Friends say elderly protester shoved by Buffalo police is a Catholic peace activist, not Antifa

Is Martin Gugino an Antifa provocateur? Or a beloved Catholic peace activist who was the victim of police brutality in Buffalo, New York?

A morning tweet on June 9 from President Donald Trump suggested the former, drawing a wave of shock and outrage from friends of the 75-year-old activist, who was shoved to the ground by Buffalo police during a protest on June 4 outside City Hall.

The incident, captured on video, went viral and has become symbolic of the kind of police brutality that has sparked calls for fundamental reforms to American policing. In the video, an officer is seen shoving Gugino, who falls to the sidewalk, hitting his head. As Gugino lies unmoving and bleeding, the officer who pushed him is seen hurrying away.

Gugino suffered a brain injury, was in intensive care, and subsequently underwent physical therapy.

Buffalo’s police commissioner suspended two Buffalo police officers involved in the incident without pay, prompting dozens of other officers to step down from the department’s crowd control unit in protest. On June 6, two of the officers were charged with felony assault.

The president referred to the conservative news site One America News Network in making his unfounded claim. “Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur,” Trump wrote. “75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment. I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?”

Friends of the retired computer programmer described Gugino as a devout Catholic and a graduate of a Jesuit high school in Buffalo, who is a passionate advocate for multiple causes on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised.

“Martin has a passion for social justice,” said Mark Colville, who runs Amistad Catholic Worker in New Haven, Connecticut, and has known Gugino for years. “When he sees wrong he wants to be involved in making it right.”

Gugino never wanted to draw attention to his work, Colville said. He’s a private person who lived alone. He cared for his mother until she died, and he recently lost his sister, too.

“Martin is shy and reserved,” Colville said. “He likes his privacy. He doesn’t make a spectacle of himself. He likes to show up and be present. He likes to be involved in these movements for justice. But he doesn’t do it in a self-promoting kind of way.”

The two have worked for years to advocate for the closing of Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. detention camp in Cuba where terrorism suspects could be detained without due process. Gugino is also active in Witness Against Torture, an organization formed in 2005 to protest the treatment of detainees on the base. Each January, group members travel to Washington, D.C. to fast and hold vigil outside the Department of Justice.

Much of the work was done on behalf of Muslim prisoners, many of whom were picked up by the CIA and taken to Guantanamo after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“People, including Martin, made connections between their own faith and the faith of people detained because of their own faith,” said Matt Daloisio, a New York state public defender and one of the organizers of Witness Against Torture.

Gugino is represented by lawyer Kelly Zarcone, who said, “We are at a loss to understand why the President of the United States would make such dark, dangerous and untrue accusations against him.”

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden tweeted in response to Trump that “there’s no greater sin than the abuse of power,” and Biden mentioned that he, like Gugino, is a Catholic.

Gugino was also active on behalf of Black Lives Matter. After the 2014 killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African American boy who was shot by a police officer, Gugino traveled to Cleveland to meet with Rice’s parents. In 2016, Gugino participated in a protest in front of the Justice Department in which demonstrators called for murder charges against the officer who shot Rice.

Gugino’s presence at the Black Lives Matter protest where he was assaulted by the police officer was typical of his activism. He is also active with the Western New York Peace Center and PUSH Buffalo, a coalition working on affordable housing.

“Martin is consistent,” said Mary Anne Grady Flores, an Ithaca, New York, Catholic Worker who participated with Gugino in multiple protests against Hancock Field Air Force Base’s use of remotely piloted drones to kill insurgents in Afghanistan and elsewhere. “He’s a gentle giant, who is so articulate, so thoughtful.”

– edited from The Associated Press, June 10, 2020
PeaceMeal, July/August 2020

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Longtime activist nuns teach peace

It’s Sunday, Oct. 6, 2002, and Dominican Sisters Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson are walking a field in Weld County, Colorado. Scattered throughout are underground silos that harbor the LGM-30G Minuteman III, an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead that can obliterate most buildings and human beings inside a 4-mile-wide circle. More than 400 Minuteman III missiles lie buried in the farmlands of the Midwest, 49 within this field.

The women wear white hazmat suits inscribed with the words “Disarmament Specialists” and “Citizens’ Weapons Inspectors Team” on the back. They snip through two fences, hang a peace banner and pour a cross of blood on the 100-ton lid covering missile silo N-8.

“O God, help us to be peacemakers in a hostile world,” they pray. Military personnel in Humvees soon barrel across the field and, with weapons drawn, encircle the trio. Raising their arms in the air, the women continue, “O God, help us to be peacemakers in a hostile world.”

Dominican sisters protest at White House.jpg (85225 bytes)Dominican Srs. Ardeth Platte (left) and Carol Gilbert protest a military base planned for Okinawa, Japan, in front of the White House, February 27, 2019.

Fast-forward 15 years to July 2017. The irrepressible Platte, then 81, and Gilbert, 69, are at a workshop in Conference Room One in the basement of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. A multi-week conference to review the final draft of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is about to conclude. The Dominicans have attended from the beginning as members of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the driving force behind the ban treaty, as it’s popularly known.

All the nuclear states and most European countries have boycotted the conference, giving it an aura of self-consciousness and bravado. At the workshop, participants brainstorm counterpoints to the naysayers. “This treaty is going to be for the protection of human beings and the planet,” offers Platte.

Robert Green, a former officer and bombardier in the Royal British Navy who once flew nuclear strike aircraft, provides a more provocative analysis. The impasse on disarmament “is a nuclear protection racket that is being conducted by a U.S.-led crime syndicate for the benefit of the military-industrial complex,” Green says. “This treaty is going to break through that. We have rumbled them. We are going to do this.”

“That’s right,” Gilbert nods vigorously. “That’s right.”

The ban treaty opened for signatures two years ago, in September 2017. Seventy nation-states have signed, completing the first step of the approval process, and 26 of them have ratified the document. No nuclear powers, including the United States, have signed. The U.S. continues full throttle to upgrade its U.S. nuclear arsenal at an estimated cost of $1.2 trillion.

Nonetheless, the nuns are confident the 50 ratifications required to make the international treaty legally binding will happen. “It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when,’ ” Platte says.

At a federal trial in the spring of 2003, the three Dominicans were found guilty of depredation of government property and sabotage for their action in that Colorado field. That July, the government ordered restitution of $3,080 for damages and sentenced Hudson to 30 months, Gilbert to 33 and Platte to 41, plus three years’ probation to all of them, severely restricting their travel.

“I don’t fear going to prison,” Gilbert told supporters before her sentencing. “I don’t fear loss of freedom to move about. I don’t even fear death. The fear that fills me is not having lived hard enough, deep enough, sweet enough with whatever gifts God has given me.”

Publicly, Gilbert and Platte describe prison as their place of solidarity with the poor, who are the ones most affected by the U.S. investment in nuclear weapons at the expense of social good. Prod the nuns, and they will tell you prison stories of hardship and loss. Sickened with shingles, Platte endured a “harrowing” trip from a Maryland jail to Danbury prison in Connecticut because federal marshals lost her pain pills. Gilbert contracted dysentery in a Washington, D.C., jail after male inmates smeared feces on the meal trays to protest the lack of food. The sisters’short stint in the Wayne County Detention Center in Detroit was “a nightmare.” Excrement everywhere, Gilbert said. “There were three of us federal prisoners being held in a cell block that had held the mentally ill. I stood on a metal picnic table reading Scripture from Paul in prison, and Ardeth had a cold bucket of water trying to clean.”

For much of the year, Platte and Gilbert hop buses and cross the country to give presentations on the nuclear weapons ban treaty — New York City and Michigan in September, Wisconsin in October, and more gigs scheduled.

They teach in tandem. Platte, occasionally spreading her arms wide in earnest appeal, gives an impassioned overview of the treaty’s origin, praising its emphasis on the humanitarian consequences. Countries that sign can “never develop, test, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess, stockpile …,” she says, ticking off the prohibitions on her fingers. Gilbert then walks listeners through a half-page worksheet on how to get involved in the nuclear abolition movement. Referencing a line from a T.S. Elliot poem, she urges practicing active hope: “We are called to be universe disturbers. That is what we are calling you to be.”

At every venue, the nuns make it a point to deliver a copy of the ban treaty to local politicians — a nearby military base or nuclear weapons company — their approach always personal. Gilbert recently gave a copy to Thomas Kennedy, CEO of Raytheon, a major nuclear weapons contractor.

They have many anecdotes. “We could write a book,” Platte says, “but I don’t have time for that.”

– edited from the National Catholic Reporter September 26, 2019
PeaceMeal, November/December 2019

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Kings Bay Plowshares 7 face 25 years for action at U.S. nuclear submarine base

Twenty-five years in prison. That is the possible fate of seven Catholic anti-nuclear-weapon activists awaiting trial for their action on April 4, 2018, at the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in St. Mary’s, Georgia. The Plowshares 7 chose to act on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who devoted his life to addressing what he called the “triple evils of militarism, racism and materialism.”

The activists went to three sites on the base: the Strategic Weapons Facility, Atlantic administration building, the D5 Missile monument installation, and the nuclear weapons storage bunkers.

Carrying hammers and baby bottles filled with their own blood, the seven attempted to transform weapons of mass destruction using the ancient metaphor of “swords into plow-shares.” They used crime scene tape and hung banners reading: “The ultimate logic of racism is genocide – Dr. Martin Luther King,” “The ultimate logic of Trident is omnicide,” and “Nuclear weapons: illegal/immoral.” They also brought an indictment charging the U.S. government with crimes against peace. With their action, they hoped to call attention to the ways in which nuclear weapons kill every day by their mere existence and maintenance.

The activists were Elizabeth McAlister, 78, of Jonah House, Baltimore; Fr. Steve Kelly SJ, 69, of the Bay Area, California; Carmen Trotta, 55, of the New York Catholic Worker; Mark Colville, 55, of the Amistad Catholic Worker, New Haven, Connecticut; Patrick O’Neill, 61, of the Fr. Charlie Mulholland Catholic Worker, Garner, North Carolina; Clare Grady, 59, of the Ithaca Catholic Worker; and Martha Hennessy, 62, of the New York Catholic Worker.

Together, the defendants have 20 children and 16 grand-children. They are charged with three federal felonies and one misdemeanor for their actions.

There are six Trident submarines based at Kings Bay. Each submarine can carry 24 Trident D5 submarine- launched ballistic missiles. Each missile can carry up to eight 100-kiloton nuclear warheads, about five times the explosive force of the Nagasaki bomb.

– Kings Bay Plowshares 7 website
PeaceMeal, July/August 2019

Ten cited in peaceful demonstration at Trident nuclear submarine base, Bangor WA

Silverdale, WA – Forty-two activists of the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action vigiled at the Bangor Trident submarine base to celebrate the true meaning of Mothers Day for peace and to protest nuclear weapons. Ten of the activists symbolically closed Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor for about 20 minutes on the Saturday before Mothers Day by blocking the road to the Main Gate in a nonviolent direct action. They held two banners across the inbound lanes. One read “The Earth is our Mother. Treat her with Respect”; the other stated “We can all live without Trident”.

The Seattle Peace Chorus Action Ensemble led the activists in peace and protest songs throughout the vigil and nonviolent direct action. One activist walked across the “blue line” that marks Federal jurisdiction and presented a letter addressed to the Base Commander. Navy Security Officers accepted the letter and the activist was allowed to return to county property.

The interaction between demonstrators and both Washington State Patrol and Navy Security Officers was respectful and courteous.

GZ at Bangor - 2018 Mothers Day by Glen Milner.JPG (48019 bytes)

Washington State Patrol officers briefly detained those blocking the roadway and issued them citations for “Pedestrian on roadway unlawfully” before releasing them. Most said that they would request a mitigation hearing in county court to explain their reasons for blocking access to the base.

When asked why he resists Trident, Ground Zero member and former Navy submarine commander Tom Rogers said, “Our kids deserve to grow up in a world without nuclear weapons. It is a failure of our generation that they must live in fear of nuclear annihilation and bear the cost of a massive modernization of our nuclear weapons complex.”

Mother’s Day in the United States was first suggested in 1872 by Julia Ward Howe as a day dedicated to peace. Howe saw the effects on both sides of the Civil War and realized destruction from warfare goes beyond the killing of soldiers in battle.

The Trident submarine base at Bangor represents the largest concentration of deployed nuclear weapons in the United States and is the home port for eight of the Navy’s 14 Trident ballistic missile submarines. The W76 and W88 warheads at Bangor are equal respectively to 100 kilotons and 455 kilotons of TNT in destructive force (five and 22 times the explosive force of the Nagasaki atomic bomb). The Trident bases at Bangor and Kings Bay, Georgia, together represent just over half of all nuclear warheads deployed by the United States.

The Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, located on 3.8 acres adjoining Subase Bangor, was founded in 1977.

-- PeaceMeal, May/June 2018

Concepción Picciotto, who held peace vigil outside the White House for decades, dies

Concepcion_Picciotto.jpg (4452 bytes)WASHINGTON — Concepción Picciotto, the protester who maintained a peace vigil outside the White House for more than three decades, a demonstration widely considered to be the longest-running act of political protest in U.S. history, died January 25 at N Street Village, a shelter for homeless women in Washington DC. She was believed to be 80.

Ms. Picciotto, a Spanish immigrant known to many as “Connie” or “Conchita,” was a diminutive woman perpetually clad in a helmet and headscarf. As the primary guardian of the anti-nuclear proliferation vigil stationed along Pennsylvania Avenue, fellow activists lauded her as a heroine.

In a 2013 profile for The Washington Post, she said that she spent more than 30 years of her life outside the White House “to stop the world from being destroyed.” Through her presence, she hoped to remind others to take whatever action they could, however small, to help end wars and stop violence.

William Thomas, a self-described wanderer, philosopher and peace activist, originally founded the peace vigil. Ms. Picciotto joined Thomas there in 1981and the two became fixtures in the park. They were joined in 1984 by Ellen Benjamin, who married Thomas. The trio protested together in the park for 25 years.

 Their grass-roots nuclear disarmament campaign was known as Proposition One. Its crowning achievement came in 1993, when a nuclear disarmament petition circulated by the activists resulted in a ballot initiative passed by District of Columbia voters.

 Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s congressional delegate, helped the activists prepare a nuclear disarmament and conversion act, which she has since introduced in nearly a dozen sessions of Congress. The legislation has never reached the floor for a vote.

The vigil evolved into a well-recognized feature of the city’s landscape. The makeshift shelter became a regular stop for D.C. tour guides and a topic of discussion in local college classrooms. The vigil and its keepers made a cameo appearance in Michael Moore’s 2004 political documentary film Fahrenheit 9/11 and starred in a 2011 feature-length documentary The Oracles of Pennsylvania Avenue.

When Thomas died in 2009, Ms. Picciotto vowed to continue her protest in his honor. But the vigil’s future was called into question in recent years, as its aging caretaker faced health problems. She came to rely heavily on the help of younger activists to maintain the vigil, which could not be left unattended according to National Park Service rules.

For months, the activists — many of whom lived with Ms. Picciotto at Peace House, a row house owned by Ellen Thomas — took turns guarding the vigil. But on two occasions in recent years, activists abandoned their station during overnight shifts, and the shelter and its signs were quickly removed by police. In both instances, the station and its signs were later returned by authorities.

Peace House was sold last year, and Ms. Picciotto eventually found shelter at N Street Village, within walking distance of her vigil. “I have to be here,” she said of her work. “This is my life.”

– edited from an article by Caitlin Gibson in The Washington Post, January 25, 2016
PeaceMeal Jan/February 2016

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Activist nun Sr. Megan Rice and two fellow anti-nuclear advocates released from prison

Sr._Megan_Rice.jpg (3306 bytes)NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An 85-year-old nun and two fellow Catholic peace activists who vandalized a uranium storage bunker were released from prison on May 16, according to their lawyer. Attorney Marc Shapiro said Sister Megan Rice was released just hours after 66-year-old Michael Walli and 59-year-old Greg Boertje-Obed also were let out of prison.

The trio was ordered released by a federal appeals court. The order came after the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati overturned their 2013 sabotage convictions and ordered resentencing on their remaining conviction for injuring government property at the Y-12 National Security Complex at Oak Ridge. In overturning the sabotage conviction, the Appeals Court ruled that their actions did not injure national security.

The activists spent two years in prison. The court said they likely had served more time than they will receive for the lesser charge. Rice was originally sentenced to nearly three years and the other two were each sentenced to just over five years.

The three are part of a loose network of activists opposed to the spread of nuclear weapons. To further their cause, in July 2012 they cut through several fences to reach the most secure area of the Y-12 complex. Before they were arrested, they spent two hours outside a bunker that stores much of the nation’s bomb-grade uranium, hanging banners, praying and spray-painting slogans.

In the aftermath of the breach, federal officials implemented sweeping security changes, including a new security chief to over-see all of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s sites.

Boertje-Obed’s wife, Michele Naar-Obed, previously served three years in prison herself for anti-nuclear weapon protests. She said that if their protests open people’s minds to the possibility of life without nuclear weapons, then “yeah, it was worth it.”

– edited from The Associated Press, May 18, 2015
PeaceMeal, May/June 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

American woman captured by Islamic State was moved by suffering of Syrian people

Kayla_Mueller.jpg (5645 bytes)Kayla Mueller made helping people her life’s work. Mueller, 26, grew up in Prescott, Arizona, 100 miles north of Phoenix. She showed an early inclination for travel and humanitarian work, according to a 2007 profile in her hometown newspaper The Daily Courier. “I love cultures and language and learning about people’s cultures,” Kayla, then 19, said in the article.

Kayla worked for the Save Darfur Coalition, wrote letters to members of Congress, took part in environmental causes, and was honored with a local award for activism. She said, “I always feel that, no matter how much I give, I always get back more through these projects.”

Kayla continued her activism at Northern Arizona University, where Carol Thompson, a politics and international affairs professor there, called her a “brilliant” student who asked tough questions and cared deeply about issues of peace, inequality and justice. The two worked together on Save Darfur and as anti-war activists to make sure that returning veterans were welcomed back to the community.

After graduating from college in 2009, Kayla became a globetrotter. She spent two years living and working with humanitarian groups in northern India, Israel and the Palestinian territories, according to a family spokeswoman. In Israel, she volunteered at the African Refugee Development Center.

Upon returning to Arizona in 2011, Kayla volunteered in a women’s shelter and worked at an HIV/AIDS clinic, helping to facilitate events and provide coordination for World AIDS Day.

In December 2011 she traveled to France to work as an au pair so she could learn French in order to work in Africa, the family spokeswoman said. After a year in France, she traveled to the Turkish/Syrian border to work with the Danish Refugee Council and the humanitarian organization Support to Life, which assisted refugee families forced to flee by the civil war in Syria.

In a YouTube video produced in October 2011, before the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Mueller said she supported a sit-in that protested the Syrian regime. “I am in solidarity with the Syrian people,” she said. “I reject the brutality and killing that the Syrian authorities are committing against the Syrian people.”

On a trip home in 2013, she told the Kiwanis Club in Prescott about her work in the Mideast, saying she often drew, painted and played with Syrian children in refugee camps, according to The Daily Courier. She said, “When Syrians hear I’m an American, they ask, ‘Where is the world?’ All I can do is cry with them, because I don’t know.” She described helping reunite a man with a 6-year-old relative after the bombing of their refugee camp.

In the summer of 2013, Kayla visited a Spanish Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria. On the way to the Aleppo bus station to depart for Turkey, Kayla was captured by ISIS. In May 2014, the Mueller family received confirmation their daughter had been taken hostage.

U.S. troops may have come close to rescuing Kayla in July when they staged a daring raid at a location inside Syria in an attempt to find journalist James Foley, whom ISIS executed in August, and other hostages. One U.S. official said they found specific evidence the hostages had been there, including writings on the cell walls. A law enforcement official said hair strands found at the site are believed to have belonged to Kayla Mueller.

In a note to Kayla’s family last summer, ISIS demanded 5 million Euros ransom by August 13, according to a source close to the family. It’s unknown whether that execution date was kept. ISIS said in an online posting in February that a female American it was holding had died in a Jordanian airstrike on Raqqa, Syria. President Obama confirmed Kayla had been killed in a statement on February 10, promising to “find and bring to justice the terrorists who are responsible for Kayla’s captivity and death.

– edited from an article by Ralph Ellis of CNN, Feb. 10, 2015
PeaceMeal, March/April 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

32-year anti-nuke vigil at White House resumes after break

Concepcion_Picciotto.jpg (4452 bytes)WASHINGTON — For 32 years, Concepcion Picciotto had spent almost every day perched in Lafayette Park, just outside the White House gates, preaching peace and world nuclear disarmament from her makeshift shelter surrounded by plywood signs to anyone who would listen. On the morning of September 12, the tent-like shelter that anchored her peace vigil was gone, but Picciotto was not. She was scrunched up instead on a park bench, her back turned toward the White House.

“Frustrated. Upset,” Picciotto said, her multicolor babushka shielding her wispy white hair from the sun. “This is the time, more than ever, when we needed to communicate to people the danger of the nuclear bombs.”

By many accounts, the round-the-clock vigil Picciotto started in 1981 was the longest-running protest in the United States. The vigil was made possible by a peculiar federal regulation governing the park that runs along the north side of the White House. No permits are required, but the vigil must be attended continuously.

For many years, it was Picciotto and a partner who manned the vigil day and night. Her bed was an afghan-covered box. In time she became well-known to the U.S. Park Police who patrol the grounds.

In her late 70s and with the leathery skin of someone who is no stranger to the sun, Picciotto nowadays sleeps in a nearby “Peace House,” a residence and shelter shared by activists who help man the site. She says she arrives at her vigil site every day around 11 a.m. and leaves around 10 p.m.

It was about 1 a.m. September 12 when a knock on the door awoke Picciotto. She was told that a volunteer slotted to man the vigil in her absence — a veteran suffering from PTSD — had left. The National Park Service said police spoke to two individuals leaving the vigil and determined they were abandoning it. With no one attending the site, the officer dismantled and removed the materials and placed them in a U.S. Park Police storage facility for safe keeping until they could be retrieved by the owner.

Regulars at the park took notice of the camp’s absence. “I think it’s horrible for the few minutes that the tent was unoccupied that they would take it down,” said Nancy Kon from Boston. “Connie is an inspiration for all peace activists.” Another man passing by saw the tent down and said in disbelief, “Whoa, its gone! That has been here forever.”

Determined to get her vigil up and running again without delay, Picciotto enlisted her fellow activists, who helped coordinate with police to return her belongings and even got Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s envoy to Congress, involved. A few hours later, the shelter and Picciotto’s signs were back to their regular location.

“She’s become something of a District legend,” Norton said in an interview. “She ought to be given the opportunity to end her own vigil and not have it end because of an unforeseen incident.”

– edited from The Associated Press and NBC News
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2013

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Peace activists who breached Y-12 security barriers found guilty

Sr._Megan_Rice.jpg (3306 bytes)At three o’clock in the morning on July 28, 2012, an 82-year-old Catholic nun, Sister Megan Rice, and two other ageing peace activists penetrated four security fences at the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Y-12 site. A sign that said “Danger: Halt! Deadly force is authorized beyond this point” did not deter them. Without being detected, the trio spent about an hour and a half walking around the grounds and reached the building where the United States primary stockpile of highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium — approximately 400 tons of it — is stored. They spray- painted peace slogans on the walls of the storage facility and hammered and splashed human blood on it as religiously motivated acts symbolizing the genocidal nature of nuclear weapons and their desire to disarm them.

Around 4:30 a.m., a security alarm indicated something was not right in a certain zone of the site. A single guard, Kirk Garland, was dispatched in a vehicle to check. When he arrived at the location, he saw an old woman and two men walking toward his vehicle with their hands up. Then he saw the peace slogans spray-painted in red and black on the white building. When he reported his findings, his lieutenant thought he was kidding. A second guard armed with an assault weapon was dispatched and the trio arrested.

The security breach at the recently-built, $549-million Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, which was supposed to be one of the most secure in the United States, triggered an investigation by the DOE Inspector General. It was found that security cameras at the facility were out of operation, a crucial one for six months, and that guards ignored motion detectors because they were routinely triggered by wildlife, weather and vegetation. Such a lax security culture had existed for years, the IG asserted.

Representative Mike Turner (Rep.-Ohio), who chairs the U.S. House Strategic Forces Subcommittee, said, “It is outrageous to think that the greatest threat to the American public from weapons of mass destruction may be the incompetence of Department of Energy security.”

The National Nuclear Security Administration had rated the facility’s security as “excellent” and “good” in a 2011 performance evaluation. Pursuant to the break-in and subsequent investigation, at least $15 million in security upgrades were made at Y-12.

At a congressional hearing on the security breach in September, Rep. Henry Waxman (Dem.-Calif.) attributed “one of the most serious security breakdowns in the history of the weapons complex” to contractor and site managers’ failures. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (Rep.-Tenn.) agreed that “The ineptness and negligence is mind-boggling.”

The site management contractor had $12.2 million docked from its annual award fee. The contractor that provided security lost its contract altogether, but the only person fired as a scapegoat was Kirk Garland, the guard who had a 30-year record of protecting nuclear weapons facilities. All other persons involved, including those in authority with the contractor and the NNSA, were disciplined, suspended, reassigned or retired.

Sister Rice and her co-defendants went to trial in Knoxville, Tenn., on May 7, 2013, on federal charges of trespass, destruction of property and sabotage — the “intent to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense of the United States.” They were found guilty the following day. At a detention hearing on May 9, the federal judge ruled that they must remain in jail until their sentencing on September 23. They each face up to 30 years in prison.

– edited from Oak Ridge Today, The Washington Post and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
PeaceMeal, May/June 2013

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

A journey to faith and activism

Susan Kerin.jpg (2979 bytes)Susan Kerin was raised on Gandhi and King by progressive, atheist parents who were angry at the hypocrisy of the churches. She married a college friend — a secular Palestinian — raised a son, and developed a career as a project officer for various federal social service agencies. Her call to activism came in October 2001, when teenage Johnny Thalijeh was shot outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. He was one of 23 Palestinians killed by Israeli Defense Forces during a nine-day period in retaliation for shots fired at a nearby Israeli settlement.

Moved and challenged, Susan began to work with activist groups online as well as the Palestinian community in the Washington D.C. area. In 2004 she was helping a Christian girlfriend from Nazareth with academic research that involved the Gospels, and what she read surprised her. “Jesus and his disciples: They’re even better than Gandhi and King!” she recalls thinking. “I want to live the way the apostles did.”

She kept reading the Gospels, and she started showing up at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic church in Derwood MD. When the priest led prayers for the success of the U.S. military, Susan confronted him outside after Mass. “I’m happy to pray for the soldiers but I can’t pray for their mission,” she told him. “Isn’t Christianity nonviolent?”

“In wartime, refusing to kill would be a sin,” the priest responded.

Even though she felt out of place there after that response, Susan kept going to church. Two years later she met Charles McCarthy and other members of the parish Pax Christi group, the Catholic peace fellowship, that she now co-chairs. Charles, his father Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, a priest of the Eastern Rite Catholic Church, and other models of Christian nonviolence became her personal evangelists. In 2006, after learning about Christian Peacemaker Teams and the coverage of American Quaker peace activist Tom Fox’s kidnapping and death in Iraq, she joined a CPT delegation and visited Hebron.

“I’m a non-rebel with a cause,” Susan said. “Three of them, actually. I’m still advocating for justice for Palestinians. From 2008-2010, I was a land coordinator for Free Gaza, from their first successful voyage until the one where passengers were killed on the Mavi Marmara.

“I’m also working to end military recruitment in our schools and doing prison ministry. I write to five or six prisoners, including one on death row, and I mentor returnees. Our prisoners are a despised people, like the Palestinians. I’m not a rabble-rouser, really. It’s about the relationships. It’s about finding a way to love.”

– edited from Pax Christi USA, Spring 2012
PeaceMeal, May/June 2012

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Activist priest donates Picasso drawing to UW, Tacoma

Picasso peace dove.jpg (4801 bytes)Fr. Bill “Bix” Bichsel, a Jesuit priest and longtime peace activist, has donated an original Picasso drawing to the University of Washington, Tacoma. The 1953 drawing, “La Visage de la Paix” (“The Face of Peace”), was offered by Fr. Bichsel on behalf of a delegation to Japan he led in 2009. Valued at $60,000, the line drawing depicts a dove with a serene human face on its body.

“We’d gone to Japan in 2009 to express our sorrow for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” explained Fr. Bichsel, who had organized the group of 18 peace pilgrims on what they called “The Journey of Repentance.”

“When we first got there we were met by the Japanese Peace Committee (JPC). There was a lot of gift exchanging, as is common in Japan. We just brought over simple things like dream-catchers and scarves. But they gave us this tremendous piece of art. We didn’t realize just what it was at first.”

What it was, in fact, was a Picasso original. The Spanish artist – known for his anti-war art work and drawings of peace doves – had drawn and given it to the JPC when he visited and joined them in 1953. The Tacoma group decided to offer the drawing to the university to honor the Japanese who lived in that downtown area of the city prior to the World War II internments. The university had also been involved when the JPC visited Tacoma in 2004.

The presentation, made in connection with a ceremony on April 30 that honored Fr. Bichsel’s life and commitment to peace and justice. It was delayed until he was released from his latest federal jail term that resulted from protests against nuclear weapons last year at the Bangor Submarine Base, where Trident submarines armed with ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads are based.

 Fr. Bichsel stated, “I feel very elated (that they have the Picasso). We’re very happy to be connected with them. They’re on their own pursuit of justice and peace.”

Debra Friedman, UWT chancellor, said, “I was stunned. This is an exceptional and beautiful gift to the university community. It celebrates both art and Fr. Bix’s extraordinary life given to peace activism. And it will enrich the life of the students here.” It has been hung in the university library.

– edited from The News Tribune (Tacoma), May 4, 2012
PeaceMeal, May/June 2012

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Plowshares activists sentenced to 2 to 15 months in prison

Five peace activists, dubbed the Disarm Now Plowshares, were given prison sentences ranging from two months to 15 months in federal court in Tacoma on March 28 for breaking into the U.S. Navy Subase Kitsap-Bangor on Hood Canal to symbolically disarm the nuclear weapons stored there. The five, including two Jesuit priests and a nun, were convicted by a federal jury in December of using bolt cutters to cut through three chain-link fences to enter an area where some 1,700 thermonuclear warheads are stored.

Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General under President Lyndon B. Johnson, Thomas Gumbleton, retired Catholic bishop of Detroit, and others testified on behalf of the defendants. Clark testified that never in his life has he encountered such unselfish people as those who participate in the Plowshares tradition of direct action against nuclear weapons. Regarding their decision to live a life of civil resistance, he said, “Their consciences tell them they have to do it.” Gumbleton, founding president of the peace group Pax Christi USA, testified that the Catholic Church has spoken out very strongly against nuclear weapons, saying that no use of nuclear weapons can be justified morally.

The Rev. Bill Bichsel of Tacoma, 82, was sentenced to three months in prison and six months home detention by U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle. Settle also sentenced 84-year-old Sr. Anne Montgomery to two months in prison and four months in home detention. The Rev. Stephen Kelly, 62, from Oakland, Calif., and Susan Crane, 67, a retired public school teacher from Baltimore, were both sentenced to 15 months in prison. Lynne Greenwald, 61, a social worker from Bremerton, received a sentence of six months.

Supporters asked the judge not to sentence any of the five to prison. But Settle called the protesters’ actions a “form of anarchy” that if left unchecked would result in a breakdown of society. While Settle praised the five for their life stories and their humanitarian work, the judge said he was bound by the law to send “a very clear message” that legal—not illegal—means must be used to try to bring about the change they sought.

Fr_Bill_Bichsel.jpg (4752 bytes)As member of the legal team, Anabel Dwyer, a Michigan attorney and board member of The Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy in New York, said she was impressed by the judge’s civility and his thoughtful attention to the case. Judge Settle issued shorter sentences than prosecutors recommended. He said he gave Bichsel a shorter sentence, in part, because of his “precarious health” and also cited his work in the community at the Tacoma Catholic Worker House. “It’s not easy to sit in judgment of people who have lived such sacrificial lives,” Settle said.

Photo: Fr. Bill Bichsel's mugshot from the county jail in Knoxville, Tenn.

Bichsel has already spent about 20 months in federal prison for prior acts of trespass at Bangor and at the School of Americas, Fort Benning, Georgia. However, apparently due to the lapse in time since his prior convictions, the government’s sentencing memo said Bichsel had “no counting criminal history.”

Kelly and Crane received the longest sentences because they had the most extensive criminal history. Both have several prior convictions for damaging government property at military installations across the country in protest of U.S. military weapons.

The five were convicted December 13 of conspiracy, trespassing and destruction of government property. They faced up to 10 years in prison. The defendants admitted they broke into the base around 2:00 a.m. on November 2, 2009. Bichsel previously said the protesters were inside the perimeter fence for about 4˝ hours before they cut through the final two fences and approached the nuclear weapons bunkers. Armed guards responded to an alarm, ordered the banner-carrying activists to the ground and placed bags over their heads so they couldn’t view any more of the secure area.

During their week-long trial, the protesters wanted to focus their defense on their motivation for breaking into the base, but Settle barred them from submitting arguments that called the weapons illegal under international law. During the sentencing, however, the protesters were free to speak about their intent. All read statements in court that focused on the personal responsibility they feel to disarm nuclear weapons, and their desire to prevent pain, suffering and death for “those deprived by our wars and military budget of a human way of life.”

The five protesters have 10 days from the sentencing to decide whether they will appeal the jury’s December verdict to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

– edited from the Tacoma News Tribune and Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action e-mail
PeaceMeal, March/April 2011

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)