The inside story of 7 activists who breeched a forbidden nuclear missile base
How far would you go to act upon your most deeply-held beliefs? Would you break into a nuclear submarine base under the cover of darkness planning to “disarm” the missiles, risking hefty fines and years in jail?
Four years ago, seven Catholic Plowshares activists conducted a ‘symbolic disarmament’ of the Kings Bay naval base in Georgia, home to America’s East Coast fleet of nuclear-armed submarines. It’s the home port of six massive missile-carrying vessels, silent and deadly submarines that are often called “boomers.”
To mark the anniversary, PeaceQuest Cape Breton’s Sean Howard conducted email interviews with three of the seven — Mark Colville, Clare Grady, and Martha Hennessy — as well as with Bill Ofenloch, an eloquent spokesperson and tireless advocate for the group; and Christine Gwynn, a young peace activist who flew from Cape Breton to Georgia to attend their trial.
Clare Grady described to Sean how they got into the high-security nuclear base.
“When we got to the ‘out of the way’ gate we chose to enter, it didn’t take long to clip the lock, and for all seven of us to walk in. My clearest memory that stayed with me throughout the action and jail, even till today, is how utterly beautiful it was where we were walking, under the stars, under the Georgia pines, surrounded by the reassuring sounds of the creatures in the woods. After walking about 20-30 minutes, we circled in prayer before Liz, Carmen and Steve made their way north to the bunker area. It was emotional for me to see them go and to take in the profoundness of their offering. The remaining four of us headed west under the stars; I remember there were deer in the clearing, and that seemed an extra blessing…”
“When Martha and I arrived at Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic (SWFLANT), we could see lights on inside. The first thing we did was hang our banner, ‘The Ultimate Logic of Trident is Omnicide’. Then we put up Crime Scene tape, and left a copy of the indictment that we had prepared; spray-painted on the ground a big heart and the words, “Love One Another;” poured a small bottle of blood on the ground; and left the Daniel Ellsberg book The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. After a few prayerful moments, and a few photos to send out to the world, we walked across the grass to where Mark and Patrick were addressing the ‘Shrine.’ We sat and read the mass readings for that day, and prayed while we waited calmly for ‘base security’ to come. The civilian security fellow came first, and it was the most gentle and human encounter I had ever had with police.”
All of the Seven were found guilty on all four counts – Conspiracy; Destruction of Property; Depredation of Government Property; Trespass – in federal court in Brunswick, Georgia, in October 2019. The sentences – which theoretically could have exceeded 20 years – were as follows:
Mark Colville: 21 months
Clare Grady: 12 months
Martha Hennessey: 10 months
Father Steve Kelly: 33 months
Elizabeth McAlister: time served (17 months)
Patrick O’Neill: 14 months
Carmen Trotta: 14 months
In addition, they were all ordered to pay restitution (in installments) for the $30,000 damage they were assessed to have caused: rather less than the $70,881 a minute the US spent on its nuclear arsenal in the Great COVID-Pandemic Year of 2020! All of the Seven were remanded in custody for varying lengths of time before sentencing; and all of the six who then received prison sentences were released a few months early to home confinement, followed by periods of supervised probation.