October 16, 2020
Federal Court, Brunswick, Georgia
Good afternoon, Judge Wood, Greg Gillully, all the U.S. Attorneys, Keith and all of the great defense attorneys who have assisted me, and all of the other court personnel.
We are slowly moving toward the end of this long ordeal (at least the courtroom portion of it for me).
As I have repeated in this courtroom before: I don’t come before you today with any claims on the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So help me, God.
Yes, I am going to tell the truth, but I can’t say for sure that my truth is God’s Truth. And in truth, to me, God’s truth is the only thing that matters.
First, I want to say my hope is to never be vindicated. I hope the world can survive the nuclear arms race, and for global warming to turn out to be NO big deal. I want our children and grandchildren to have a future with as much love, hope and prosperity as most of you and I have enjoyed in our upbringings under First World circumstances.
I want my efforts on April 4, 2018 to essentially be viewed as misguided, foolish and in vain. In essence, I want to be judged wrong — not just by the findings of this court — but by the world. For me to be a failure and a fool would be so much better than the calamity I fear for future generations if the Kings Bay Plowshares´ message turns out to be the horror we fear will come.
For this court, the rule of law is paramount, and terms like ¨compelling interest¨ and “risk of death” are in the forefront of the government´s case.
For me, our actions are guided by the words of the prophet Micah, who says in Micah chapter 5, verse 8: What does God require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
The 7 Kings Bay Plowshares acted with justice to address the abomination that is Trident. We used spray paint to name the idols erected in the missile shrine and swung hammers to smash the idols of weapons of mass destruction. We did not employ violent tactics. We did not act in a threatening manner. We did not resist authorities who encountered us.
Even for those who have pride in our nation´s nuclear arsenal, how can it be that we could actually erect statues in honor of the most horrifying weapons of mass destruction ever developed? This is a form of heretical idolatry.
Although the base commander testified that he would neither confirm nor deny that Trident is a weapon of mass destruction, it is common knowledge that those subs just off the shore of St. Marys are armed with D-5 missiles, perhaps the deadliest weapon ever made.
It is simply indisputable that Trident is part of a system of U.S. warmaking that, if deployed, would spell death for millions, perhaps billions of people. This absolute truth begs the question: How deeply in sin have we humans sunk that we have collectively created weapons that can bring an end to the creative power of a loving God?
That is a question that should not be shrouded by the rule of law, but rather held to accountability by the rule of law. Yet, in this courtroom, the fact that Trident is a diabolical death machine has been deemed irrelevant. The nonviolent fracturing of human law is all that matters here.
Humanity will never abolish war if we live in such deep denial of what we have done, and what we might do to God´s Creation because of Trident. This court, by its refusal to consider the lawlessness of weapons of mass destruction, is essentially declaring the end of the world to be acceptable. If the Trident D-5 missiles are ever launched and millions of people die, including many of you who reside here at the center of Ground Zero, one fact will remain clear: No laws were broken.
Rather than criminals, we are Messengers, just like the abolitionists were in the face of legalized slavery, or pacifists who went to prison rather than kill. And we took a chance, risked our freedom, and were mischaracterized by this court as threats to the safety of the community.
But it’s all a gamble, isn’t it? We gambled by breaking human laws and subjecting ourselves to prosecution and prison, to warn the world that nuclear weapons are the product of human sinfulness.
So, off to jail and prison we go, all 7 of us thrice convicted felons. But what about all of you who are the operatives of this government? And what of all of us taxpayers who supply the means for carrying out the plans for war? What can we say of our gamble? What will history show us, a view far from now? Sadly, those who say nothing in the face of evil, are contributing to evil by their collective silence, and the denial of our collective sinfulness.
This U.S. government — all three of its branches — have been wrong before. The disenfranchisement of Native Americans, the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans, the denial of the right to vote and the denigration of women, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the many wars of aggression waged by our nation, the current plight of Latinos and Muslims who are unwelcome in our Land of the Free. What of the courts that often uphold these actions that oppressed people? And what of Congress and the executive branch that passed and approved of the laws that codified and protected injustice?
Surely, the decision to invent, build, deploy and possibly use nuclear weapons will not stand the test of time as good moral choices, just as slavery and the other aforementioned wrongs have now been adjudged by history to have been horrible mistakes.
Often the corrective remedy used to expose examples of lawlessness as an abuse of state authority has been nonviolent direct action. Historically, the Boston Tea Party and Biblically, Jesus cleansing the temple of the moneychangers, both involved damage to property to make a point and to challenge injustice.
I would argue, Yes, this court has a compelling interest, but it´s not in protecting weapons of mass destruction, but rather a compelling interest to protect God´s creation and the people imperiled by Trident from omnicide.
I think the message we brought to Kings Bay and to this court is painful to hear, and unthinkable to contemplate. It is easier for this court to focus on our fracturing of the law — human law — than to consider the madness of Trident, a weapon that is illegal under international law, which is supposed to be recognized as the supreme law of the land.
In fact, our government has violated many vital laws regarding nuclear weapons, the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty clearly, among many others. But there is also good news. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons any day now WILL Be International Law. As of this week, 47 nations have ratified the treaty. Only 3 more nations are needed for global ratification that will mean there is NO doubt that we will have this new International Law on the books in the very near future.
That’s why you, Judge Wood, in perhaps the only time you expressed your personal opinion during the trial, said Trident is probably not unlawful. The United States refusal to recognize international law does not make international law irrelevant.
Then came the amazing Religious Freedom Restoration Act conclusion of this court that we 7 engaged in: “prophetic, sacramental, symbolic denuclearization.”
This court also concluded that we are “religious” actors with “sincerely held religious beliefs” and that the practice of our beliefs were burdened by this court’s sanctions. Clearly, the U.S. Attorney and the probation office do not agree with these findings, because all those facts were swept off the table by her honor’s conclusion that the compelling interest this court has in protecting the sanctity of naval station Kings Bay was paramount in this case.
Giving agency to Trident submarines and their cargo of nuclear weapons of mass destruction carried the day over our sincere religious intentions. So our jury never heard any evidence about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Following our conviction, our fate was turned over to the local probation office, which continued the hard line against us.
The probation officers calculating our guidelines dug deep to find aggravating factors — also known as enhancements — to make sure our guidelines were as severe as possible. The so-called “risk of death” enhancement — unprecedented in 40 years of Plowshares federal prosecutions — was a key enhancement that pushed the guidelines higher for all of us.
At the same time, a key mitigating factor — our unprecedented effort of “acceptance of responsibility”– (Carmen and I wore cameras that recorded everything we did, and all of which provided the government with all the evidence it needed to prosecute us fully and convict us easily) was not factored into our sentencing guidelines.
In addition, we carried with us a signed copy of our indictment of the base for war crimes, which included our collective conspiratorial intent that made our convictions on the charge of conspiracy an open and shut case for the government.
Yet none of this comprehensive and unprecedented acceptance of responsibility and de facto admission of guilt was considered by the probation office as mitigating. Judge Wood agreed.
In my specific case, I am the father of a daughter, Mary Evelyn, who has Down syndrome. The fact that my wife, Mary, and I serve as volunteer hospital chaplains and have devoted years of our lives to working with, housing, and feeding the poor, did not seem to matter to this probation office as it ramped up our guidelines.
My recommended guidelines are very high despite my “criminal history” of a felony conviction 36 years ago and only nonviolent misdemeanors, none of which any judge I’ve stood before for the last 35 years has given me an active jail sentence, except when I’ve asked for it in lieu of paying a fine.
So all of my misdemeanor civil disobedience cases, none of which were crimes of profit, or violent or committed with malice have led this probation office to conclude that my family should be without my loving presence for more than two years.
Considering the most common word used to describe our prophetic, sacramental act is vandalism, I was taken aback by the harshness of these consequences.
Still, I stand before you today, continuing my legacy of taking full responsibility for my actions on April 4, 2018. In fact, during his closing arguments at the trial, Greg Gillulley noted twice to the jury my comment: “If you do the crime, be prepared to do the time.”
Again, I think we clearly accepted full responsibility for our actions.
From Day 1 of our arraignment, this court has taken a very hard line against the 7 of us, and for more than 2 and one half years now that punitive policy has been unrelenting.
First came a high cash bond, house arrest and ankle monitors; justified by claims that we were a danger to community safety. Requests for loosening those restrictions were mostly denied. Since my release from the Glynn County jail in the spring of 2018, my life has been under the daily management of my probation officer, Woody King, who I personally like and have gotten to know. However, he treats me like a teenager, not an adult.
When Woody stopped by my house as I was taking out the trash, he said, “Mr. O’Neill, you’re supposed to be in your house.”
“I’m just taking out the trash,” I replied.
“Tell Mary to do that,” Woody said. I’m not sure that was the way Magistrate Stan Baker saw my house arrest, but that´s what Woody thought.
When I had my first meeting with Woody and his supervisor, I was told I was allowed to go to Mass on Sunday, but I was not permitted to stay after Mass to share a cup of coffee with my faith community. I was only allowed out for two hours on Sundays.
In addition, my more than two years under supervised house arrest and curfew will not count toward my sentence, despite the fact that I have now spent more than 400 days (thatś 400 24-hour days) confined to my house.
Three times since my release under these strict conditions I have had my children hospitalized outside the Eastern District of N.C., so I was unable to get permission to visit with them because of my home confinement, even though the Chapel Hill hospital was just 35 minutes from my home.
When I told Woody my daughter Brianna was in the hospital with postpartum complications following the birth of my grandson, Luke, Woody said coldly, matter of factly, he could not approve the hospital visit. He never said anything kind or comforting about my daughter’s plight or ever asked again about her well being.
Like your families need you, my family needs me. The harsh conditions of pre-trial and post-trial release were hard on all 14 of us — Mary and I, our 8 children, two grandchildren and two sons-in law. I think it is clear that all seven of the Kings Bay Plowshares are honorable people who devote our lives to making the world a more peaceful, loving and safe place.
Those who think democracy is working deride our tactics. “Seek out legal options for protesting,” they say, “write to your Congressional representatives; don’t break the law.” Such advice makes sense to those who think that individual citizens have as much power to effect change as do the corporations that give millions of dollars to legislators who in turn cast their votes for weapons and war, selling their vote to what Pres. Dwight Eisenhower termed the military industrial complex.
Recently, the 2020 War Appropriations Act passed in the Senate, by a margin of 86 to 14. Just 9 democrats, 4 republicans and Bernie voted no in this lopsided vote granting $740 billion to the pentagon that came during a deadly pandemic that is causing record unemployment, the shuttering of thousands of businesses and millions of Americans facing eviction.
The same U.S. Senate that pundits say has never been more partisan and divided, passed by a wide margin a war budget that is unconscionable during these times of great human needs left unmet.
I am sure my placard holding outside the gates of naval station Kings Bay would not have resulted in one vote being reversed. Those who see the law, which ultimately protects the wealthy, as sacrosanct, have no sense of the urgency of our times.
But the suffering of the poor, burdened by misplaced priorities, a rigged system and the free pass issued to the Pentagon, are urgent matters. Who advocates for them in a society that spends literally trillions of dollars on warmaking, while telling the poor to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps? If your belly is full, you have a roof over your head and disposable income, it is harder for you to empathize with those whom Jesus calls outcasts.
No one in this room today can deny that the theatrical tactics of the Kings Bay Plowshares has gotten your attention and the attention of thousands of people all over the world in a way no letter or phone call to Congress could.
After 35 years of smooth sailing so to speak, the folks in the Pentagon and those operating naval station Kings Bay must now wrestle with the reality that their dangerous warmaking facility that specializes in the plans for mega-death are not above reproach. And to think it is even vulnerable to a band of old people intent on exposing the sinfulness of Trident.
My late father-in-law, Marine Lt. Col. James Rider, a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam wars, won four purple hearts, two Silver Stars and a Bronze Star and many other service medals. A warrior through and through, Jim Rider had great respect for his daughter and son-in-law. When someone wrote a letter to a newspaper criticizing my actions, he wrote in reply: “Based on my knowledge of military security, I don´t believe unarmed religious pacifists could gain access to these weapons facilities without the direct aid of the Holy Spirit. Therefore I support them.”
I too, give full credit to the God of Peace for our miraculous effort to smash idols.
Now, as our world is deep in the throes of coronavirus I wonder if I will be assigned to a federal prison for my punishment. A prison where I might be susceptible to a Covid-19 infection. I want to serve my sentence at Federal Prison Camp Butner, just an hour from my home. While the virus seems under control now, to date, 26 inmates and one guard have died from the coronavirus at Butner and 824 inmates have contracted coronavirus.
I am sure that hundreds of men and women have been sentenced to thousands of years in prison in this courtroom. While this work of incarceration pays the bills for many of you here today, I want you to see incarceration from the perspective of the convicted.
For me, walking into this courtroom is agonizing, emotionally horrifying and makes me feel physically sick. A person coming here for sentencing is likely experiencing one of the worst days of his or her life. I´m sure my wife and my 8 children are on the edge of their seats right now wondering what you will decide, Judge Wood, and for how long they will have to be separated from their husband and father.
I think anyone involved in this work needs to pay special attention to the humanity of the guilty. Have you kept in touch with any of those you have sent to prison? Have you by chance written to any of those offenders to find out how they are doing in prison? Have you asked about their families left behind? Are you sure none of them have died in custody because of Covid-19?
I say this not to impose guilt, but to address the command of Jesus in Matthew 25 to care for the least of these. Anyone sentenced to prison in this courtroom is automatically consigned to join those Jesus called outcasts. “I was in prison and you visited me,” is one of the commands of Jesus known as a work of mercy. To write to them and express care and love is a spiritual gift to the letter writer. If any of you fine people I have met, and for whom I pray for every day, opt to write to me in prison, I promise to write back.
While this hearing will highlight the many divisions among defense, prosecution, probation, the gallery and the judge, said divisions are mitigated by the commonalities we all share in our human nature. In fact, this is what matters in these times of uncertainty and suffering.
I am a father and a grandfather. Judge Wood, you are a mother who is devoted to your children. Greg, you and Karl are both fathers who love their children … as much as we love life itself. This is a devotion we share as parents who love the children God has blessed us with. So, in fact, we share a very important common value, one that is at the heart of the teachings in Sacred Scripture: Love of God and Love of Neighbor.
The question we all struggle with is how best to live out our love for God, our children and our neighbors. The seven of us facing sentencing have exposed a tragic flaw — a sin that keeps us from living out some of the most basic elements of Loving One Another … Trident. How does Trident fit into our lives as a component of our common Christian Faith that calls us to Love Our God, our Children, Our Neighbor? Trident is the Opposite of Love. It is a Machine of Mass Destruction, that robs our neighbors of Love and Hope.
While I have not heard much support for us expressed by this court, my hope is that I have been part of an effort to plant a seed that will sprout and grow in your souls, and eventually bear the fruit of true peace in your hearts. And that all humanity will come together to reject war and Trident and embrace the teachings of Jesus to Love One Another.
Yesterday Greg Gilluly spoke of the school children and workers at Kings Bay who may have been offended when they saw the spray painted messages on the statues of nuclear weapons at the missile shrine — words such as idol, repent, Love Your Enemies, or workers who saw blood on the sidewalk and crime scene tape on a door.
But perhaps the action of the 7 of us have and will continue to produce other outcomes. Maybe some of the schoolchildren asked their parents questions about what they saw. Maybe the dinner table conversation was full of questions from children about why these people spray painted Bible quotes on the statues?
Maybe school teachers in Camden and Glynn Counties used our witness as a opportunity to have class discussions about dissent as a valuable component of a democracy. Maybe the children asked questions about Trident submarines that had never been asked before.
Judge Wood and Mr. Gilluly, you’re both parents. Perhaps your involvement in our case will have a lasting educational impact on your children. I think you brought some members of your family to our trial, Mr. Gilluly. Maybe somewhere in Brunswick a child is asking his mother: “Mom, why do we have statues of bombs and missiles at the Navy Base?” “Those people who spray painted said they were idols.” Or perhaps a child asked her father: “Dad, why do we have Trident submarines? And what would happen if those nuclear missiles were actually used? Wouldn’t a lot of people die?”
And what about the churches in Camden and Glynn Counties. Were there some preachers who courageously made the effort to discuss what our action meant in the context of Jesus who said love your enemies, put away the sword?
Maybe there have been and will be Sunday school classes that had or will have discussion about the theological issues we raised at Kings Bay. Judge Wood, yesterday you mentioned the many people who risk their lives to defend our freedom. But, military service is more complicated than the very honorable willingness to give one’s life for a cause.
My father Terrence O’Neill was a Navy veteran during the Korean War and my Marine father-in-law needed inpatient treatment for PTSD in his late 60s.
We also ask of the soldiers to kill on command, to take the lives of other young men and women who they don’t know, who we call enemies: That’s a lot to ask of our young people. Still, so many of us see war as a necessary evil…. but is it? Perhaps some children might inquire about why we carried a banner with Martin Luther King’s image and words. Maybe they googled King to discover his references to the triplets of evil: Racism, extreme materialism and militarism. Maybe they read his 1967 quote, “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world is my own country.” Maybe someone is asking why people the court said engaged in prophetic, sacramental and symbolic denuclearization are being dealt with so harshly? Yes, in addition to the shock that Mr. Gilluly cites, there may be far more important benefits that happen because of our action. Dissent —- even if it involves breaking the law —- can be a transformational event. That’s certainly my hope.
I want to end with a reflection my wife wrote and shared with our children.
There is a scene in Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town, in which young Emily who has died in childbirth begs to be allowed to go back to see one day of her life. Though advised against it, she chooses the day of her twelfth birthday, an unimportant day, she says.
Yet once she witnesses that “unimportant day” she is struck by how we plow through life, unaware of the many levels of being and feeling that go on all around us. She asks the stage manager “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”
“No,” he says, “Saints and poets maybe… they do some.”
Looking back at my then-17-year-old self in a photo, I felt like Emily. Tan, thin, smiling, my whole life stretched out ahead of me. I am happy in a cloud of unknowing, posed for the future without realizing that life is lived in those day-to-day moments that we so easily take for granted.
I have a friend whose e-mail address is: Beherenow. Although I’ve never told him, I often contemplate what a wise command he sends each time he sends an email.
Be here now. Through all those days and years of my life so many memories crowd my mind and my heart. Yet here I am, grumbling through school shopping with my three youngest children. Still spending my mental energy on preparing for another day rather than on living the one we have been gifted.
I look at my 17 year old self and I see my daughter, about to turn 17, and my son, 18 and “on his own”, away at college. I remember them as babies, as toddlers, as middle schoolers. Not only them, but all of our children who have been making their way through life with us and especially those who have now headed out on their own.
The incredible sweetness of being together for a time, just being, together.
So, here we are, all together on this day. We got thrown into your life, Judge Wood. You didn´t ask. We didn´t ask, but we are here together on this day, in this moment in time. While I have not heard much support for us expressed by this court, my hope is that I have been part of an effort to plant a seed that will sprout and grow in your souls, and eventually bear the fruit of true peace in your hearts. And that all humanity will come together to reject war and Trident and embrace the teachings of Jesus to Love One Another. Thank You and God Bless You.
Donations can be sent to Max Obuszewski, Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 431 Notre Dame Lane, Apt. 206, Baltimore, MD 21212. Ph: 410-323-1607; Email: mobuszewski2001 [at] comcast.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs