10/18/19 Elizabeth McAlister: Nuclear Winter and the Kings Bay Plowshares 7

by | Oct 20, 2019 | Interviews

Elizabeth McAlister of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 updates Scott on her legal situation, following an April 2018 incident in which she and other members of her organization broke into a Nuclear Submarine facility. The Kings Bay Plowshares are a group of Catholics dedicated to peacefully protesting America’s use of nuclear weapons, which, as McAlister reminds us, have the potential to end all life on Earth. McAlister was recently released from jail, and continues to await her trial.

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SH: Alright you guys, very special guest today. I’m joined on the line by Elizabeth McCallister from the Jonah House and the Plowshares, and of course she is one half of the most famous anti-war couple in American history, really, with the late Philip Berrigan. She’s the mother of our friend Frida Berrigan — great friend of the show we’ve interviewed many times here. We’re very happy to welcome you to the show, how are you doing, Elizabeth?

EM: I’m doing just fine, thank you. And Frida will be in town for the trial.

SH: OK, yeah, well and that’s what we’re here to talk about is the trial — when does it begin?

EM: Monday.

SH: And this is regarding an action that your group, the Kings Bay Plowshares, committed on April 4, 2018. Could you please tell us about it?

EM: Well, we went to the Kings Bay Naval Weapons Station and we went to 3 distinct sites in small groups. One group went to the shrine and made their presence felt there. Three of us went to a section up on the hill and close to their nuclear weapons and the third group went to the administration building and left many messages there. So we were pretty present to different moments and different works that the plant is about. Of course, it’s about nuclear weapons and the nuclear weapons that are carried by the Trident submarines would be enough to destroy everything on Earth, which is what we’ve learned over the period of study leading up the action.

SH: And you guys chose April 4 for a very specific reason as well, is that right?

EM: That’s correct. The anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. We wanted to remember his witness and to celebrate it.

SH: And that’s an important point — his “witness,” as you call it. This all is very religious to you: your motivation here is your Christianity, is that correct?

EM: That’s correct. It’s Christianity, but it’s humanity, and it’s Earth, and the reality is that everything is up for grabs with these weapons. People, places, history. There is enough firepower on the base right here in Kings Bay to make it that — if that were ever used, we have read — that’s the end of life on Earth. It would spell the end of life on Earth if the firepower on each of the Trident submarines home-based here were ever used. Now that’s sobering.

SH: Because of the nuclear winter, you mean.

EM: Well, the effect of the weapons themselves, yes. They affect climate, they affect everything. They affect the air we breathe, they affect the soil. And it’s just a very, very dangerous weapon.

SH: Well, I have to tell you, I have no idea when I first learned of you and your husband, but I’ve always known about these Catholic priests and nuns who go and protest the nuclear missiles and make a controversy out of America’s nuclear arsenal when most of America just never pays attention to this issue at all. I think you and your groups that you have done these actions with over the years deserve the lion’s share of the credit for people even thinking of nuclear weapons as controversial at all. Most of the time they still go without saying anyway, that it’s just part of our security but I don’t think that people can imagine what it would be like to really see an H-Bomb go off over an American city.

EM: No, the thought is horrendous, and that’s why most people don’t think about it. But I do want to say that we are far from alone. We are surrounded going into our trial by some extraordinary human beings who are attorneys and who are just the most thoughtful, prepared, intelligent people, and human. And they’re beautiful human beings. And the privilege is to be able to work with them and to have them share their powers and their training with us. So the trial should be very, very strong, and very fine, thanks to them.

SH: And they’ve already said in the news that they mean to mount a religious freedom defense, is that correct?

EM: Well, I’m sure that’s going to be at least part of it if not the whole thing, yes. That’s correct.

SH: That’s very important because of course right next to how much American society cherishes our nuclear weapons we cherish our 1st Amendment and even out of all five protections in the 1st Amendment the freedom to worship as one sees fit or not or otherwise I think is the one that everyone can agree on as the single most important right of all. To be protected.

EM: That’s very, very true.

SH: And they’re trying to put you in jail for 25 years here — in prison, for 25 years, is that correct?

EM: I thought it was 26, but I will not argue over a year. I have already served 1 year and 8 months for this in the local jail.

SH: So does that mean they refused to bail you out, or you refused to be bailed out?

EM: I refused the conditions of release until they finally just released me without conditions.

SH: I see. I had read that a few got out and were on house arrest with ankle monitors and that kind of thing, right.

EM: Yes. Clare Grady just had her ankle monitor removed the other day and she’s been out for months. I had it for 3 or 4 days and they took it off. My release was very, very, weird and an utterly unexpected and unprepared for thing. They just wanted me out, and so I’m out.

SH: You’ve been through this quite a few times. I know you and your husband have served not just time in jail, but time in prison over the years for these kinds of actions. How severe are the charges here compared to previous actions?

EM: I think that the charges are not different, I think the consequences are a little more steep than what we’ve faced before. But not that much. What is it, 20-some years in prison? This is a figure I’ve heard, I haven’t explored it, though. We’ll see. But if it’s 26 years, I probably won’t make it [laughs].

SH: And how many times have they sort of backed down and let you go with time served in the past versus really seeking to press the charges as hard as they can?

EM: Well, never.

SH: They always really try to put you in prison for as long as they possibly can each time?

EM: Well, for a significant period, put it that way. And for what they feel they can get away with without looking too badly.

SH: In other words, they don’t treat this any different than if you were some kind of foreign spy sabotaging their precious missiles, rather than a nun or a former nun protesting in the name of Jesus and the human race.

EM: Yes. I think the way you’re putting it is quite correct and faithful to what we have experienced in the courts, yes.

SH: Well, I’m glad to hear that you’ve got such great, talented lawyers, We would hate to hear that the worst happened here. But it goes to show the level of your commitment, especially having been through this before that you are willing to continue to put your life on the line in this way, it’s incredible.

EM: Well, I’ve had some very, very good examples of people who will not be silent. I have children, I have grandchildren, and it’s impossible for me to think of them and not want to do what I can to make their future a possibility. Those children that are close to me are ways of also feeling for all of our children — all of our children whose lives are really up for grabs, given the way this culture — this society — is being run. And it’s not getting better.

SH: I have to tell you, I’m sure you already know, but in case no one’s reminded you lately, the tales of what you have done have really meant a lot to a lot of people throughout this society and even people who don’t know your name have heard of the Catholics who break into the nuclear weapons facilities to protest before. Everyone knows that’s a thing. And who is it that’s doing it? Priests and nuns are the ones doing it. OK, it’s immediate — it grabs people’s attention. It makes people try to — I mean, if not find out more, at least kind of grapple with the situation here, and I think you have had such an important effect on so many people. I hope you know that, regardless of how this thing plays out, that it has been worth it in a way to those of us who are paying close attention to you.

EM: Thank you for that. I hope for the fidelity to keep on keeping on, so we’ll see how it all goes. But I think that those of us who were part of this most recent action are feeling ready to get to court and to make what presentation we can make. So we’ll see what comes of it.

SH: Great. Well, we’ll be following it as close as we can at Antiwar.com. Again, that’s you and six others: the Kings Bay 7, right?

EM: Yes. Thank you for this, and thank you for your own work, which is really important. Keep on keeping on there, brother, OK?

SH: Thank you so much, Elizabeth, and best of luck to you.

EM: Thank you.


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