FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AUGUST 7, 2019
Mary Anne Grady Flores, Ithaca, NY, 607-280-8797, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill Ofenloch, NYC, 212-369-1590, email@example.com
Federal Judge Hears Kings Bay Plowshares’ Motion to Dismiss Charges Under RFRA
BRUNSWICK, GA – The Kings Bay Plowshares 7 in federal court today made oral arguments concerning the denial of the pre-trial motions to dismiss the charges against them. Appearing for the first time before Judge Lisa Godbey Wood, who will be the trial judge, four of the pro-se defendants and two of the lawyers spoke about why they felt Magistrate Benjamin Cheesbro had improperly ruled against them after two days of hearings last November. The main focus of today’s hearing was the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which is being used for the first time in a case like this.
Defendants were only given 90 minutes for all arguments. The government used 30 minutes of its allotted time. The courtroom was packed with more than 60 supporters inside, including actor and activist Martin Sheen, and 25 were kept outside for lack of space. It was the first time this year that the three defendants still incarcerated in the Glynn County jail for 16 months, Mark Colville, Fr. Steve Kelly, SJ, and Elizabeth McAlister, saw their codefendants. They have been prevented from in-person legal preparation since last November.
Stephanie McDonald, attorney for Martha Hennessy, began by arguing that the government failed to meet its obligations under RFRA. The law requires that there be specific and individual consideration for each defendant’s beliefs and actions.
Defendant Clare Grady said that the government’s attempted criminalization of the defendants’ religious practice is not only an undue substantial burden but is also a violation of RFRA, the law of the land. Mark Colville, Patrick O’Neill, and Carmen Trotta also spoke in court.
Bill Quigley, attorney for Elizabeth McAlister, began the closing argument by reminding the court of the bedrock religious belief “Thou shalt not kill.” He summed up his comments by noting that the atrocities committed by Hitler and Stalin would pale in comparison were the Trident nuclear weapons ever used. He said, “In 30 minutes after launch millions of innocent people would be killed.”
The judge invited additional responses within a week to arguments made today. She indicated that she would give thoughtful attention to these complex issues, and if necessary, would promptly schedule a trial.
EMAIL: Media: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Transcribed by Stephen Kobasa)
Greetings and hugs all around! With a grateful heart I commend all who continue to make the sacrifices necessary to keep our doors at the Amistad Catholic Worker open, the kitchen warm, and the table set, especially during these harsh months and under the added strain of my extended absence. For some time now, I’ve hesitated to check in from here in Georgia before being able to offer a bit of clarity with regard to the legal situation of the Kings Bay Plowshares in Brunswick Federal Court. But with delays encroaching now into Spring, and still no action being taken by the magistrate judge on our pretrial motions, a brief update has become increasingly overdue.
Actually, what has been most on my heart these past three months is a deep sense of responsibility to speak about this jail where I’ve been warehoused now for the better part of a year. It is labeled a “detention center,” so-called because the people being kept here have been arrested but have not yet had their cases adjudicated. Considered a temporary holding facility, its conditions and amenities are suited to accommodate the accused for a a few weeks or a month at most, irrespective of the reality that – for reasons I’ll explain in a moment – half a year or more is closer to the average length of stay. This means that all the detained, most of who are suspected of low-level or nonviolent offenses, are held in maximum security conditions for months, and in some cases, years on end. We are locked down on crowded cellblocks, essentially for 24 hours a day. The diet is heavy on starch, sugar and sodium, which rapidly foster obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease when combined with a sedentary lifestyle.(I’ve witnessed three people having strokes, and one man I knew died of heart failure in his cell late last summer). There is no access to the outdoors nor to physical recreation of any kind; no exercise permitted outside of one’s cell; no visits with loved ones except by video monitor; no use of a library, computer or internet. It also seems to be common knowledge that we are sitting on top of a toxic waste dump, but I have neither the means nor the fortitude to investigate that particular report.
As for the 400 to 500 detainees here, most are in the same predicament as Liz, Steve and I, being held indefinitely with their cases pending. Several systemic factors conspire to make this so. Bail is generally set extremely high, unaffordably so for many, although this can sometimes be remedied at a bail reduction hearing after at least six weeks have passed. The bigger issue, though, is what’s referred to as the “probation hold.” In Glynn County, persons arrested for any reason while on probation can be jailed for renewable terms of up to 60 days, and simply forced to wait until a probation violation hearing is scheduled. As anyone who’s had the experience knows, virtually any encounter with a police officer on probation can result in an arrest, regardless of probable cause or the likelihood of an infraction being provable in court. Merely being on probation is reason enough.
Practically speaking, lengthy probation terms usually have little to do with supervision, rehabilitation or public safety. They have plenty to do with funneling people back through the ciminal justice industrial complex, which seems to be a significant source of revenue and employment in municipalities like this one. Convictions in the Brunswick court, 90 percent of which are obtained by plea bargain, commonly bring sentences which include probation terms of between 3 and 20 years! The prisoners here call it being “on paper.” Once they are on a probation hold, an investigation of the newly-alleged crime can proceed, or not, at the leisure of the D.A.’s office. Of course, whether or not they find evidence, the living conditions at the detention center will usually provide ample coercive power to secure another conviction. Obviously, after 60 or 120 or 180 days of 24-hour lockdown, almost anyone is well-disposed to accept whatever plea will result in an immediate release, even if it means being on paper for another decade. This way, there is ensured an endless supply of indefinite detainees at the Glynn County Detention Center, and their demographic won’t surprise anyone: at present, I am one of three white people in a cell block of thirty-four.
From the inside, I find the real horror of all this in its utter normalcy. Sometimes it takes a rigorous act of the will to maintain a personal relationship with reality. I’m living in a place where hundreds of people accused of low-level and/or nonviolent crimes are being held indefinitely, under maximum security conditions, having neither been granted due process, nor convicted nor sentenced. The presumption of innocence is, quite literally, a punchline. The totalitarian culture of coercion that dictates every aspect of life in a maximum security jail has essentially chewed up and swallowed the “justice system” here, such that it is not honestly possible to even use that term without the disclaimer of quotation marks. Broken families bear a terrible burden, some driven from poverty into destitution. The racial bias could hardly be more obvious. Yet it all seems to function well beyond significant public notice, much less any questions of morality, necessity or service to the public good.
Of late, I’ve grown convinced that it couldn’t be more fitting for the Kings Bay Plowshares to have been swept up and tossed into a human dumpster such as this. The racket they run here gives real substance, on the neighborhood level, to what U.S. nuclear policy – our national religion – has been preaching to every child born on the planet for the last seventy-five years: No Lives Matter. However long it might draw out, I hope that my incarceration here will in some way speak this truth. The idols we named at Kings Bay are not sleeping. They demand sacrifice. The god of the national security state feasts on the blood of the poor.
“The ultimate logic of racism is genocide.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., March, 1968 Yes, indeed.
– Mark Colville
[As of this writing, the Kings Bay Plowshares have been waiting many months for a ruling from magistrate judge Benjamin Cheesbro on a pre-trial argument they have placed before the court. The essence of their position is that a jury should be allowed to hear and consider the principles of faith and conscience that informed their action at Kings Bay, and that the government has acted improperly by filing criminal charges against them. For a transcript of Mark’s testimony at the pre-trial hearing, contact Luz Catarineau. The seven were arrested on April 5, 2018.]
Greetings in the peace that the world cannot give…
Please pardon my spottiness in terms of keeping in touch with all of you since getting out of jail in early September. It has never been my custom to allow the federal government to indulge the fantasy that supervising me is a legitimate use of their time or resources, and to be honest, it’s been a bit difficult to find my footing out here in minimum security for the past three months. In our case, magistrate judges Baker and Cheesbro have clearly seen fit to use bail, house arrest, curfews and ankle monitors as preemptive punishment for the accused. (This was made amply plain when in that same court, four persons arrested in October for allegedly stealing explosives and ammunition from Kings Bay Naval Base were released without restrictions, on a promise to return for court appearances!) Nevertheless I cheerfully opted to accept these bail conditions on an emergency basis, when it became clear that the Glynn County Jail was not terribly interested in allowing me access to adequate medical care after a diagnosis of skin cancer. As things turned out, this proved to be a good decision, because after two successful surgeries back home in New Haven, I’ve been given a clean bill of health with no further follow-up care required.
So it’s time to go back. It’s obvious that this governmentally-imposed obedience training program amounts to nothing but another form of imprisonment, one for which the accused do not receive any credit toward an actual post-conviction sentence. This has become a scandalously common abuse of the Bail Reform Act in courtrooms all across the country. Personally, the daily practice of voluntarily cooperating in my own captivity has also imposed a strange sort of existence, one in which I find it difficult to fully engage in life and relationships in the ways I’m accustomed to doing so. It’s an unhealthy dynamic that has only become worse since the reason for my decision to take bail no longer exists, and the court’s lack of integrity imposes the responsibility on me to make that dynamic change.
From the beginning, my participation in the Kings Bay Plowshares action was first of all an act of contrition for complicity in the sins of nuclearism and empire, and I’ve regarded any incarceration as penance for those sins. But the jail has also been for me a place of ministry, personal faith-development and formation of conscience. It provides the incredible daily privilege of walking with Jesus in the person of the prisoner, and of seeing the world the way He did: from the perspective of the bottom. It’s a lot like being in an unusually noisy monastery where all the monks have tattoos and share a fondness for the F-word! Of course, Christmas can be a very lonely and desolate time for people in jail, especially those who don’t enjoy the constant support of family and friends on the outside as I do, so returning there before the holidays seems like a useful and appropriate sacrifice to make. With this in mind, there are no misgivings or mixed feelings about going back to Glynn County Detention Center, but rather a sense of rejoicing that, as Dan Berrigan liked to say, one has the freedom to go to jail.
A week ago, judge Cheesbro accepted a motion to return the bail money that was posted on my behalf and put me back in the jail on December 11th. This Tuesday, Luz and I will show up at the Glynn County Detention Center and part ways again, for another undetermined length of time. We will do this mindfully, reaching hands of solidarity toward our extended global family members who are now at this country’s border facing atrocities and uncertainties far beyond whatever hardships we might be obliged to bear. Anyone who wishes to join us, before my self-surrender, in a group hug and a prayer for refugees, would be most welcome to meet us there in the GCDC parking lot (100 Sulphur Springs Road, Brunswick, GA 31520) at 11:30am. After that, I’ll look forward to your postcards, and delight in all news of your ongoing efforts to bring about the nonviolent collapse of the U.S. empire, in defense of all creation…
Love and Prayers,
Postcards to Bodhi, No. 3
July 23, 2018
A contribution to the Plowshares discussion at the National Catholic Worker gathering in Rochester, New York, July, 2018
Spoiler Alert: I think plowshares actions are a good idea!
It’s comforting to know that a discussion on direct disarmament is part of the agenda for the National Catholic Worker gathering in Rochester marking 85 years of the Catholic Worker movement, and a delightful affirmation to be invited to offer some encouraging words. Since having my toys taken away and being sent to my room some months ago, I’ve made a habit of praying with the Sunday gospel readings from the lectionary, and sometimes writing brief reflections on them.
As it happens, the passage before me this week, Mark 6:7-13, provides a perfect opportunity to consider plowshares as an outgrowth of the Catholic Worker movement. I understand that this is a matter of debate for some of us. I also recognize and bow to each of the many other spiritual and ethical paths that have led people to take up Isaiah’s hammer; in no way should their voices be diminished. With that said, this offering is articulated within the parameters of a Catholic Worker approach, which seems appropriate for the occasion.
“Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick – no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”
An instructively odd aspect of Mark’s account of the disciples’ first missionary journey is that Jesus sends them forth without a mission. There are some detailed instructions, but these don’t include a message to be brought, what its content might be, or even that they are supposed to preach at all. While they are given “authority over unclean spirits,” it’s not clear what, if anything, they are supposed to do with that authority. What they are told essentially is this: go somewhere, with somebody, stay in that place, and be poor.
If you’re like me, this is pretty much what you told your family you were doing when you quit your job and joined the Catholic Worker. And it didn’t go over well.
But isn’t this exactly what the Catholic Worker gets right? Isn’t this where the power of our witness finds its source? In our own way, we recover what the churches seem to repeatedly lose throughout the centuries; namely, that the starting pint of evangelization is not preaching or teaching or baptizing or casting out demons. It is hospitality. In fact, I believe Jesus was so certain his disciples would forget this that when he sent them out he made sure that they wouldn’t be able to survive, much less take on any kind of mission, without having to depend on the hospitality of others.
Hospitality is an encounter with another in which there is no agenda but the other; it is how people find one another’s heart. In the Catholic Worker we have seen, and come to know, that when hospitality is practiced daily and mindfully among the poor, it can lead to the heart of a people’s struggle – and that is where Jesus is found. That is where the Gospel gets preached. That is where an evangelization rooted in solidarity can take hold in the world and transform it.That is where communities find the power to name and cast out the unclean spirits that torment us all.
In this way, plowshares has become for me an extension of the common table at Amistad. It is both an unmasking of the demon of militarism that every day lays waste to my neighborhood, and a participation in the prophetic insistence that the poor must not die without defense. It also addresses a personal desire, which only deepens as the years go by, to live in a way that turns solidarity from a noun to a verb. On that journey the cell block, too, becomes a place where bread is broken at a familiar table – a place where I find that I am no stranger.
For the purposes of your deliberations this weekend, it should be noted that at the table I’m currently sharing, the question of property damage as inherently violent has yet to be raised by anyone. However, there is an unshakeable consensus among the African American men that if any of them ever tried to do what we did at Kings Bay, they would be shot dead before they cut the fence.
They also seem positively giddy about the idea of white people figuring out how to use their privilege to subvert systems of state-sanctioned murder and racist oppression. Personally, I don’t take this as an invalidation of the discussion that has taken prominence in plowshares circles during recent months, but perhaps it is suggestive of a direction in which that discussion might fruitfully turn. With love and respect and longing for your company, I will leave that to you.
Consider a kiss to have been blown in your general direction…