Killing the Messenger
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Mathew 5:10
In a recent article I wrote about the legislation in Wisconsin to increase penalties for environmental protesters convicted of trespass or damage to property. These laws are intended to harass and discourage public protests of “critical infrastructure.” Dissidents, reformers, and activists have always been denigrated as criminals, dangerous radicals, terrorists, or Communists. Criticism of the government (or business) is considered unpatriotic. There is a long history of governments beating, jailing, harassing, and killing the messenger. The current whistleblowers in the news are only one example.
Throughout history all governments have persecuted dissenters. The specific circumstances and severity of punishment may vary but the basic reaction of governments is the same – send in the troops (or police), beat heads, imprison, or exile the trouble makers. This was the the British reaction to American tax protesters in 1774. It was our government's reaction to labor strikes, racial equality, women's suffrage, and anti-war demonstrations all through the 19th and 20th centuries. In China, Tiananmen Square and the current situation in Hong Kong are examples. Russia is infamous for the Siberian Gulag under both the Czars and the Communists. Whether it is a monarchy, dictatorship, or so called “democracy,” speak against the powers that be and you pay a price.
In the “land of the free” the prosecution of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 is another example. Seven peace advocates, three women and four men (ages 55-78), are being prosecuted for opposing nuclear weapons. They are charged with three felonies for conspiracy and destruction of property plus one misdemeanor for trespass. Each person faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted. All this for trespassing and some minor vandalism in an effort to draw attention to the illegal, immoral, hugely expensive, and ultimately unusable U.S nuclear weapons.
In April of 2018, the seven cut a fence and entered the Naval Station Kings Bay nuclear submarine base in Georgia. They put up banners, crime scene tape, splashed blood on buildings, and symbolically “beat swords into plowshares” with hammers made from melted down guns. They also posted an “indictment” charging the U.S. government with crimes against humanity for violating international law by building and maintaining nuclear weapons. The base is the home of six U.S. nuclear ballistic missile submarines carrying hundreds of nuclear weapons, which have up to 30 times the explosive power of the atom bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945. The seven are all members of Catholic Worker communities. They are motivated by their Christian beliefs to work for peace and justice. They believe that the production of nuclear weapons by the United States is not only immoral but a violation of federal and international law. Because nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction they can not be used for purely military targets. Innocent civilians WILL BE KILLED. Deliberately killing civilians is a war crime. Therefore the production and deployment of nuclear weapons is a war crime, a violation of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and UN Charter. The seven feel compelled by their faith to do what they can to abolish these weapons.
These peaceful, elderly, religiously motivated, concerned citizens should have been fined some small amount and made to clean up their mess. Instead they are being prosecuted for felonies. This is a travesty of justice for many reasons.
The punishment in no way fits the “crime.” These are outrageously excessive penalties for a peaceful protest with minor vandalism. There was no violence. No force was used other than cutting a fence. No lives were endangered other than their own. No serious damage was done to the facility. It is ridiculous to think their actions in any way endangered national security, the security of the base, or the safety of the military personnel. It was a purely symbolic effort to increase public awareness of the danger of nuclear weapons.
The prosecution and the trial judge have refused to allow the defendants to speak about these issues in their own defense. They have not even been allowed to meet together to plan a common defense. Three of the defendants, including a priest and former nun (the oldest protester at 79) have been in jail since being arrested April 4, 2018. Four were jailed for seven weeks before being release on $50,000 bond with ankle bracelets monitors. All of the defendants have already served more time than would be just and reasonable for the actual crimes of trespass and vandalism.
This whole situation is a colossal waste of judicial time and resources. It is a classic example of government over reaction to dissent. When one thinks of all the serious crimes that go unpunished it makes you sick. Bank fraud that melted down the economy in 2008, costing everyone billions, has not been prosecuted. Officials who authorized torture in Iraq have not been brought to justice. Hackers and scam artists prey on gullible people everyday with impunity. Big drug companies profit from addicting and killing people with little or no consequences. Violations of consumer, environmental, and labor laws go unpunished. But peaceful nuclear protesters are being prosecuted to the full extent of the law. They are being “persecuted for righteousness.” Is this justice? Is this what should happen in a democratic nation? Their trial begins October 21st. Google “Kings Bay Plowshares 7” to read more and to sign the petition supporting these patriots. There is also a link to a Democracy Now interview with the four defendants out on bail. I believe no sensible person can watch this interview, and listen to these gentle, compassionate people tell their stories, and still think they are dangerous criminals that need to be locked up.
We should thank these patriotic citizens for pointing out the lax security at Kings Bay. What would have happened if real terrorists had targeted the base? If a 78 year old can walk right in – undetected – we have much greater problems than peaceful protesters. A more appropriate pubic response should be as Anne Feeney says in a song,
“Have you been to jail for justice? I want to shake your hand 'Cause sitting in and laying down Are ways to take a stand Have you sung a song for freedom Or marched that picket line? Have you been to jail for justice? Then you're a friend of mine”