The Kings Bay Plowshares 7 carried out their symbolic disarmament on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. (Provided photo)

ITHACA, N.Y. — The trial for seven anti-nuclear activists, including Ithaca resident Clare Grady, began Monday in Brunswick, Georgia.

On April 4, 2018, Clare Grady and six other activists traveled to Kings Bay Naval Base, which holds the U.S. Navy’s ballistic missile nuclear submarines that are armed with Trident missile nuclear weapons. While at the base that night, longtime Catholic Worker, Grady, 60, strung crime scene tape across the door of the administrative headquarters and hung an indictment of war crimes. She held a banner that read, “The Ultimate Logic of Trident: Omnicide.” Others in the group created a “shrine” to nuclear missiles.

• Related: Local anti-nuclear activist awaits federal trial from her West Hill home

• Updates and letters from the trial will be shared to this special section of The Ithaca Voice here

Grady holds a banner at the Kings Bay administration building. (Provided photo)

The Kings Bay Plowshares 7, who take their name from the Biblical admonition to turn swords into plowshares, include Clare Grady; Martha Hennessy, granddaughter of Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day; Elizabeth McAlister, widow of Philip Berrigan; Patrick O’Neill; Carmen Trotta; Mark Colville; and Fr. Steve Kelly. Their protest was meant as a symbolic disarmament of the Trident nuclear base. In a joint statement, they said, “Nuclear weapons eviscerate the rule of law, enforce white supremacy, perpetuate endless war…and ensure impunity for all manner of crimes against humanity.”

Following the action, Grady and the others were arrested and charged with conspiracy, destruction of property on a naval installation, depredation of government property and trespass. The activists face up to 25 years in federal prison, and three — McAlister, Kelly and Colville — have spent more than a year and a half in Glynn County Jail.

During the trial, the seven will raise the defense of “justification and necessity,” which argues the defendants acted “reasonably to prevent imminent harm” — that harm being the potential of the destructive nuclear weapons held at Kings Bay. And beyond just the potential, Clare Grady said they were protesting the everyday use of the weapons.

“These weapons could destroy life on Earth,” Grady said. Taking action is part of her religion as a Catholic, she said. “We do this in a non-violent tradition. We’re not trying to force somebody – the government or another person – to do the right thing. We are doing the right thing. We’re being the change that we wish to see.”

Grady has been out on bail and has had to wear an ankle monitor while awaiting her trial. The action in April was a piece of a long history of activism for Grady, who comes from a family of faith-based resistors. “What I feel is good news is understanding in this action, this tradition that I’m part of, seeks to empower us to not be hopeless victims of systems. … It’s not sustainable to use that force forever and you will destroy the planet. …. You can and you’re invited to withdraw consent from systems that kill,” Grady said.

She said she is not worried about the outcome of the trial. “When I went into the action, I had to be prepared for the worst,” she said.

The trial began Monday morning with jury selection and is taking place in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. Judge Lisa Godbey Wood is presiding over the case.

An interview with Garry Thomas, who is in Georgia for the trial, aired on WRFI on Friday

Daniel Ellsberg, who exposed the Pentagon Papers and released the book “The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear Planner,” has voiced support for the activists’ civil resistance. Ellsberg was planned as an expert witness in the trial for their necessity defense. However, the judge ruled that the testimony will not be allowed.

Below is a statement from Ellsberg, published on accuracy.org, regarding the Kings Bay Plowshares 7:

“I strongly endorse the action of civil resistance by the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 defendants who are now on trial for having ‘nonviolently and symbolically disarmed the Trident nuclear submarine base at Kings Bay, Georgia.’ The sign they displayed during their action on the base — ‘The Ultimate Logic of Trident is Omnicide’ — is exactly right. I believe they are definitely entitled to the legal defense, among others, of ‘Justification’ or ‘Necessity:’ that an action which would under other circumstances be illegal can be justified as legal by a reasonable belief that it is necessary to avert a much greater evil: in this case, omnicide, the collateral murder of nearly every human on earth in a war in which the nuclear missiles aboard Trident submarines were launched.

“I lay out the argument for that defense in this case in an affidavit that has been submitted to the court. It is based on an earlier affidavit, much longer and more detailed, with legal references, that I have entered in similar trials of anti-nuclear resistance. A key point is that without the impact on myself of actions of civil resistance during the Vietnam War like those of the defendants in this case — including those of Father Philip Berrigan, the late husband of the current defendant Elizabeth McAlister, and of Dorothy Day, grandmother of another defendant Martha Hennessy — I would never have considered revealing the top secret Pentagon Papers: which legal scholars have described as having had, ‘arguably at least,’ a causal effect in shortening the Vietnam War.

“I believe that omnicide, the end of civilization and most of humanity, will not be averted without a moral transformation and political mobilization that requires actions of civil disobedience — including that of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7– to inspire.”

Clare Grady’s sister, Mary Anne Grady Flores, is one of several people from Ithaca who has traveled to Georgia for the trial. In an interview before heading to the trial, Mary Anne said the defendants in the case have inspired others to help people understand how they can be empowered to abolish nuclear weapons. She highlighted the momentum for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which has signatures from 33 countries. The international agreement prohibits nuclear weapons with the end goal of completely eliminating them.

“I feel very grateful for the Kingsbay Plowshares and all of the Plowshares actions that have happened before them, the hundred plus. In order for the world to understand that these weapons, as Clare would say, are being used as the cocked gun, enforcing all these systems that are killing people. … so our (message is) the abolition of nuclear weapons has to happen,” Mary Anne Grady Flores said.

Mary Anne is part of the group from Ithaca traveled 1,000 miles south last week to attend the trial, meeting up with activists from around the world. Two of those members — Garry Thomas and Chuck Geisler — will be sharing updates from the courtroom in letters to The Ithaca Voice this week. You can follow those letters in a special section on the website here.

Featured image: The Kings Bay Plowshares 7 carried out their symbolic disarmament on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. (Provided photo)

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.