Where We’re At; Robert Ellsberg’s 1978 court statement; Daniel Ellsberg, Presente!

Jack Cohen-Joppa, Dan Ellsberg, Nancy Doub in court for Rocky Flats protest trial, 1978

Where We’re At

from Nuclear Resister #201, June 5, 2023
The first months of 2023 have passed quickly. Lots of winter rain (and even some snow here in the Sonoran Desert!) brought an abundance of desert wildflowers. Now, the majestic saguaro cacti are in bloom, and the tree in our garden is giving us sweet, ripe and juicy peaches!
From our office at the end of April, we attended a hybrid in-person/Zoom 45th anniversary reunion gathering of the Rocky Flats Truth Force.
It was at Rocky Flats, the now-closed plutonium bomb plant outside Denver, that Jack began his anti-nuclear activism in the spring of 1978 and was arrested for the first time in June of that year. In a high-profile trial in November, 1978, Jack was one of the representative defendants along with Nancy Doub, Daniel Ellsberg, Rev. Peter Ediger, Rev. Bob Hill, Skye Kerr, Elena Klaver, Sr. Anna Koop, Roy Young and Jean Zimmerman.

Shortly before Jack’s first arrest (see photo on page 7), he had purchased credentials as a minister in the Universal Life Church, which allowed him a pastoral visit with Brian Terrell and Robert Ellsberg (Dan’s son) in jail in Golden, Colorado, both then members of the New York Catholic Worker community.
In this issue of the Nuclear Resister, the Resistance Reflections looks back to that time: Robert Ellsberg’s compelling statement to the Jefferson County court, where he appeared in front of a judge after his arrest and 16 days of fasting in jail (published in the June 1978 issue of via pacis, newsletter of the Des Moines Catholic Worker). Reading it brought tears to our eyes, as we reflected on the thousands of nonviolent actions, powerful courtroom testimonies and the years spent behind bars by a constant flow of nuclear resisters reaching back to the beginning of the nuclear age.
The experience of visiting jailed activists, and conversations with another jailed Truth Force activist and friend, Allyson Hunter, planted the seeds for a support network for imprisoned anti-nuclear activists that later became the Nuclear Resister.
It was wonderful to have Dan Ellsberg join the Rocky Flats Truth Force reunion via Zoom. Just a couple of months earlier, he had shared the news with friends and fellow activists about his terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. 
As always, Dan’s words were illuminating. In talking about nuclear weapons and the climate crisis, he said, “We’re on the road to hell, I would say – and that deserves every bit of obsession and determination and dedication and self-sacrifice, everything that has ever been seen on a mass basis. It’s an emergency. I think of Greta Thunberg all the time who makes it so clear, that her message is: ‘This is an emergency. The house is on fire.’
“Is it worth risking one’s life, one’s freedom, in company with others, simply to avert greater disasters? And I would say yes, absolutely, of course it is.” 

Photo by Ellen Davidson

Thank you, Dan: for spending half of your life speaking truth to power, accompanying and supporting fellow whistleblowers (such as Daniel Hale, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Mordechai Vanunu and so many others), sharing your knowledge, wise analysis, encouragement and solidarity, taking risks and acting tirelessly for a peaceful and nuclear-free future. 

[Editors’ note: Daniel Ellsberg died peacefully 11 days after issue #201 of the Nuclear Resister was published. Read a letter from his family below.]
Also in this issue of the Nuclear Resister newsletter you’ll find inspiring reports of recent actions in Canada, Turkey, the U.S., Germany, Australia and Scotland, at nuclear sites, drone warfare bases, Congressional hearings, a university career fair and arms bazaars.
On page 4, we publish the writings of two recently imprisoned activists and friends. John LaForge, co-director of Nukewatch, began a 50 day prison sentence in January for two actions protesting U.S. nuclear weapons based at Büchel air base. He was the first American to serve time in a German prison for an anti-nuclear action. Soon after, Dennis DuVall became the second American to serve time in a German prison for actions at Büchel. He finished his 60 day sentence on May 19. On May 8, while Dennis was behind bars, seven German activists were arrested for entering Büchel and disrupting preparation for nuclear war by obstructing construction work for a new runway at the base (see story on page 1). The resistance continues – onward!
Felice and Jack Cohen-Joppa
Coordinators, the Nuclear Resister
P.S. Summer is a very slow time for donations, and so if you’ve been thinking of sending a contribution this would be a great time – and THANKS to those of you who have sent a donation recently!

Father and son, Dan and Robert Ellsberg, in the back of a sheriff’s van after a Rocky Flats protest, 1978


Robert Ellsberg’s Statement to the Jefferson County Court – May 27, 1978

I live in a community in New York called the Catholic Worker, which was begun 45 years ago. And the message of the Catholic Worker could perhaps be summarized by saying that faith and action cannot be separated. If we are made in God’s image, then each life is holy and precious and endowed with purpose. If God in love took on our humanity and gave His life for us, then our lives belong to our brothers and sisters; to free them from hunger and suffering and oppression. Each person bears God’s image and so to love God means to feed our neighbors when they are hungry, shelter them when they are homeless – not to kill them, not to hurt them. And indeed Jesus said what we do to the least of his brethren, we do directly to him.

And so the Catholic Worker consists of houses of hospitality in poor – often skid row – areas around the country that offer shelter, clothing and food to those in need. And we believe we must go further – we try as best we can to withdraw from and resist the forces, institutions and values in our society responsible for war, for the poverty, injustice and oppression we see around us. For we believe that the Gospel teaches us that we must each of us take personal responsibility for the conditions we find around us, and equally, the task of building a new world. And more than this: no change, no new life ever comes unless some one, or some people, voluntarily accept to pay the price through personal sacrifice.

Our world is now facing an unprecedented crisis – we are living in an age that is absolutely unique – an age in which we have developed the capacity to destroy all life on earth. And each of our actions must take on and reflect the special nature and the urgency of this moment. For we are now all implicated in the possibility of an unprecedented holocaust. Whether it comes by accident or design, the effect will be the same – and it will be the result not so much of our evil hearts, our insanity, our suicidal pride – but simply our complacency, our tepid imaginations and our deep fears.

The Catholic Church has stated that the arms race is to be “condemned unreservedly,” describing it as a wrong, a folly, a crime, a sin, and a “machine gone mad.” We are here because we have tried to use our bodies as a physical brake on that machine – trying to give humanity a moment’s respite, and to give to the American people something we’ve never had: the realization that we as a people can and must make decisions for ourselves about the most fundamental issue concerning our future and our survival. For 35 years of nuclear history, entirely in secret, essentially outside of any public discussion, our leaders have consigned us to a road that is leading to Hell. I believe they have not served the interests of the American people, nor the interests of humanity.

By sitting on railroad tracks at Rocky Flats – one dozen, two dozen, even a hundred people – we ourselves may not actually be able to stop the production of plutonium triggers there. But we are trying to show that we as a people, if we wish and if we are determined, have that power – the power to change ourselves and history – we as a people can close Rocky Flats, and in fact that is what we must do. It would mean not building any new nuclear weapons – as we are currently doing at the rate of three a day – not adding new weapons to our stockpile of 30,000 warheads. We do not deny that the goal of the world- wide disarmament is a complicated one and filled with risks – but it is time that we begin accepting the risks of peacemaking as we have for so long lived under the risks of war. Closing Rocky Flats would only be the beginning of our work. But we believe it is a logical beginning, and it is an absolutely necessary place to begin.

Perhaps I didn’t need to come to Colorado to say this – to say that peace will come when we will translate our faith into action. I could have stayed home and written a letter to my congressman. I could have collected signatures on a petition. I could be saying all this from the comfort and security of my own apartment, having just enjoyed a delicious breakfast and looking forward to an even more delicious lunch.

Instead I am speaking to you now having spent 16 days as a guest in your county jail. Nine days of that time in solitary confinement, which is a six-by-six foot concrete cage with no bed, chair, light, window, toilet or sink. I speak to you after having fasted for 16 days. For 16 days I have eaten no food.

And I am grateful to the court for this. I am grateful to the court for allowing me the opportunity to dramatize in such a small way the life and death seriousness of the matter that brings us here today.

And now I face a possible year in jail. From what has happened this morning I suspect the court will not be so severe. Perhaps in the future the stakes will be higher for us. But it is a risk I am willing to face. This is not because I enjoy the possibility of being separated from my friends, my family, and those I love; the possibility of being returned to my cage, in which I would not want to put any person. But I am prepared if this is what must be. Because we are living in a dark age, and many men and women will have to face greater risks than these if we are ever to see any light.

Robert and Daniel Ellsberg, April 2023

And I sincerely hope that for you, Judge, as for everyone in this courtroom, there is something, some one, some cause for which you would willingly face these risks. For that is what makes our lives precious and beautiful. Whether we give our lives for freedom, love, peace – or money, power and war – we have it to give only once.

For us, the choice is clear.

Rocky Flats is the Auschwitz of our time. Behind that barbed wire and those locked doors, intelligent, decent, family men in their white suits and their security badges are implementing the technological preparations for the Final Solution to the Human Problem. In each bomb prepared at Rocky Flats is another Holocaust – perhaps for the children of Moscow, Peking, Hanoi – those who build them don’t know.

At one of the German concentration camps – I believe it was Dachau – the American troops who liberated it forced the townspeople to tour the camp – to see the huddled, emaciated survivors, the piles of corpses, the ovens that had disposed of the dead. And of course they were numbed and shocked and they said “we didn’t know – we didn’t know what was in those boxcars – we didn’t know what came out of those chimneys.”

We would like to spare the people of this county, this state and our country, that kind of experience – so we are shouting, we are trying to warn the people what kind of cargo goes over those railroad tracks in sealed boxcars and is killing and mutilating your unborn children by increasing levels of cancer, leukemia and genetic mutation – even if the bombs never go off.

And we are doing more than that. There are people right now who are blocking those tracks. There is a group of people – someday they will be thanked, now they are jailed – who are saying, “build your bombs, continue your business as usual in this death camp – but I’m sorry that I must withdraw my consent – you will have to do it over our bodies.”

They are saying, no longer should nuclear bombs be made in this country without Americans being arrested. And when I heard that in Colorado there were people who were willing to say this and act on it, I had to come here – because I knew these were people I wanted to know and to join and to be with.

I don’t know what you will do with us – I know some face more serious charges. But I must say how very happy and proud I am at this moment. How proud I am to have had a small role in this action. And I thank you for listening so patiently and for helping make it possible for me to be here today in such beautiful company.

Thank you all. 

Robert Ellsberg

Daniel and Patricia Ellsberg, photo by Christopher Michel @ChrisMichel

A Letter from Daniel Ellsberg’s Family, 6/16/23:

Early this morning, Daniel Ellsberg died peacefully in his home in Kensington, CA. His cause of death was pancreatic cancer, which was diagnosed February 17th. He was not in pain, and was surrounded by loving family. In the months since his diagnosis, he continued to speak out urgently to the media about nuclear dangers, especially the danger of nuclear war posed by the Ukraine war and Taiwan. (Links to the interviews are here.)

Daniel also shared many moments of love and joy in these months, including celebrating his 92nd birthday (April 7) and Patricia’s 85th birthday (April 26), and many visits and calls with friends and loved ones. He was thrilled to be able to give up the salt-free diet his doctor had him on for five years; hot chocolate, croissants, cake, poppyseed bagels, and lox gave him extra pleasure in these final months. He also enjoyed re-watching his favorite movies, including several viewings of his all-time favorite, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Thank you, everyone, for your outpouring of love, appreciation, and well-wishes to Dan in the previous months. It all warmed his heart at the end of his life.

In his final days, surrounded by so much love from so many people, Daniel joked, “If I had known dying would be like this, I would have done it sooner.” (Patricia replied, “Then I’m glad you didn’t.”)

Daniel was a seeker of truth and a patriotic truth-teller, an antiwar activist, a beloved husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, a dear friend to many, and an inspiration to countless more. He will be dearly missed by all of us.

Thank you, Daniel, for sharing your wisdom, your heart, and your conscience with the world. We will keep your flame alive.

—Patricia, Mary, Robert, and Michael Ellsberg
Kensington, CA, 6/16/23


We will be arranging a public Zoom memorial in the coming months. This will be announced on Daniel’s Twitter and Facebook with plenty of advance notice.

The Ellsberg family is extremely grateful to family friends Patrice Wynne, Jan Thomas (who began working as Daniel’s assistant in 1982), Tom Reifer, and Michele Reilly for their tireless and dedicated support in Daniel’s final months and weeks.

We are also extremely grateful to Nurse Jillian Tobin, Dr. Stephanie Marquet, and the entire Hospice East Bay team for providing Daniel and our family with impeccable care, compassion, and guidance during Daniel’s dying process.

Daniel’s surviving family:
Wife- Patricia Ellsberg (85)
Son- Robert Ellsberg (67)
Daughter- Mary Ellsberg (64)
Son- Michael Ellsberg (46)
(Robert’s children) Nicholas Ellsberg (36), Catherine Ellsberg (30), and Lukey Ellsberg (28)
(Mary’s children) Julio Martinez (38) and Ana Martinez (34)
Nicholas and Sophie Ellsberg have a daughter Eileen, age 3, Daniel’s great-granddaughter


Some links about Daniel Ellsberg: