WASHINGTON – Five longtime peace activists pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court to a series of federal charges stemming from an All Souls’ Day demonstration last year at a U.S. Navy nuclear weapons storage depot in Bangor, Wash.
Jesuit Father Bill Bichsel, 82, Jesuit Father Stephen Kelly, 61, Sacred Heart Sister Anne Montgomery, 83, Baltimorean Susan Crane, 65, and Lynne Greenwald, 61, entered their pleas Oct. 8 with Magistrate Judge Karen L. Strombom of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. They are charged with conspiracy, trespass, destruction of property on a naval installation and depradation of government property.
Strombom set a Dec. 7 trial for the defendants, who call themselves the Disarm Now Plowshares.
Each member of the group briefly told Strombom as part of their plea that they wanted to see the end of war, a reversal of the U.S. policy of preparing for nuclear war or a change in federal spending priorities toward an emphasis on education and health care.
“My plea was for the children of this country and the world who need education and health care and food and housing, not weapons of mass destruction,” Sister Anne told Catholic News Service Oct. 11.
Father Kelly explained that his involvement in the protest was required by his Christian faith.
“I said I’m pleading on behalf of the victims of the production and, God forbid, the use of nuclear weapons, of all the victims from Hiroshima, Nagasaki to the uranium mineworkers and the victims of the (federal) budget (priorities),” he told CNS.
Greenwald, who is associated with the Tacoma Catholic Worker, called for “the end of all war, especially for the end of the threat of nuclear war.”
Crane twice attempted to enter a motion of dismissal of all charges, but Strombom said such a motion was inappropriate at an arraignment. Crane subsequently filed the motion for dismissal with the clerk of courts following the arraignment.
The motion cited several U.S. and international laws that describe the use of nuclear weapons as a war crime.
If convicted, the five face prison terms of three to five years and fines of $50,000 to $250,000 on each charge.
Strombom told the protesters that the court could sentence them to consecutive sentences if they are convicted of multiple charges.
The five were indicted Sept. 3 by a federal grand jury 10 months after the protest.
They are accused of using bolt cutters to cut holes in three chain-link fences to enter the Naval Base Kitsap’s Bangor complex, 20 miles west of Seattle. The base is the West Coast home of the Trident nuclear-armed submarine and Strategic Weapons Facility, Pacific, where more than 2,300 nuclear warheads are stored.
Once inside, the five left a trail of blood, hammered on a roadway and fences, scattered sunflower seeds and unfurled a banner that read: “Disarm Now Plowshares, Trident: Illegal + Immoral.”
The government said the five posed a danger to national security.
All five have been arrested, charged and jailed for their involvement in nonviolent protests at weapons facilities in the past.
Since the first Plowshares action in 1980, more than 100 similar protests have taken place around the world. The protests are rooted in the biblical passage in Isaiah: “God will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many people. And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. And nations will not take up swords against nations, nor will they train for war anymore.”