BRUNSWICK, Georgia — The Kings Bay Plowshares 7 federal court trial got started here, Monday Sept. 21, with the judge reading out the four charges against the seven defendants and then she began the tedious process of jury selection. The defendants in the nuclear weapons protest case are charged with three felonies and misdemeanor trespass for their April 4, 2018 protest conducted on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
That day, the seven snuck into the Kings Bay Georgia Navy Trident submarine base and conducted a nonviolent, symbolic disarmament action modeled after roughly 100 previous “Plowshares” actions in the US and Europe. The dramatic actions take their name from the original “Plowshares Eight” of 1980, when eight radical Christian pacifists hammered and poured their blood on nuclear weapons components in a GE plant in Pennsylvania.
With between 75 and 100 supporters and family members crowding the over-flow room equipped with a television view of the proceedings, and vigiling on the sidewalk outside the courthouse, Federal District Judge Lisa Wood slogged methodically through the questioning of the large jury pool. Ostensibly trying to weed out bias and prejudice against the opposing parties in the case, the otherwise boring monotony was broken by a moment of striking revelation.
Judge Wood was explaining the “presumption of innocence” that is granted to defendants in criminal trials. Judge Wood said that the burden of proving guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” is on the government alone. Then the judge asked, “Does anyone here believe the defendants are guilty?”
An eye-popping nine prospective jurors raised their hands and said “yes.” This caused an audible gasp among the observers in the over-flow TV room. In following up, the judge asked how many had seen or read anything about the case. Seven of the nine had heard of the case, but two thought the defendants were guilty without knowing anything of the case beyond the government’s allegations. It was Vice President Dick Cheney who said “they wouldn’t be suspects if they weren’t guilty.”
Out of about 78 prospective jurors, a total of 24 answered they had worked on the Kings Bay Navy base themselves or had relatives who worked there. None admitted to having a “strong opinion about nuclear weapons,” and none answered that they had “any moral or philosophical opposition to nuclear weapons.”
By late afternoon 12 jurors and 12 alternates were chosen, and opening statements were made by the assistant US District Attorney Carl Kanoke for the government, and by attorney Bill Quigley representing Elizabeth McAlister, and by Clare Grady representing herself. The other five defendants will present their opening statements after the government case has been finished and just before they present their defense case.
Mr. Kanoke said he’d bring several witnesses from the security services who arrested and detained the defendants. He pointed out that two of the protesters wore GoPro video cameras and recorded 75 minutes of their go-in action, and said that the jury would get to watch the video themselves. He said it would be a simple, straightforward case to prove and that they would find all seven guilty.
Mr. Quigley said in his opening that the defendants won’t deny that they did what was on the video tape but that they were enacting their religious faith in Christian nonviolence. Quigley said in part that the seven used hammers to symbolically carry out the Biblical prophecy to “turn swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.” The seven take the Bible and the Commandments very seriously, he said, particularly the rule against killing, while the nuclear weapons present at Kings Bay Naval Base have the explosive force of 3,600 Hiroshima events. He reminded the jury that a manager of security at the base had said publicly that the defendants threatened no one.
Clare Grady spoke briefly about her work caring for the elderly. Activist Ralph Hutchison reports that “Clare spoke of the responsibility to do justice—‘only you can render a verdict,’ she told the jury. The most important virtue you bring to this is being human. ‘Our actions were not criminal,’ she said. ‘We’re saying we were there and we did this. It was a nonviolent, symbolic act of disarmament. The evidence will show that we acted to uphold the law.’”
The trial continues Tuesday with the prosecution’s case, and is expected to last through Friday.
The seven Kings Bay Plowshares defendants are Elizabeth McAlister, 79, of Jonah House, Baltimore; Fr. Steve Kelly, 69, of the Bay Area, California; Carmen Trotta, 55, of the New York Catholic Worker; Clare Grady, 59, of the Ithaca Catholic Worker; Martha Hennessy, 62, of the New York Catholic Worker; Mark Colville, 55, of the Amistad Catholic Worker, New Haven, Connecticut; and Patrick O’Neill, 61, of the Charlie Mulholland Catholic Worker, Garner, North Carolina.
– John LaForge, for Nukewatch