33 month prison sentence for Plowshares activist Fr. Steve Kelly, S.J.

On October 15, Fr. Steve Kelly, S.J. was sentenced to 33 months in prison for his part in the Kings Bay Plowshares nuclear disarmament action of April 2018. Federal judge Lisa Godbey Wood also ordered that Kelly pay restitution of $33,503.51, jointly and severally with his six codefendants, and a special assessment of $310. Recognizing the Jesuit priest’s indigence, the court waived any fine and interest payments on the restitution. Three years of supervised probation will follow his prison term, with the conditions that Kelly must surrender all financial information requested by the probation office, make no applications for credit, and cooperate with submitting a DNA sample.
Fr. Kelly has already served 30 months in Georgia county jails since his arrest, and the judge said he will receive credit for time served. It’s possible that with statutory good time credit he has completed the 33 months, but that calculation has yet to be made by the Bureau of Prisons.
You can read Kelly’s presentencing declaration here.
Together with co-defendants Elizabeth McAlister, Mark Colville, Clare Grady, Martha Hennessy, Patrick O’Neill and Carmen Trotta, the activists entered the Trident nuclear submarine base at Kings Bay, Georgia, and engaged in symbolic acts of disarmament. They were convicted one year ago on charges of misdemeanor trespass and three felonies: destruction of property on a Naval Station, depredation of government property and conspiracy to do these things.
Kelly now faces a hearing in federal court in Tacoma, Washington for violating probation on an earlier sentence for trespass at the Trident nuclear submarine base there.
His codefendant Elizabeth McAlister was sentenced in June to time served (17 months). Patrick O’Neill will be sentenced tomorrow, October 16, while Mark Colville, Clare Grady, Martha Hennessy and Carmen Trotta are now scheduled to be sentenced in mid-November.
I was asked by Fr. Steve Kelly to be a character witness at his sentencing. While I am more than honored to do so, I want to be clear regarding my intent. I am not trying to affect the sentencing. My fantasy would be to have Fr. Steve’s character precipitate a conversion among those present in the courtroom. As anyone who has been involved in this case is aware, if you believe that Steve Kelly is operating from deeply held convictions and a radical faith in the gospels, he is a prophet. If you don’t believe him, he is just an opinionated criminal. As someone who knows Steve well, I assure you that the first assessment is the truth and the second is false.
I am no stranger to the typical U.S. courtroom where the “law” is treated as God while justice takes a back seat; where even the most fundamental morals are ignored for the sake of upholding the system designed to maintain idolatry to the Pentagon; where witnesses are sworn in with the admonition “to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God” and then essentially gagged in front of a jury of their peers through motions In Limine, denied the ability to speak the truth about why they did what they did, the horrors they are confronting and the spirituality behind their actions. Prosecutors assume the role of protecting the military as if the most powerful military in the history of humankind were not able to protect itself. Prosecutors assume the role of establishing the motives and character of those they designate as criminals and of whom they haven’t the slightest clue regarding their true character or motivations. Nor do they care to learn because, in our system, character and motives are irrelevant. The character of the accused is no more relevant to the purpose of the law than is the will of God. Entire careers and livelihoods are based solely on convictions and sentences. In what kind of system could a person with the spirituality, conviction and love of God’s children that Fr. Steve Kelly has, be dismissed as a criminal and left to languish for two and a half years in a county jail, while his basic message is expunged in the courtroom; the message that the most horrific and abominable weapons designed by human technology, weapons that have and will visit unfathomable horrors on the children of God and likely exterminate God’s creation, are allowed to exist and proliferate while the most basic of reasonable detractors are gagged and put away. As Steve often reminds us, “When the nuclear holocaust comes, it will be completely legal.”
Fr. Steve Kelly is a man of deep faith who speaks truth to power and accepts the consequences. That is his character. Any other assessment of his character is false. I know this because I have known Steve for decades. He has spent more than 10 years of his life behind bars, giving up the warm embrace and camaraderie of loved ones as well as the comforts of a truly-accessible easy life, to instead speak the truth that God sees nuclear weapons as an abomination. I defy anyone in this courtroom to make a case for a God who embraces weapons of indiscriminate destruction and human misery. It’s not complicated. We who accept nuclear weapons are wrong, wrong, wrong. Fr. Steve just says that with his life and body. That is his character. He has taken up his cross to follow Jesus, pure and simple. We dismiss that fact at our own peril.
So, the question before this court is, “What to do with Fr. Steve Kelly; what is the proper punishment? What shall we impose so that he and others of his ilk are deterred? How can we maintain the order and protect the military from those like Fr. Steve who may want to shine a light on a crime infinitely more serious than trespass and vandalism, namely the extermination of the human race?” The answer is, it doesn’t matter the punishment. Steve will accept it and continue his prophetic mission. The question ought not to be how to punish Steve but rather what is it going to take for those who have ears to hear but cannot hear, and eyes to see but cannot see, to give up their idolatry to weapons of mass destruction and turn toward the God of love; to once and for all beat their swords into plowshares and study war no more? My advice to those in this courtroom is to take an honest look at the true character of Fr. Steve Kelly and to try emulate it rather than defile it. Or don’t.
Watch the October 11 Festival of Hope webinar here.

from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Priest at peace with sentence for Georgia anti-nuke protest
by Joshua Sharpe 

Before his sentencing Thursday, Father Steve Kelly, a Jesuit priest and prolific anti-nuclear weapons activist who has been arrested numerous times, told the court he would refuse to pay any restitution or follow any probation rules. Instead, he asked the judge to give him extra prison time.

Kelly was one of seven Catholic activists from around the U.S. who broke into Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, near Cumberland Island in coastal South Georgia, in April 2018. They hung banners, defaced signs and spread human blood to call for worldwide disarmament by “symbolically disarming” the facility. The activists believed nuclear warheads were stored at the facility. The government has declined to confirm or deny it.

Kelly, 71, who has spent more than a decade in jails and prisons for protests around the United States, was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison for conspiracy, destruction of federal property, destruction of naval property and trespassing. U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood gave him credit for the time served since his arrest hours after the break-in, meaning he has only a few more months behind bars.

“I am a political prisoner,” the priest said in a statement to the court.

The judge also gave Kelly three years of supervised release, which as always he said he intends to ignore. Once he is released from custody in this case, he will be sent to federal authorities in Tacoma, Washington, to face a warrant taken out because he ignored supervised release there.

“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.”

Kings Bay Plowshares 7 Activists Sentenced for 2018 Anti-Nuclear Protest at Georgia Naval Base

Father Stephen Kelly and Patrick O’Neill were sentenced to nearly three years and 14 months in prison, respectively.

by Brett Wilkins, staff writer

A federal court on Thursday sentenced a Catholic priest to nearly three years in prison for trespassing on a Georgia naval base to protest U.S. nuclear weapons policy, but he could be imminently released due to time served—while on Friday another activist was sentenced in connection with the same demonstration. 

National Catholic Reporter reports Rev. Stephen M. Kelly, a 71-year-old Jesuit priest, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood to 33 months’ imprisonment, three years’ probation, and over $33,000 in restitution fees to be paid jointly with other defendants. 

“Father Kelly, it has been clear to me you are sincere in your beliefs,” said Wood. “However, I would be remiss to discount the nature of the offense that we’re looking at today and the risk to safety that you knowingly undertook.”

Because Kelly has already been jailed for 30 months and is eligible for 54 days of annual good behavior credit, he could be released at any time. 

Kelly, a member of the Catholic peace activist group Kings Bay Plowshares 7, entered Kings Bay Naval Base in St. Marys, Georgia with six others at dusk on April 4, 2018. The group chose April 4 because it was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Nobel Peace Prize recipient who called the United States government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

The activists—Carmen Trotta, Patrick O’Neill, Martha Hennessy, Liz McAlister, Clare Grady, Father Steve Kelly, and Mark Coalville—said they wanted “to highlight what King called the ‘evil triplets of militarism, racism, and materialism'” and to “make real the prophet Isaiah’s command: ‘beat swords into plowshares.'”

“Armed” with hammers, bottles of their own blood, crime scene tape, and an indictment charging the U.S. government with crimes against peace, the seven splashed the blood on a wall, spray-painted an anti-war slogan on a sidewalk, and hammered away at a monument to nuclear war. They caused minimal damage. 

Kings Bay houses at least six nuclear submarines, each armed with 20 Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles of the multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) variety. Each missile contains numerous nuclear warheads, providing a thermonuclear force multiplier and overwhelming first-strike capability.

Put simply, Kings Bay’s submarines are capable of killing many millions of human beings and making life on Earth a frozen hellscape for many millions more. 

Kelly—who has spent more than a decade behind bars for numerous acts of peaceful protest over the course of his lifetime—told the court on Thursday that he is a “prisoner of conscience for Christ,” and that he preaches against “the sin that flourishes in weapons of mass destruction.”

“I answer to a higher authority in that my faith… [compels] me to respond to the needs of the poor, oppressed, [and] disenfranchised, in any locality,” Kelly said in a written statement. 

Kelly also invoked the Nuremberg principles—enacted in response to Nazi genocide and crimes against humanity perpetrated during World War II—which established the framework of modern international law in a bid to prevent such crimes in the future. 

O’Neill was scheduled to be sentenced on Friday as this article was published. While no media reports have yet appeared, Kings Bay Plowshares 7 tweeted that the 61-year-old was sentenced to 14 months’ imprisonment, three years of supervised release, and a share of the $33,000 in restitution fees, with credit for some time served. 

As for the other five activists, none except McAlister—who in June was sentenced to time served plus $25 a month in fines—has been sentenced, mostly due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Catholic priest is sentenced to time served after 2018 break-in at nuclear naval base

A U.S. District Court judge sentenced the Rev. Stephen Kelly to 33 months in jail and three years’ probation, plus restitution fees for trespassing onto the Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia.

(RNS) — Since his arrest nearly three years ago on trespassing charges after invading a nuclear submarine base with six others as part of a symbolic nuclear disarmament action, the Rev. Stephen M. Kelly has been held in a Brunswick, Georgia, county jail.

On Thursday (Oct. 15), Kelly, a 71-year-old Jesuit priest, considered the leader of the group that came to be known as the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, was sentenced by a U.S. District Court judge to 33 months in jail, three years’ probation and restitution fees.

Because Kelly has already served 30 months and under federal law is owed 54 days a year of “good time credit,” he could essentially walk out of jail tomorrow.

“Father Kelly, it has been clear to me you are sincere in your beliefs,” said Judge Lisa Godbey Wood. “However, I would be remiss to discount the nature of the offense that we’re looking at today and the risk to safety that you knowingly undertook.”

Kelly described himself in a pre-sentence statement as a “prisoner of conscience for Christ,” and one who preaches against “the sin that flourishes in weapons of mass destruction.”

He is part of a group of Catholic pacifists who quietly and with little fanfare continue to undertake nonviolent action protesting nuclear weapons, which they say will lead to omnicide, or the destruction of the human race.

The group’s members say that they take their cues from Catholic teachings and the Bible, particularly the saying of the Prophet Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Kelly and his collaborators believe their action was intended to prevent nuclear war. The only ordained member of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, Kelly said he was not concerned with the effectiveness of his protest, but rather with being faithful to his Christian calling.

“I answer to a higher authority in that my faith imperative, as outlined in the tenets of the Catechism, missions me to respond to the needs of the poor, oppressed, disenfranchised, in any locality and without any exclusion to those with felony record,” Kelly wrote in his statement to the judge.

He also repeatedly invoked the Nuremberg principles, enacted after World War II, which established international laws to stop crimes against humanity. 

Kelly, who is a member of the Jesuits’ Western U.S. region, based in Oregon, has spent at least a decade behind bars, including six years [Nuclear Resister correction: more than three years] in solitary confinement. He has refused to work during his confinement because in so doing he would support what he has called the prison industrial complex.

It remains to be seen whether Kelly will agree to probation or restitution as ordered by the court. He has indicated he will not.

“He’s a fearless person,” said Patrick O’Neill, one of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7. “He’s not burdened by the normal self-constraints of most of us. He’s very driven in his effort to save the world from its own hand.”

On the night of April 4, 2018, the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 cut a padlock and later a security fence at Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia, which houses six Trident submarines carrying hundreds of nuclear weapons. The intruders spilled blood on a Navy wall insignia, spray-painted an anti-war slogan on a walkway and banged on a monument to nuclear warfare.

More than an hour into their action they were apprehended and taken to jail. While four of the seven were released on bail, three refused the terms of the bail and remained in jail — none for as long as Kelly.

Last year, all seven were convicted of destruction of property on a naval installation, depredation of government property, trespass and conspiracy.

With the exception of Elizabeth McAlister, who was sentenced in June to time served, none of the other Plowshares activists has been sentenced, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic. Four of the seven have asked to postpone the sentencing because of a surge of COVID-19 sweeping through prisons across the U.S. O’Neill, another member of Plowshares 7, will be sentenced on Friday.

The Rev. Scott Santarosa, the provincial in charge of Jesuits West, said Kelly was commissioned to a peace and justice ministry.

“He’s really a wonderful guy,” Santarosa said. “I have great personal respect and affection for him.”

The two have communicated through postcards during the time Kelly was in jail.

His friend Dennis Apel, a Catholic worker who runs Beatitude House in Guadalupe, California, and who served as a character witness at the sentencing Thursday, said that upon Kelly’s release, he expected that the priest would go on an eight-day meditation retreat based on the spiritual practices of Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order.