Kansas City Bomb Plant Blockaders Convicted; City Council Challenged

Frank Cordaro (Left) and Ed Bloomer are hustled out of a city council meeting. Photo by Allison Long/Kansas City Star

Fourteen people who blocked heavy machinery clearing the site for construction of a new nuclear weapons factory in Kansas City, Missouri, were convicted and sentenced to fines and community service.

Two of the defendants then disrupted a Kansas City council meeting, unfurling a banner and calling on the city to stop its investment in building for nuclear war.  Frank Cordaro and Ed Bloomer were jailed overnight, then sentenced to time served.

The following reports are from the Kansas City Star , National Catholic Reporter and Jane Stoever of PeaceWorks, Kansas City and the Kansas City Peace Planters.

Anti-nuclear protesters go to court, then city hall


The Kansas City Star

The issue is explosive. So was the day.

For six hours Thursday, two trials at Kansas City’s Municipal Court — the place where traffic tickets, high grass and unleashed dogs typically rule the docket — became forums for views on international law, nonproliferation treaties, the Nuremberg principles and the godlessness of the new nuclear weapons manufacturing plant being built in south Kansas City.

Then it got more interesting.

After being in court in the morning, two anti-nuclear protesters crossed the street about 3:35 p.m. to City Hall, where they burst into a legislative session of the council and got arrested again.

They shouted protests against nuclear weapons and bore a sign, “Stop Building Nuclear War.”

Security staff quickly pushed them out of the council’s chambers and cuffed them.

The two arrested had pleaded earlier “technically guilty” to trespassing in August at the construction site of the Honeywell plant at Missouri 150 and Botts Road.

Meantime, through much of the day, a small band of supporters stood on the mall outside City Hall with a sign of its own, “No Nuclear Bomb Plant in Kansas City.”

One, Ann Suellentrop of Kansas City, Kan., draped an American flag over her shoulders. Another woman, calling herself “Bird,” dressed as Death in a skull mask.

The 14 protesters who made court appearances were arrested Aug. 16 for trespassing on the 180-acre site where the new $685 million plant will replace the Bannister Road facility. The plant makes the non-nuclear parts for nuclear weapons and will retain 2,100 employees.

Armed with their ideals and banners (“KC Plant Builds Death”), the protesters stood in front of earthmovers primed for heavy excavation. They refused to leave and were arrested.

On Thursday, the defendants were split and adjudicated in separate courtrooms at separate times. Some appeared before Judge E.M. Franco in the morning; the rest went before Judge Anna J. LaBella about 1:30 p.m.

Three pleaded what their attorney, Henry Stoever, called “technically guilty,” that is, admitting doing what they were accused of but refusing to admit it was wrong. One pleaded guilty outright.

The rest pleaded “not guilty” and, while on the witness stand, took every opportunity to express their views.

They included Rachael Hoffman, 25, who aids poor families in Kansas City, and 73-year-old Jerry Zawanda, a retired priest from Tucson.

When defendant Stephen Clemens of Minneapolis was asked whether he considered his acts unlawful, he expounded how, under international law and the principals of the Nuremberg trials, he felt legally justified to take action against war crimes before they’re committed.

Felice Cohen-Joppa, also of Tucson, said, “Whenever else have I had an opportunity to prevent evil from being committed?”

Asked if he had permission to be on the property, Zawanda replied, “Permission from the people of Kansas City who are dedicated to truth and justice and saving lives.”

Local defendants were Josh Armfield, Gina Cook, Beth Seberger, the Rev. Eric Garbison and Donna Constantineau. Two defendants, Steve Jacobs and Robby Jones, are from Columbia. Brian Terrell of Maloy, Iowa, acted as his own counsel.

Brian Terrell adresses the court. Drawing by Mark Bartholomew

The defendants disrupting the meeting at City Hall were Frank Cordaro and Ed Bloomer, both of Des Moines.

“We plead guilty, but then she wouldn’t let us speak,” Cordero said after his trial.

All defendants were found guilty and fined $100 or put on probation, charged court fees of about $31 and allowed to do 10 hours of community service.

Some, like Jacobs, said no:

“We refuse to give money to a municipality that builds nuclear weapons.”

The Star’s Donald Bradley and Michael Mansur contributed to this report. To reach Eric Adler, call 816-234-4431 or send e-mail to eadler@kcstar.com


Opposing nuclear weapons plant, activists arrested at city meeting

Published on National Catholic Reporter (http://ncronline.org)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Yelling that they were “calling an alarm” in the tradition of the prophet Isaiah, two peace activists were arrested here Oct. 7 for interrupting a city council meeting as they called attention to the construction of a major new nuclear weapons facility on the outskirts of town.

Their acts of civil disobedience were the fourth in five months by protesters opposed to the building of the new weapons plant. They came just moments after the two had been found guilty, along with 12 others, for illegal trespassing last August at the construction site at which they stood in front of an earth moving vehicle and shut down work for more than hour.

The new plant, which will make nonnuclear parts for nuclear weapons, is set to be the nation’s first new major nuclear weapons production facility in 32 years.

Bishop Robert W. Finn of the Kansas City-Saint Joseph diocese released a statement Sept. 2 asking officials to reconsider the facility’s construction.

Standing up as the council was discussing a street cleaning ordinance, Frank Cordaro and Eddie Bloomer — both members of the Des Moines, Iowa Catholic Worker community — unfurled a banner that read “stop building for nuclear war.” As they stood they yelled that the council should “start telling the truth” regarding its funding for the plant.

Police immediately removed the two from chamber and placed them under arrest.

As he was being led into an elevator, Cordaro told reporters they were acting in the tradition of Old Testament prophets and “just doing what the holy men did.”

While Bloomer and Cordaro were moved out of the chamber, a third protester, Ann Suellentrop of Kansas City, Kan., stood inside and read a petition against the building of the plant.

After several minutes, she was led out of the chamber by city council staff. She told reporters her petition had 300 signatures from local community members and asked the council to immediately stop construction on the new facility.

Currently a part of the Bannister Federal Complex, located about 13 miles south of the city’s downtown area, the Kansas City Plant is currently responsible for the production and assembly of approximately 85 percent of the nonnuclear components for the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The Bannister plant is set to be relocated beginning in 2012 to the new site.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Energy, has stated the new facility will carry an estimated price tag of $673 million for construction and $1.2 billion over the next 20 years.

Away from the action, other activists unfurled signs on three of the local highways leading to the land where the new facility is being constructed. One read, “Books, not bombs.”

Bloomer and Cordaro were held overnight. As of Oct. 8 they were expected to be set free on probation.

Before the two arrests, all 14 of the activists originally arrested for the August action went on trial on charges of illegal trespass. Six of them accepted a finding of “technically guilty,” which meant they did not contest the charges. One pleaded guilty outright.

In those seven cases, Municipal Court Judge E.M. Franco did not allow witness testimony or statements from the defendants.

The remaining protesters pleaded “not guilty” and faced a new trial before Municipal Court Judge Anna J. LaBella.

In that trial the defendants argued, in part, that international law compelled them to speak out against the production of nuclear weapons. One of the defendants, Stephen Clemens, allowed to speak in his own defense, said the Nuremberg Principles, which hold all persons accountable under international law for war crimes, obligated him to call attention to the new weapons facility in order to ensure that a future war crime — nuclear war — would be prevented.

Once convicted, each of the 14 activists had a choice as to whether to pay a fine or do community service. Cordaro, Bloomer and Steve Jacobs, a member of the St. Francis House Catholic Worker community in Columbia, Mo., refused to pay the fine or do service.

A cashier for the municipal courthouse informed the three that, unless they changed their minds, a warrant would be issued for their arrest Oct. 17. Jacobs told NCR that he “didn’t want to give money to a municipality that builds weapons of mass destruction.”

The other defendants included Gina Cook and Rachael Hoffman of the Holy Family Catholic Worker House community; Eric Garbison and Josh Armfield of the Cherith Brook Catholic Worker community; Robby Jones of the St. Francis House Catholic Worker community; Brian Terrell of the Strangers and Guests Catholic Worker Farm; Felice Cohen-Joppa; Donna Constantineau; Beth Seberger; and Franciscan Fr. Jerry Zawada. Terrell acted as his own counsel.

[Joshua McElwee is an NCR staff writer.]


From the newsletter of Kansas City PeaceWorks:

Resisters speak up, act up against new nuclear weapons parts plant

By Jane Stoever

Fourteen nonviolent resisters stood up to a huge Caterpillar preparing ground Aug. 16 for a new plant in Kansas City, Mo., that will make and procure non-nuclear parts for nuclear weapons. The resisters weren’t about to stand down in court, or in City Hall.

“I can’t pay a fine to a city that is building a nuclear weapons plant,” Steve Jacobs of the Columbia, Mo., Catholic Worker, a shelter, told Municipal Court Judge Elena Franco Oct. 7.

She found him guilty of trespassing and fined him $100 plus court costs of $31.50 after he pleaded “technically not guilty,” meaning he had entered the site but did not consider it wrong. Two other resisters, Frank Cordaro and Eddie Bloomer, both of the Des Moines Catholic Worker, used the same plea, received the same sentence, and refused to pay. Franco said warrants for their arrest would be issued in 10 days if they had not paid.

Another four resisters—former PeaceWorks Board member Donna Constantineau of Kansas City, Kan.; Gina Cook of Holy Family Catholic Worker, a shelter in KC; Beth Seberger of Kansas City, Kan., former director of KC’s Interfaith Peace Alliance; and Robert Jones of Columbia, Mo.—pleaded guilty or technically not guilty. Their sentences: $100 plus court costs or a year’s probation plus court costs.

Within a few hours after their hearing, Cordaro and Bloomer disrupted a City Council meeting in City Hall. Cordaro hollered that they were sounding an alarm, in the tradition of the prophets, about the new facility the city has welcomed. They held a banner, “Stop building for nuclear war.” In tandem with them, PeaceWorks Board member Ann Suellentrop loudly read a statement 300 people had signed (see story, page X). Cordaro and Bloomer, who were taken to the city jail, were released the next day on time served.

The city’s perks for the new plant:
• a $45 million tax cut,
• the public-private development plan negotiated with developer CenterPoint Zimmer LLC, which sold the land to the city’s Planned Industrial Expansion Authority (PIEA), and
• the sale of up to $815 million in municipal bonds, backed by the federal government, to finance the plant.

Resister Brian Terrell of the Catholic Worker farm in Maloy, Iowa, pleaded his own case Oct. 7 and could question witnesses. Henry Stoever, chair of the PeaceWorks Board, represented the other 13resisters. The seven protesters who sought a trial went to trial that afternoon.
The trial’s first issue: ownership. The resisters’ citations named Jim S. Cross the owner or possessor of the site.

“The actual facility title owner is the PIEA,” Kevin Breslin, attorney for Jim Cross, said under Stoever’s questioning. Cross is senior vice president of development for CenterPoint Properties Trust, of which CenterPoint Zimmer LLC is a subsidiary. Cross had asked the resisters four times to leave the property. He signed the citations.

Terrell asked Breslin, “This land isn’t owned by Jim Cross, right?”

Breslin replied, “He’s the agent.”

On the witness stand, Cross was asked by Stoever to point out the defendants. He could identify only Rachael Hoffman, who had met with him Aug. 18. Hoffman lives at Holy Family Catholic Worker.

“In this maze of ownership, where does the National Nuclear Security Administration fit in?” asked Terrell.

“I’m not sure where that fits in,” said Cross.

“To your knowledge, is the facility being built a nuclear bomb facility?” asked Terrell. Cross again said he was not sure.

Terrell referred to the phrase on the citations, “the real property owned or possessed by Jim S. Cross,” and asked, “Are you the owner or possessor of said property?” Prosecuting attorney Lowell Gard objected that an agent acts on behalf of a corporation. Municipal Court Judge Anne LaBella sustained the objection.

Terrell said the only person Cross could identify was Hoffman, “and she might not even have been there” Aug. 16. Terrell observed, “We have not been confronted by an officer who can say, ‘I saw you.’ Mr. Cross has not been claiming to be an agent; he has been claiming to be an owner. I see this as a classic First Amendment case. This (site) is the property of the city, leased and operated by the National Nuclear Security Administration. We were there with a grievance. There isn’t much of a case here that we trespassed or that trespass took place.”

LaBella overruled the defense’s motions and let the case proceed.

The first resister to take the stand as a witness for the defense was Presbyterian minister Eric Garbison of Cherith Brook Catholic Worker, which serves homeless and low-income people in northeast KC. “We have been talking to the City Council for years” about the need for city resources to go to the needy instead of to the nuclear weapons parts facility, he said.

Stoever asked Garbison whether he thought what the group did was unlawful.

“No,” said Garbison. “The fact that the construction workers were not aware of what they were doing was important. We talked with them. That property was a soybean field, and it (later) was funded with money meant for a blighted area. I live in a blighted area and feel the funds are meant for areas like ours.” Through designation of the “blighted area” as an industrial site, CenterPoint Zimmer made more than $5 million in selling the property to the PIEA.

The next witness for the defense was Steve Clemens of Minneapolis, who was part of the community that began Habitat for Humanity, and who had visited the Hague and Dachau. “The Nuremburg Principles obligate citizens to take action,” he said, adding that weapons that indiscriminately affect citizens and soldiers are illegal. “Under the Nuremburg Principles, I am responsible not to be complicit in a war crime,” he insisted. “One way international law is enforced is through domestic court. I went to that property to raise the issue (of the illegality of nuclear weapons) in domestic court.”

Terrell asked Clemens, “Did you have permission to enter the property?”

“I believe I did have permission, pursuant to international law,” said Clemens.

The third witness for the defense was Felice Cohen-Joppa of Tucson, Ariz., editor of The Nuclear Resister. “Many people in this action are Catholic Workers. I’m the only Jew. I had relatives who were killed in the Holocaust and some who survived,” she said. “I’ve always wondered what if ordinary citizens had done something to save even a few from being killed in concentration camps—what if they’d taken up the railroad tracks going to the camps. It’s been decades since millions of innocent people were killed in the concentration camps, decades since the killing of so many in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and we have enough nuclear weapons to destroy life as we know it—and still our country plans to spend billions of dollars to build more.”

The fourth witness for the prosecution, Jerry Zawada, said he belonged to the Franciscan community and worked with migrants and torture victims. He said his understanding of the new nuclear weapons facility came from “people here in Kansas City dedicated to truth and justice—I’m inspired by them.”

Zawada said he went to the five-year review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in May in New York and heard U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon say the world needs to be freed of nuclear weapons. Zawada added, “The most urgent task we have is to get rid of the threat of nuclear war. I believe the nuclear threat is the ultimate slap in the face to God.”

When Stoever offered copies of the NPT to Gard and LaBella, Gard objected, “It’s irrelevant. It has nothing to do with the charges at hand.”

Stoever explained, “This is part of the treaties of the United States; 189 countries have signed this. Nine persons (from the KC metro area, most of them PeaceWorks members) went to the U.N. for the NPT proceedings this year. I believe our community is in violation of this international treaty. The city wants to treat this as an innocent piece of property with four boundaries.” Terrell explained, “The Sixth Article of the Constitution makes it absolutely plain that international law is to be considered in judging local and international statutes.” LaBella said, “I heard your argument. I will not take judicial notice of it.”

In closing comments, Stoever said, “This property has international effect—making parts for nuclear weapons. The public are compelled to do something about this. They are going out and protesting. The PIEA is an agency of the city and state. … I’m asking you to acquit.”

Terrell reflected, “The attorney (Gard) said they (the resisters) were arrested; they have a ticket; therefore, they’re guilty. But that’s not proof of guilt. Mr. Cross said he didn’t remember he told us he was the owner. Until I saw the complaint, I didn’t know who he worked for. I asked Jim Cross, ‘Is this a nuclear bomb plant?’ and he didn’t know. He didn’t know. These are issues of international importance, and we are obliged to know. We have to know. Our witnesses have studied this and knew more than Jim Cross did.

“What we did in Kansas City on Aug. 16 was a response to an ongoing crime. At best the city has given a case that is really confusing. There are many reasons we need to be acquitted.”

Gard countered, “The argument about the original tickets is not an argument about identification. As to the overall argument, the First Amendment does provide for the right of free speech. It does not provide for entry to property. The property is private property. It cannot be used as a public forum. They all admitted they didn’t have permission to be there and didn’t leave when requested.”

LaBella told the resisters, “I’m not dismissing your passion. I believe agency for Mr. Cross has been established. Therefore, I’m finding you guilty.” She gave the protesters options, including paying a $100 fine and court costs of $38.50. Resister Joshua Armfield of Cherith Brook Catholic Worker asked, “Is there any way I could pay to someone other than the city that is building nuclear bomb parts?” The judge offered suspended imposition of sentence—paying the court costs (not the fine) and being on probation for six months.

When LaBella gave Clemens an option not to have the trespass on his record, he noted with a smile, “Not to belabor the point, having it on my record is a badge of honor.”

Jane Stoever, wife of attorney Henry Stoever, is a member of PeaceWorks, Kansas City, and of the KC Peace Planters, a coalition of several KC groups.