Father Steve Kelly. (Courtesy of Kings Bay Plowshares 7)
“My participation in any aspect of supervised release is to comply with and accommodate the U.S.’ compelling interest of the nuclear weapons agenda,” the priest said in his statement to the court. “Compelling interest is a euphemism for thousands of Hiroshimas and Nagasakis.”
Like his co-defendants, Kelly is part of the Plowshares movement to end all possession of nuclear weapons. The name comes from the Bible in Isaiah 2:4, where nations are urged to “beat their swords into plowshares” and stop war. (A plowshare is the blade of a plow.) The movement started in 1980 and has taken on new life in recent years, particularly after brinkmanship between the U.S. and North Korea.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper and other national leaders take the position that the weapons are needed to protect America from adversarial nations that have or could obtain their own warheads. The government considers protests like the one by the Kings Bay activists troublesome because of the property damage and a potentially dangerous disruption.
The Kings Bay Plowshares 7, as the group refers to themselves, refused to take a plea deal for the 2018 break-in. Their movement generally calls for three steps to a protest: symbolic disarming, testifying at trial, and going to jail. Their attorneys argued against the charges, saying the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 protected their protest because they were motivated by their faith. All seven defendants were convicted last year.
The Kings Bay Plowshares 7 have spent their lives protesting for various causes and working in Catholic houses of hospitality. While Kelly remained in jail, the others were eventually released on bond.
Sentencing hearings for the other defendants are scheduled in the coming weeks, except for Elizabeth McAlister, 83, a former nun who was sentenced previously to 17 months in prison but had already served that much time in jail. She was given three years of supervised release.
Bill Quigley, an attorney who represents some of the other Kings Bay Plowshares members, said Kelly refuses to cooperate with even the requirements of prison.
“They end up putting him in solitary confinement for most of the time," Quigley said. "He’s OK with that. He prays, he reads, he meditates.”