Bond Denied for 7 Catholic Protesters Who Prayed on Nuclear Submarine Base in Georgia

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Photo courtesy Heidi L. Thompson

KINGS BAY, Ga. — Just steps away from a decommissioned submarine buried in the ground near the main gate at the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia, anti-nuclear peace activists held a vigil Saturday morning to protest the U.S. nuclear arsenal and to show support for seven Catholic peace activists arrested early Thursday morning for unauthorized entry onto the base.

Pastor Eric Johnson of Durham, N.C., opened the vigil by reading from Acts 4, describing early Christians in court for disobeying local authorities and continuing to heal and preach in the name of Jesus, which was illegal:

“Observing the boldness of Peter and John and perceiving them to be uneducated, ordinary men and women, the leaders, elders, and scribes were amazed, and they recognized them as the companions of Jesus.”

Saturday’s peace vigil at the Kings Bay base follows the arrest of seven Catholic leaders who entered the base on Wednesday without authorization to draw attention to the global dangers of the Trident fleet and link the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Kings Bay spokesperson Scott Bassett told the Washington Post, “At no time was anybody threatened,” adding that there were no reported injuries and that no military personnel were in danger.

The seven activists were denied bail on Friday morning and are expected to remain in jail for at least the next several days. The detained are: Elizabeth McAlister (78), Jonah House, Baltimore; Steve Kelly, SJ (69), Bay Area, Calif.; Carmen Trotta (55), Catholic Worker, N.Y.; Clare Grady (59), Ithaca Catholic Worker (NY); Martha Hennessy (granddaughter of Dorothy Day), 62, Catholic Worker, N.Y.; Mark Colville (55), Amistad Catholic Worker, New Haven, Conn.; Patrick O’Neill (61), Fr. Charlie Mulholland Catholic Worker, Garner, N.C.

The nonviolent demonstration early Thursday morning may be the first major direct action taken by U.S. Catholics since Pope Francis announced in November that not only the threat of nuclear weapons but “their very possession is to be firmly condemned.”

Protesters say that the threat to use nuclear weapons is a form of terror.

“The same way police roving through communities of color terrorizes people of color, these nuclear weapons are a form of terror,” said Beth Brockman, a supporter who drove to the prayer vigil from Durham, N.C.

Brockman, a member of Durham's First Presbyterian Church, was arrested in 2005 at the gate of the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant in Tennessee, where the nation’s "last full-scale operating nuclear weapons production plant" is located. She was released after three days in the Anderson County (Tenn.) jail.

Also at the vigil was Paul Magno, a peace activist with the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House in Washington, D.C. As drivers passing the vigil shouted both words of support and critique, he said he understood the local economy’s reliance on the base: “But, as hard as it is, we have to imagine a thriving Kings Bay port that isn’t a military facility … that can bring in food and commerce from around the world so that we all sustain and support each other. That’s the vision we need to move toward, and it’s not easy.”

Bill Quigley, a human rights lawyer and prominent Catholic who will be representing those arrested, said the next step will be for the group to be formally charged and a trial date set.

“It’s an honor to be part of the legal team for people who take real risks for justice,” Quigley said. “Lawyers focus on the law. With these folks, we focus on justice. It’s liberating.”

Heidi L. Thompson (@hthompson) is a digital marketer focused on nonprofit news and religious publishing. She’s re-deploying the science of marketing toward the liberation of all God’s creation.

Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Rose Marie Berger is Senior Associate Editor of Sojourners magazine and a contributor to the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative.

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