On April 4, 2018, seven members of a group of Catholic anti-nuclear activists calling themselves the Kings Bay Plowshares entered the Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia, the largest nuclear submarine base in the world. There, they symbolically poured their blood on military equipment at the base, declaring that such weapons represent “omnicide,” or the death of all life on earth.
Three years and five days later, the last of the seven members of the group was sentenced when Mark Colville received 21 months in federal prison for conspiracy, destruction of property on a naval installation, depredation of government property and trespassing. Due to time already served in prison after his arrest, he expects to serve only a few months. Most of the other defendants received similar sentences.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Colville, who co-founded the Amistad Catholic Worker House of Hospitality in New Haven, Connecticut, with his wife Luz. Here, he discusses how he tried to use his sentencing to expose the role of the court in maintaining the current system of nuclear armaments and why his group chose to launch their action on the anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
MARK COLVILLE: They kind of bury all the injustice in a bureaucratic back and forth. I didn’t want this to be about me. As much as possible, I wanted it to be about holding the
court accountable for its behavior. You know, my central point was that it was
clear that the court was not in place to find justice in this case; it was in place to
run interference for the federal government and the national security state.
Specifically, this court made sure that there would be no discussion of the legality
of nuclear weapons and not even any breach of the secrecy that the whole
nuclear program is immersed in – to the point that the jury, chosen from
neighborhoods right around Kings Bay, they actually asked the court to confirm
whether or not there were nuclear weapons on the base. That’s how ignorant the
public is about this stuff. These are weapons that could kill six billion people, okay?
So anyway, I wanted to hold the court accountable for having pre-judged
me in the sense they were going to keep this secret for the government and they
were not going to let any question about the legality of nuclear weapons.
MELINDA TUHUS: So, as you noted, Mark Colville, you were the last of the seven defendants to be sentenced. How did you feel about your 21-month sentence in comparison to what others got? I know your wife, Luz Colville, said she was surprised it wasn’t longer, like 27 months. The judge seemed loath to sentence you, but she still had
to do it, because you had broken the law.
MARK COLVILLE: Again, I have the benefit of seeing the other people sentenced. It was clear that what the judge was looking for from each of us was some kind of what they
call “acceptance of responsibility.” It’s an Orwellian term the way they use it
because our sentencing guidelines were actually increased because the
government contended that we didn’t take responsibility for our actions.
And of course, we know from the federal system itself that whenever anybody refuses a
plea deal and takes something to trial and loses, they always get charged with not
accepting responsibility, simply because they have an argument before the court
and they wanted to make it. So we were thrown into that category, I think for the
first time in a Plowshares trial.
So that became a theme for me, to focus what is exactly accepting responsibility. What does that mean in this trial? But it was clear the judge wanted these expressions of remorse, or I won’t do it again, that sort of thing, and that was not forthcoming from me. But she had been lenient with everybody else except for Steve Kelly; he doesn’t cooperate at all with the federal government. He has a very principled stand against that. That was my favorite moment, by the way, when the judge with her Southern drawl said, “Well, your criminal history is a bit troubling.”
MELINDA TUHUS: You did your action on April 4, which was the anniversary of the
assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. And that was three years ago now. What was the significance of that date and how has that reverberated, if at all, with the peace
or social justice community?
MARK COLVILLE: Yeah, good question. Well, the significance of it, first of all, comes from
Martin Luther King’s own thought and many of his speeches. And one quote that
became sort of a clarion call for us is when he said, “The ultimate logic of racism is
And when I say it became a call for us, is because we had already been discerning that this action as a real public witness needed to be connected concretely between racism and genocide, and then of course what we’re talking about with nuclear weapons is omnicide – the killing of everything. And we began to draw parallels between white supremacy and this assuming of the right to hold all creation with a gun to its head; that really, what nuclearism is, is white supremacy on steroids, as they like to say.
And then of course we believe from a faith perspective or a Biblical perspective, it became very important to us to point out the idolatry of nuclear weapons: as a Biblical concept, meaning replacing God with something else, usually an object. Weapons of war in the
Psalms are often called gods of metal, right?