Saturday, December 15, 2018
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Kings Bay Plowshares Anti-Nuclear Activists Prepare for Trial

Interview with Mark Colville, founder of the Amistad Catholic Worker House in New Haven, Connecticut, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

On April 4, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., seven Catholic activists carried out the 100th Plowshares protest action against nuclear weapons, this time at the Kings Bay naval station in Georgia, the largest nuclear submarine base in the world.  Carrying hammers and bottles of their own blood, the seven symbolically attempted to “convert” the submarines that carry nuclear weapons. Plowshares actions take their name from the biblical imperative to beat swords into plowshares, and activists focus on non-violent direct action against nuclear weapons.
After spending a few months in jail, four of the Kings Bay Plowshares participants were  bailed out to address personal issues and to organize support for their upcoming trial. Mark Colville and his wife Luz have run the Amistad Catholic Worker House in New Haven, Connecticut for the past 25 years. Colville has served more than a year in prison in the late 1990s for another Plowshares action. He’s one of three Plowshare activists who remain in prison.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Colville by phone in jail. After describing prison conditions – no activities or time outdoors, and very little opportunity for exercise – he talked about the Plowshares legal case and the arguments their lawyers will be bringing to trial.

MARK COLVILLE: There was a preliminary hearing – it’s called a motions hearing – both sides in the case present written motions to the court ahead of time and the hearing is an opportunity to argue those motions. Sort of the main motion that we had filed was a motion to dismiss the charges, based on six reasons. One is that nuclear weapons are illegal under U.S. law; number two is that nuclear weapons are illegal under U.S. and international law; third is therefore the property in question that we’re accused of damaging is not entitled to protection under the law. Fourth, there’s a religious freedom argument which is kind of interesting; basically that our necessity to go on the base is rooted in our religious faith. All seven of us are actually Roman Catholics, and we’re prepared to make an argument that what we did at Kings Bay is actually a requirement of our faith process. Then number five is that the government is engaged in selective and vindictive prosecution, which is related to the last point in that we’ve been charged with the same offense in more than one count.

Actually, the charges we’re under are three felonies and a misdemeanor, the misdemeanor being trespass. The felonies are destruction of government property, depredation of government property, and conspiracy.

Basically, the arguments we’ve made are kind of interesting. First of all, we’re trying to make the point that nuclear weapons are illegal. Really, this is the whole point, or in large part the point of Plowshares actions is that there has been no way to get nuclear weapons judged in a court. Obviously, we’ve tried many other ways. Plowshares actions are a way of trying to do that. And what we find in the federal courts is that clearly the laws are in place – domestic laws as well as international laws – that make it clear that nuclear weapons are illegal. The problem is that the way the law is applied in the federal courts essentially puts nuclear weapons beyond the reach of the law. So not only has nobody in 73 years voted for a nuclear weapons or been able to approve or disapprove of one, but their legality has never been challenged in a court of law, and in fact Plowshares cases are mostly designed to try to change that, and it’s a sad commentary that citizens have to put themselves at such risk, both in terms of physical risk and then lengthy jail time, just to change that reality that they’ve managed to place nuclear weapons beyond the reach of law. So we’ve tried to argue that our actions were necessary based on that.

The religious freedom thing is, actually it’s kind of ironic. We’re actually making a new argument here based on recent developments with something called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has really gotten some teeth in the past few years with Trump being president, but even before that. People may recall there was a case out in Colorado with so-called Christians – bakery owners – refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding, and that, I guess, went all the way to the Supreme Court. Their argument was based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The law says that in cases where the government needs to restrain people who are practicing their religion they must do so in the least intrusive way available. So part of our argument is that we didn’t need to be charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor for what we did, that there are much less restrictive ways of limiting our actions. We could have been brought up on civil charges, for example.

For more information on the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, visit kingsbayplowshares7.org.

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