Radical pacifists face prison and fines for action at missile silos

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On June 20, three disarmament activists walked through the flimsy chain link fence surrounding one of the 150 Minuteman-3 missiles that surround this Air Force town, and they proceeded to “name it” by pouring bottles of their own blood on the giant concrete lid that covers the underground launch pad.

The missile silo—500 of which are today kept armed and on “alert” status in identical launch sites throughout the Great Plains states—holds an infamous Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) that is said by the Pentagon to be able to fly around the world and strike targets within 100 feet of bulls-eye. The 375-kiloton hydrogen bomb on board is 30 times the power of the U.S. bomb that turned 140,000 people at Hiroshima, Japan into powder and ash on August 6, 1945.

Greg Boertje-Obed, 51, a member of Duluth’s Loaves & Fishes Catholic Worker community; Michael Walli, 57, a volunteer at Loaves & Fishes; and Fr. Carl Kabat, a Catholic priest from Illinois and member of the St. Louis Catholic Worker community, broke a padlock to gain entrance to the isolated, two-acre missile site.

The action took place at what the Air Force calls “resource E-9,” 75 miles southwest of Minot, on the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation. The three were on the unguarded site over 45 minutes before Air Force police arrived. The far-flung launch silos, spread across 8,500 square miles in a crescent-shaped pattern nearly enclosing the city of Minot, have personnel at only 15 Launch Control Centers that are set among the 150 missiles.

After the three were turned over to McLean County deputies, Col. Sandy Finan, commander of the 91st Space Wing at Minot Air Force Bases said the three had hammered on some external components, spray-painted slogans and hung signs after cutting a lock to enter E-9. The three unfurled a large banner: “Weapons of mass destruction here—Plowshares.”

The reference is to the nearly 100 “Plowshare” actions that have occurred since 1980. The demonstrations have all involved hands-on hammering, unplugging, sawing down and/or rendering actual nuclear weapons or their delivery systems inoperable, all in the spirit of the Old Testament prophecy of beating “swords into plowshares.”

The activists currently face a charge of destruction of government property, which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. They are being held in county jail in Minot, pending a Sept. 13 trial in federal district court.

One message the three painted on the 110-ton concrete and steel silo cover read “It’s a sin to build nuclear weapons.” The sentiment is in keeping with the long-standing advocacy by all three of Christian anti-war principles attributed to Jesus, such as “Love your enemies.” Boertje-Obed said in a prepared statement that, “I believe Jesus led us to do this witness based on his teachings of intervening for the sake of the poor.”

In a group message issued on the internet, the three said, “We have chosen to start the process of transformation and disarmament by hammering on and pouring our blood on components of the Minuteman-3 nuclear missile system.”

All three were dressed in clown costumes during the action.

Fr. Kabat, who has served over 15 years in prison for similar demonstrations against U.S. nuclear weapons, said, “We are fools and clowns for God and humanity’s sake… The only condemnation of Vatican II [doctrinal statement by the Catholic Church] was that nuclear weapons are a crime against humanity and are to be condemned unreservedly.”

About their costumes, the three said, “Clowns have been known in history as court jesters, where they were sometimes the only ones able to survive after speaking truth to power.”

Most of the previous participants in Plowshare actions have eventually served lengthy prison sentences. A few notable exceptions have occurred in Wisconsin, Germany and just this month in Britain, where the “Pit Stop Plowshares” defendants—who damaged a U.S. Navy warplane in February 2003 during its stopover in Ireland on its way to Iraq—were acquitted by a jury following their third trial; the first two ended in mistrials amid suggestions of judicial bias. ||

John Laforge, of Nukewatch, is completing a six-month sentence for trespassing during a protest against the Bush administration’s torture system. His address is Federal prison camp Duluth, PO Box 1000, Duluth, MN 55814