Peace activists made their case for the abolition of nuclear weapons, specifically the Trident nuclear weapons system, while on trial in a Kitsap County courtroom on January 4th and 5th for blocking the entrance to a local nuclear weapons base.
The ten defendants in two separate trials were charged with being “pedestrians on Roadway Unlawfully,” a traffic infraction. On different occasions, May 7, 2011 and August 8, 2011, the activists blocked the entrance to Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, symbolically closing the base as a statement against the U.S. government’s continued deployment of the Trident first strike nuclear weapons system.
The Trident submarine base at Bangor, just 20 miles from Seattle, contains the largest concentration of operational nuclear weapons. Each of the 8 Trident submarines at Bangor carries 24 Trident II (D-5) missiles, each armed with up to 8 independently targetable nuclear warheads. Each nuclear warhead has an explosive yield of between 100 and 475 kilotons (up to 32 times the yield of the Hiroshima bomb).
The defendants on trial January 4th were Anne Hall, Betsy Lamb, Brenda McMillen and Tom Rogers, who were arrested August 8, 2011. On trial on January 5th were Mary Gleysteen, Anne Hall, David Hall, Bernie Meyer, Shirley Morrison, Dorli Rainey and Alice Zillah, who were arrested on May 7, 2012.
Kitsap County District Court Judge James M. Riehl presided over the trials. All the defendants, except Bernie Meyer and Dorli Rainey who represented themselves, were represented by attorney William Joel Rutzick.
Rutzick attempted to demonstrate that the defendants were incorrectly charged, and therefore the charges should be dismissed. State Patrol officers, who had been present at both arrests, testified, and photos and video were shown by the defense to make its case.
Aside from the legal issues surrounding the charging statute, the primary reason for the defendants to be in the courtroom was to make their case against the continued deployment of the Trident first strike weapons system and the government’s continued reliance on nuclear weapons while neglecting to lead the way towards the global abolition of nuclear weapons.
Judge Riehl was attentive and conciliatory as he limited the extent of the defendants’ testimonies while allowing them to state their case, in which they spoke passionately, referring to precedents established by the Nuremburg Tribunal and humanitarian principles and law. The general question asked by defense counsel was “Why did you do what you did?”
Tom Rogers, a retired Navy officer who commanded nuclear submarines during the Cold War, testified that he had been responsible for nuclear weapons during his career, and that our country’s national security strategy based on the threat of nuclear annihilation is dangerous, militarily impractical, and unaffordable. He participated in the August action to bring public awareness and believes his actions were justified based on the Nuremburg principles.
Anne Hall, a Lutheran minister, said that she “wanted to close that base for as long as possible… wanted to make people aware of the immorality and illegality of what was going on in that base.” When asked “What part did religion have to do with your motivation?” by Rutzick, she said “my calling is to follow Jesus… it is an anathema to God to kill children…”
Dave Hall: “…my commitment is to love justice and it is an anathema to be willing to incinerate an entire city…” Bernie Meyer: “…what I did was a citizen intervention.” Alice Zilah: “Trident is a cold war era machine we can no longer afford. We can’t afford them on a financial level or a moral level.” Dorli Rainey: “[Our action at Bangor] is the only way we can get to the public to let them know the outrageous things being done in our name.” Shirley Morrison: “…these weapons are immoral and illegal…” Brenda McMillan: [Nuclear] “weapons are immoral, horrific.” Betsy Lamb: “[We] follow in the steps of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Jackie Hudson, and Jesus himself… feel called to take these drastic steps.”
In his ruling Judge Riehl said that the defendants’ compelling testimony “rings true,” and that it has been “a long battle in this courtroom for people working on this issue,” and remarked how Anne Hall has been engaged in this struggle for 30 years. Although the judge believes “… the cause is just…” he said that he must “uphold the rule of law.” Consistent with both the rule of law and the circumstances surrounding the defendants’ actions he found them guilty of the traffic infraction, fined them the full $56, and mitigated that to $25.
The eleven defendants are participants with Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, which holds vigils and nonviolent direct actions at the Bangor base each year around Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, Mother’s Day, and the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
For over thirty-three years Ground Zero has engaged in education, training in nonviolence, community building, resistance against Trident and action toward a world without nuclear weapons.
Contact: Leonard Eiger, Media and Outreach
Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action