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Protesters to face judge
They have little hope of avoiding jail time in their latest legal entanglement, which begins Wednesday with an initial hearing at U.S. District Court in Tacoma.
But the five anti-nuclear weapon protesters from Disarm Now Plowshares believe they were justified in their demonstration the morning of Nov. 2, when they broke through the Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor security fences heading for the base’s nuclear weapon storage area. They were eventually swarmed by U.S. Marines after nearly five hours.
The group contends the very existence of nuclear weapons threatens humanity.
They received misdemeanor citations, but have not yet been formally charged.
Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle, said the maximum penalty for a misdemeanor charge of destruction of government property would be one year in jail. The maximum is six months for trespassing.
Bremerton’s Lynne Greenwald, 60, one of the five protesters, said the group is bringing more public attention to the nuclear arsenal in Kitsap’s backyard.
“The reality is hidden from the daily life in our county, the reality of the potential death that is here,” she said.
A self-described soccer mom with three children, Greenwald moved to Bremerton in 1983 to work at the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, another group that protests at the base.
The center, created in 1977, holds regular protests outside Bangor. It also conducts non-violence training, using Gandhi and Jesus, among others, as examples of civil disobedience.
Greenwald also worked as a nurse and social worker before retiring in October, in preparation for November’s demonstration.
Susan Crane, 65, of Baltimore, said the protesters have international law on their side because the Geneva Conventions outlaw the use of weapons that indiscriminately kill civilians or cause lasting genetic defects.
However, Steve Kelly, 60, of Tacoma, said the court will likely bar any mention of international law and follow precedent by charging them on national security grounds.
“The ruling from the bench will be consistent with the rulings of other federal courts,” he said. “Our motivation won’t be a factor in our statement, which of course is a contradiction.”
The five protesters, Crane, Kelly, Greenwald, Bill Bischel, 81, and Anne Montgomery, 83, are members of Disarm Now Plowshares. The activist group has staged more than 100 anti-nuclear weapon protests since 1980. The plowshares reference comes from Isaiah Chapter 2:4 in the Old Testament, when the prophet Isaiah commanded to the Jews to lay down their weapons and “beat their swords into plowshares.”
Kelly lived in Sudan in the 1980s as a Jesuit student, where he taught school to impoverished kids amid the county’s highly militarized society.
After becoming an ordained priest, he attended his first plowshare event at the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in 1995 in Sunnyville, Calif. He hammered into the side of a D-5 missile, resulting in one-year prison sentence.
Following his jail time, he hid from federal authorities for the mandatory nine-month supervision period. He reappeared at a plowshares event in Bath, Maine, where he poured blood onto an Aegis destroyer. Two years of jail time ensued.
Another three years of jail time followed after he protested depleted uranium near Baltimore, as well as a five-month sentence for demonstrating against torture at Guantanamo Bay at Fort Wachucka in Arizona.
“I felt that if the mentality is there that the U.S. has a right to put their hands on anyone, it wasn’t too far removed that it would drop an atomic weapon against our so-called enemies,” said Kelly, who now works with the Catholic Workers Association in Tacoma.
Crane taught middle and high school for years in northern California. She said the personal impact of her school district’s declining education budget was compounded by the site of the high-tech security surrounding the nuclear weapons at the nearby naval weapon stations. She said the U.S.’s continuously escalating military budget continues to have a damaging effect on the rest of society.
“In the meantime, we are getting higher and higher infant mortality, a lack of health, education is threatened and yet there’s tons of money for air shows and recruitment, nuclear weapons,” she said.
Like Kelly, Crane became a “war tax resister” and eventually moved to Baltimore, where she began working with the nonviolence action group Jonah House and attending Plowshare events. She has spent five years in jail for various trespassing and property damage felonies.
Navy spokesman Chris Haley said the Navy has conducted an internal security review since November, which he said was the most serious security trespassing incident in recent memory.
“We have respect for their rights because that’s what the Navy was meant to do, to protect the rights and privileges of U.S. citizens,” he said.
Though the protesters were originally optimistic about President Obama’s anti-proliferation rhetoric, Crane stressed that funding for nuclear weapons remains and no date has been set for complete abolition. As a result, she said, symbolic direction action is the only way to send a message.