her husband Jerry who died of cancer and had worked with Naval nuclear reactors during his career. Love could not acknowledge her 70th birthday without speaking out against the nuclear weapons at Bangor. “I did what I believe to be the act of a good citizen… exercised my first amendment rights.”
Anne Hall, an “ordained minister in the evangelical Lutheran Church” and who has lived “most of [her] life as a Christian,” has tried to “live as Jesus taught me to live.” Hall referred to the story of the Good Samaritan. “We are called to love most of all the people we are taught to despise.” She said “Jesus would be appalled by nuclear weapons” and that “he would have stood in front of trains bringing nuclear weapons into a base, blocked roads and would have done everything he could” to abolish nuclear weapons.
Hall also spoke of the history of leafleting at Bangor. How at the height of leafleting efforts there were leaflets on bulletin boards all over the base, and that some people left their jobs as a result. She spoke of her vision of people at the base going on strike, refusing to work on nuclear weapons. She stated how the nuclear danger is as great or greater than it was during the Cold War; how the rest of the nuclear nations are modernizing in response to US modernization and Russia is angry about NATO expansion. On August 10 she “wanted to communicate to base workers and the public that the only way to avert the increasing risk of nuclear war is to work with every ounce of our strength—both domestically and globally—to outlaw nuclear weapons and to put in place comprehensive safeguards so these weapons will be dismantled and abolished forever.
In his closing arguments, attorney Kagan argued that under the trespassing statute, in this case, the first amendment (attempting to convey a crucial political idea) justifies the defendants’ attempted entry, and therefore does not constitute trespassing under this statute as there was no obstruction or vandalism. The trespassing statute, 18 U.S. Code § 1382 – Entering military, naval, or Coast Guard property, can be enforced “if a person enters for a purpose prohibited by law.”
Judge Christell found that Kagan did not present adequate justification to support his argument and, based on the factual findings, found that each person had entered the base that is within the jurisdiction of the US without prior authorization and for a purpose prohibited by law or lawful regulation, constituting a violation of section 1382. Having found them guilty and moved to sentencing.
During sentencing the government called one witness, Christopher Crane, Operations Officer for Bangor Base Security. Crane explained that he and others from the base visited with members of the Ground Zero Center community (GZ) before theAugust 10 action and learned about the groups basic plans for the weekend. He further stated that he and his team had already made an action plan before the meeting with GZ. The action plan was designed “to cover all possible scenarios” and was approved by the “commanding officer of the base.” The total number of base personnel involved was about 25, “taking people away from their regular jobs.” Crane cited 70 to 75 hours of preparation to handle the protest.
Kagan, in response, said that 70 to 75 hours of preparation was “overkill” based on the history of Ground Zero’s nonviolent actions at the base. The organization has a flawless safety record, utilizing trained Peacekeepers who ensure everyone’s safety and act as liaisons to law enforcement personell.
Although the government did not ask for confinement or fines, it did recommend one year of supervised probation and community service; 100 hours for Kittredge, Love, Marlinghaus and Murray; 150 hours for Gleysteen, Lamb and Siptroth; and 200 hours for Hall. The graduated community service hours were based on the defendants respective prior records of barment letters and convictions. In addition, the community service would have to be conducted with an “organization unrelated to nuclear disarmament.”
Kagan told the judge that these are “people with deeply held values who are deeply concerned” about our nation’s nuclear weapons policies and practices. He quoted a sign at the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station that said, “Pardon our noise; it’s the sound of freedom,” going on to say that, “well, what this group did is part of the cost of freedom.”
Siptroth spoke to what he called the narrowness of the prosecutions overly strict interpretation of the law. He told the court that the sentences handed out will not stop the defendants from repeating their actions in the future. “We will be back here again and again until you understand that you are trying to impose a very narrow legal interpretation.”
Judge Christell accepted the government’s recommendation of one year probation, and did not impose the recommended graduated community service hours; he gave a flat 100 hours to all defendants. He agreed to the government’s recommendation that the service be conducted with an “organization unrelated to nuclear disarmament.”
While the verdict was disappointing, all agreed that they had presented a worthy collective defense. Even though the defendants were precluded from providing reasonable defenses in this case, those defenses are based on legal precent and treaty obligations the U.S. government continues to ignore— the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the Advisory Opinions of the World Court on the Legality of Nuclear Weapons.
The U.S. Navy has plans for a new fleet of ballistic missile submarines, costing nearly $100 billion, which will accelerate the rapidly developing submarine nuclear arms race. It has been estimated that by the time the new generation of ballistic missile submarines are put into service, they will represent 70 percent of the nation’s deployed nuclear warheads.
Ground Zero’s NO To NEW TRIDENT Campaign (notnt.org) is working to de-fund the Navy’s plans for the next generation ballistic missile submarine.
For nearly forty years Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action has engaged in education, training in nonviolence, community building, resistance against Trident and action toward a world without nuclear weapons.