Seven arrests at Pentagon witness commemorate Massacre of the Holy Innocents

Report of December 27-28, 2017 Holy Innocents Faith and Resistance Retreat and Pentagon Witness 

by Art Laffin, Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House
On December 27-28, over 40 members of the Atlantic and Southern Life communities, and other peacemaking friends, gathered for a retreat at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church in Washington, D.C., and a nonviolent witness at the Pentagon to commemorate the Massacre of the Holy Innocents – past and present.  
The retreat began at 2 p.m. on December 27 with introductions and orientation. Bernadette Naro then led the community in a Lectio Divina scripture reflection on Matthew’s account of the massacre of the innocents (Mt. 2:13-18)  

This was followed by an inspiring presentation by Sisters Ardeth Platte and Carol Gilbert about the worldwide campaign to abolish nuclear weapons, with a specific focus on the work of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the 2017 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and their personal involvement with the group, which includes many young people. ICAN wants all who have been involved in disarmament work to know that they, too, share in the Nobel Peace Prize. They spoke, too, about the special U.N. Conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons that they attended in the spring and early summer and the historic treaty it produced on July 7, whereby 122 countries signed the treaty calling for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. The U.S. and its allies, along with the other nuclear nations, boycotted the conference. Carol also gave an overview of Pope Francis’ statements on nuclear disarmament, including his November 10th condemnation of the “possession” of nuclear weapons, the first such declaration by a pope. In their concluding remarks they emphasized the critical need for citizen action and nonviolent resistance at every level to demand that the U.S. government ratify the U.N. Treaty. They related certain actions already being undertaken across the U.S. in support of the U.N. Treaty, including city council resolutions and efforts to get banks to refuse financial transactions with companies involved in nuclear weapons-related work. They ended their sharing declaring that in this urgent time all of us are called to continue doing the many actions we have done in the past to abolish nuclear weapons. 

The remainder of the afternoon was spent in preparation for the nonviolent witness at the Pentagon. This session commenced with a reading of a moving unpublished poem by the late Sr. Anne Montgomery about the massacre of the holy innocents, past and present. 

Following dinner, Steve Baggarly led a moving liturgy which included a communal reading of Dr. Martin Luther King’s compelling 1967 Christmas Sermon, followed by a very rich community reflection.  

Braving bitter cold temperatures in the single digits, the community gathered early the next morning shortly before sunrise at Army-Navy Drive and processed to the Pentagon’s southeast entrance with signs about abolishing war, disarmament and the plight of children. Surprisingly, there was not the usual squadron of Pentagon police waiting for us to arrive. Carrying copies of the “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” with the intention of delivering it to a Pentagon official and requesting that the U.S. ratify it,  seven members of the community made their way to the police check point closest to the building where they encountered several heavily armed Pentagon police. They were told by the officers that they had to leave this high security area. After three warnings were given they were placed under arrest. As the seven were being escorted to police vehicles, the rest of the community, who had already lined the perimeter of the side walk leading into the Pentagon, in view of the seven, sang “Down By the Riverside.” (The attached photo features six of the seven people who were arrested and two of the signs they carried. The photo was taken at the start of the procession to the Pentagon).

After a period of several minutes, police ordered everyone to go into the designated protest area or face possible arrest. As Pentagon workers streamed by, the witness continued from behind a bicycle fence. Using a sound system, an introduction to our presence was offered. The Gospel passage about the slaughter of the holy innocents was proclaimed. Excerpts from our action statement (see below) was read, with the following refrain after each one: “War Hurts Children—End All War.” Songs were sung, including the “Coventry Carol” and “Cry of Ramah.” There was then a time of silence during which those present were invited to share about why they were present at the Pentagon. The witness concluded with everyone singing “Vine and Fig Tree” as the community processed back to Army-Navy Drive.  

Upon returning to the church, there was a pot-luck breakfast, clean-up, and an evaluation of the Pentagon witness and retreat. We were all ever so grateful for our time together. We were grateful, too, for the young people who attended the retreat, whose contagious spirit of joy carries us into the New Year, come what may! 

The seven who were arrested were taken to the Pentagon Police center, which once served as a day care center, and charged with “Disobeying A Lawful Order.” All were released and were given a February 1 court date at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia. However, the group will request a new court date as several people will not be able to make the assigned court appearance. 

Those arrested:

Steve Baggarly
Ardeth Platte
Carol Gilbert
Ralph Schvartz
Bill Frankel-Streit
Lenore Yarger
Sheila Stumph

To learn more about the U.N. Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons see the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) web site:

For the text of Pope Francis’ speech condemning the possession of nuclear weapons see:…/francesco/…/2017/november/…/papa-francesco_20171110_convegno-disarmointegrale.html 

For the complete text of Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1967 Christmas Sermon see:

Pentagon Action Statement
The Massacre of the Innocents Starts at the Pentagon! Let us Stop It Here and Now!

Today, Christian churches commemorate the Massacre of the Holy Innocents, recalling how Herod, fearful of being removed from power, sought to destroy the child Jesus by ordering the slaughter of boys under two years old in and around Bethlehem. We, members of the Atlantic and Southern Life Communities and other peace groups, come to the Pentagon, the center of warmaking on our planet. We come to remember the innocents who have died–past and present–due to greed, oppression, racism and war. Today, in this time of perpetual war and climate chaos, the lives of countless innocents, like those in Bethlehem, are endangered. 

The United States military magnifies destruction across the globe, especially in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and throughout the Middle East. During this past year an estimated 10,000 civilians were killed by U.S. military forces in the Iraqi city of Mosul. And in Yemen, the U.S. is selling arms and providing direct military support to Saudi Arabia in its brutal war against the Houthi rebels. As a result of this deadly war, over 7 million Yemenis face starvation, 1.8 million children are malnourished and the number of suspected cholera cases has reached 1 million. We are ever so mindful that children are always the first victims of war. From overt wars to covert “dirty wars,” which now involve the use of lethal killer drones, countless lives are destroyed, displaced and disappeared.

The violence of the U.S. power structure is unrelenting. Within our own boundaries it continues to crush the poor, target people of color, demonize Muslims, demean and mistreat immigrants, and oversee a mass incarceration complex. Fear, violence and greed are the hallmarks of the new Trump Administration. And always, the existence of nuclear weapons puts all life in utter peril. This threat is further exacerbated by reckless and provocative actions towards N. Korea by an unpredictable president, the deployment of U.S. missile defense systems designed to threaten and contain Russia and China, and the U.S. militarization of space. 

Every day, the world’s addiction to oil, natural gas and nuclear power is the cause of environmental contamination that is threatening global devastation. With nearly 800 military bases worldwide establishing its vast war machine, the Pentagon is the world’s single biggest consumer of fossil fuels, making it a major contributor to destabilizing the climate. The Dakota Access pipeline is but one more example of the earth’s desecration, and which is continuing to be courageously resisted by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other water protectors. 

“Redeem the times,” proclaims the late peacemaking prophet, Jesuit Priest, Daniel Berrigan, along with countless others. “The times are inexpressibly evil.  And yet, the times are inexhaustibly good, solaced by the courage and hope of many. The truth rules, Christ is not forsaken.”

The violence, racism, massacres and disregard for the truth and human life stops here today at the Pentagon. Now is the time for personal and societal transformation. We resolve to:
renounce all killing
rid the world of nuclear weapons
hammer all other swords into plowshares
abolish war and torture
celebrate God’s creation with joy

As we move in to a new year, we implore the United States to sign, ratify, and implement the UN Treaty for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons. We invite you to join us as we strive to create the beloved community and a nonviolent world.