Mark Colville sentenced for Kings Bay Plowshares action

Luz and Mark

Mark Colville, the last of the seven Kings Bay Plowshares defendants to be sentenced, learned the court’s judgement on April 9. Notwithstanding his “somewhat troubling” record of convictions for disarmament actions, Judge Lisa Godbey Wood sentenced the 59-year-old Catholic Worker to 21 months in prison, the low end of the recommended range of 21-27 months.

Colville was further ordered, as his six codefendants have been, to pay $310 in special assessments, serve three years of supervised probation, and “jointly and singly” make restitution of $33,503.51 to the U.S. Navy.  He is to report to federal prison by June 8. With credit for about 15 months spent in jail before trial plus statutory good time, he expects to serve about four more months.

Three years earlier, late on the night of April 4, 2018, the group of Catholic nuclear abolitionists entered the Trident nuclear submarine base at Kings Bay, Georgia. They took action on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who condemned the “evil triplets” of racism, militarism and materialism. After cutting the lock at a remote gate, they split up, two pairs and a trio, to deliver an indictment of the “omnicidal” Trident nuclear program and “beat swords into plowshares” by carrying out symbolic acts of disarmament using hand tools, paint and human blood. Arrested in the early hours of April 5, they were charged with misdemeanor trespass and three felonies: destruction of government property, depredation of government property on a military installation and the conspiracy to do these things. The activists were all convicted after a jury trial in October, 2019.
Colville’s co-defendants Patrick O’Neill, Martha Hennessy, Carmen Trotta and Clare Grady are currently serving their prison terms, while Liz McAlister and Fr. Steve Kelly have completed theirs. Fr. Kelly remains in federal custody, charged with violating probation from a 2017 anti-nuclear conviction in Washington state.
The global pandemic caused their sentencings, each held separately, to be repeatedly delayed during 2020. Colville’s hearing was continued yet again because while free on bond he had taken on the role of primary caretaker for a young relative receiving dialysis and awaiting a kidney transplant. Following the successful transplant this winter, Colville agreed to proceed with sentencing via video due to the ongoing COVID-19 travel risks.
With the judge, prosecutor and probation department on screen from Georgia, Colville and his standby counsel Matt Daloisio joined from New Haven, Connecticut. Dozens more supporters phoned in to listen on lines provided by the court.
The hearing began with Judge Wood reviewing the sentencing memos submitted by each party, and assuring Colville that she had also read all of “a nine inch stack of letters and testimonials” regarding him and his codefendants.
Over six previous sentencings, Colville heard the court methodically, ponderously review and then reject nearly all of his co-defendant’s objections to their presentencing reports. In vain, they’d challenged the false characterizations, questionable conclusions and spurious damage estimates that in some cases added to the recommended range of sentence. To avoid the pointless recitation of each particular, Colville withdrew most of his objections before sentencing.
His remaining objection related to restitution, but not about how it was calculated. Although the court had rejected a defense based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it left open consideration of the Act’s provisions as a mitigating factor at sentencing. Colville asserted it would be a RFRA violation to impose any restitution, given that the court had recognized his sincerely held religious beliefs. However, he was “not unwilling” to do community service in lieu of paying restitution.
The brief statement of Colville’s only character witness, retired New Haven educator Stephen Kobasa, and Colville’s own sentencing statement condemning the court as “complicit in the crimes for which it has granted impunity to this government,” are both reprinted in full, below.
Colville concluded his allocution by reciting A Prayer for Our Earth by Pope Francis.
Without responding to what she just heard, Judge Wood pedantically proceeded to impose the sentence.
Kobasa had told her that the weapons at Kings Bay threaten the loss of “everything we believe matters, everything we love, in a single flash of unbearable light. Everything, your honor, including things that I know matter to you: the law itself, erased. Utterly. “
Wood was instead consumed by more mundane scenes.
“As I’ve remarked before in connection with his codefendants,” she intoned again, just for the record, “they loaded up with bolt cutters, an angle grinder, a pry bar, spray paint, hammers, sledge hammers, cut their way through a padlock, opened a gate, entered a U.S. Naval submarine base without authorization and then proceeded to disperse into three different areas, wreck up the signage, damage a statue, spraypaint areas, give human blood, all of that. We simply can’t allow those kinds of things to happen without recourse.
“As I’ve remarked before, I do believe that all but the most blindly following anti-nuclear beliefs would understand that taking those actions, at that time, in that area, was dangerous, not just to Mr. Colville, not just to his co-conspirators, but those people who, young men and women who were just trying to do their job.”
The only hint Wood gave that she heard Mark’s direct statement – “we will not comply” – came when she declared that “Mr. Colville’s criminal history is somewhat troubling and the court is not convinced that he’s going to lay these kind of destructive activities aside in the future.”
Colville was asked where he would like to serve his sentence. The Bureau of Prisons will decide but the judge will pass along his preference for the federal prison at Danbury, Connecticut, where his family could more easily visit.
April 9, 2021
I am speaking to you from land that was taken from the Momauguins, members of the Quinnipiac Indian Tribe, here in what is now called the Hill Neighborhood of New Haven, Connecticut. So to begin, I wish to acknowledge them, and bow to the spirits of a people who treated this territory with reverence, as the sacred space that it is.
What I have to say today is simple, and it echoes the message I have borne from the first time I walked into your courtroom three years ago. My neighborhood, my family and I have a right to live without a nuclear gun on hair trigger alert held perpetually to our heads. That right is ours, both by birth and by law. It is neither granted by courts, nor denied by them, but this court’s refusal to defend that right- or even to recognize it- has now, with no fewer than 28 convictions against me and my companions, placed it firmly in a posture of criminality. On this the world agrees, as the international consensus prohibiting the building and possession of nuclear weapons became law, by ratified treaty, on January 21st of this year. I bow then, also, to the vast multitude of neighborhoods worldwide- beginning with Hiroshima and Nagasaki- whose people have been demanding to be free of this scourge for more than 75 years, and who now await our nation’s compliance.
This court was given a responsibility to all of those people, to all of those neighborhoods, and to me. It was a charge that the times demanded and still demand; an obligation that emanates directly from the conscience of the human community, and which the court ultimately refused to accept. That responsibility was simply to allow the law to be applied beyond the fence at Kings Bay; that fence behind which this government, in its lawlessness, has hidden first strike weapons with enough firepower to kill 6 billion people; a fence that I and my loved ones, with much fear and trembling, freely answered the call of faith, the call of conscience, and the call of generations yet unborn, to breach.
I am no lawyer, but I have come to know enough about the law, about politics and about history, to say with confidence that there were two decisions already set in place before this court ever met me. The first was that the secrecy that remains both the lifeblood of this murderous enterprise called nuclearism, and the most lethal cancer for democracy- would not be disturbed. The second was that the legality of nuclear weapons was never to be questioned. These two decisions essentially preordained the prospect that we would be subjected to a political trial, with little possibility of a coherent defense, before a jury that would be laboring under an enforced ignorance. The choice of this court to abide by those decisions has rendered it complicit in the crimes for which it has granted impunity to this government.
No wonder then, that when our jury- chosen from the very neighborhoods surrounding King’s Bay- asked this court if our testimony that nuclear weapons were being kept at the base was fact or speculation, the court refused to answer, asserting that the question was irrelevant. Indeed, maybe the greatest tragedy laid bare by these proceedings is that our federal courts have lost sight of one of the most basic concepts of justice, borne out time and time again in this nation’s history: ultimately, in the formation and the deconstruction of law, it is the conscience of the human community that determines what is relevant, not the whims of a corporatized government or the dubious demands of a terrified national security state. If ever there was a moment in history when we needed to recover this understanding, that moment has come. Sitting here under judgement today, what I grieve most about this trial has nothing to do with a verdict or a sentence. It is this court’s absurd logic, which effectively maintains that the only proper time to subject these omnicidal weapons to any kind legal scrutiny is after they’ve been launched.
In a very real sense, then, this hearing today is itself irrelevant. The court has already pronounced a sentence on me, on my family, and on my neighborhood. We are hereby condemned to live as members of a rogue state, which, in the face of a global consensus that outlaws nuclear weapons, has budgeted what amounts to $100,000 per minute over the next ten years to upgrade its stockpile of these useless, poisonous idols. We are sentenced to bear quietly, obediently, the relentless human tragedy that this massive theft of resources wreaks on our community. We are ordered to disobey any faith or conscience-based command to substantively reject the false security that this standing threat to murder all of creation provides.
For my part, I declare to you today that we will not comply.
In closing, I wish to acknowledge with deep gratitude the large number letters that you, Judge Wood, have received on my behalf. It is my sincere hope that you will consider them not as pleas for mercy, but expressions of the conscience of the community with regard to the words that Steven and I have spoken here today. And, in that same spirit, I would like to add this prayer from Pope Francis to the pile…
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
That we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this
earth, so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.
— Pope Francis, Laudato Sí

Stephen Kobasa


April 9, 2021
Mark Colville doesn’t need me here. To have a character witness implies that something is not quite clear about the identity of the person who requires one. There is absolutely nothing about Mark Colville that lacks clarity. His consistency, passion, his charity, his fierce commitment to hope are completely apparent to anyone who has encountered him. No corroborating testimony is required, although you could find the voices of hundreds to give it. 
But, I will testify that there is nothing in the world of more seriousness than what Mark and his companions in the Kings Bay Plowshares demand that we face. The weapons at Kings Bay condemn us to living each and every moment in fear of losing everything we believe matters, everything we love, in a single flash of unbearable light. Everything, your honor, including things that I know matter to you: the law itself, erased. Utterly.
At this very moment, there are a number of courtrooms in this country where cases of the most overwhelming importance are being decided. But even George Floyd’s murder in all its horror cannot compare to the mass murders our country is prepared to commit in a nuclear war.
In a society, ours, where hypocrisy is one of the defining characteristics of political life, quoting from George Orwell’s novel 1984 has become an almost tiresome cliché. But the curious thing about clichés is that there is something true about them, always, and that we are anxious to dismiss that. When Orwell describes a nation state where war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is truth, we have little difficulty in recognizing the content of our daily news reports.

But our society prefers ignorance when it guarantees that our comfort will not be disturbed, our privilege will not be challenged, that we can claim to have no obligations except to our own solitary selves.

For, you see, if Mark is right – and he is – then most of the rest of us have failed to tell the truth, even to ourselves about nuclear weapons because – if we did – we would have no choice but to do what he and his companions did and be standing alongside him here.

Thank you.
New Haven anti-war activist gets prison for break-in at Navy sub base
A longtime anti-war activist from New Haven was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison Friday for his part in vandalizing property at the Kings Bay submarine base three years ago in Georgia.
Mark Colville, is the last of seven defendants who admitted to illegally entering the naval installation by cutting the padlock and damaging property, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of Georgia.

Given the 15 months he has already served in federal prison and time off for good behavior, Colville estimates he will go back to prison for about 125 days to complete the sentence.

Colville, 59, was found guilty after a four-day jury trial in October 2019 on charges of conspiracy, destruction of property on a Naval Installation, depredation of government property, and trespass.

On Friday he was ordered to pay $33,503.51 in restitution and serve three years of supervised release after completion of his prison sentence.

“Mark Colville’s sentence brings closure to a prosecution that represents the triumph of the rule of law over misguided principles,” Acting U.S. Attorney David H. Estes for the Southern District of Georgia said in a statement.

“Colville and his attention-seeking cohorts attempted to make a grand statement by breaking into and vandalizing a secure government facility, but in the end succeeded only in adding felony convictions to their criminal records,” Estes wrote.

Colville and the six other members of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 had cut through fences at the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in St. Mary’s, Ga., and symbolically disarmed the nuclear weapons by beating on storage bunkers and monuments to the Trident sub with hammers made from firearms and pouring their own blood on the property.

“We went as far as we could nonviolently to get to the weapons and where we were stopped is where we did the action,” Mark Colville said in 2019 when he was freed from detention in Brunswick, Ga. “Marines descended on us with their guns drawn and we knelt down and prayed.”

It was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the seven carried a banner with a quote from King: “The ultimate logic of racism is genocide.”

Colville has long protested the presence of nuclear weapons. The federal court said he has eight previous convictions related to trespassing and damaging federal property. Colville also is a long-time activist in the city to protect the rights of people experiencing homelessness.

In a statement before the sentencing, Colville thanked all those who have followed the case and who sent letters of support to the court.

“I’m asking her (the judge) to consider them as expressions of the conscience of the community regarding the criminal enterprise of nuclearism, as it continues to scourge humanity and creation beyond reason or accountability,” Colville wrote.

“My family, my neighborhood and I have a right to live without a nuclear gun on hair-trigger alert held perpetually to our heads, and this court’s failure to recognize that right has made it an accessory to crimes against humanity. This is the reality that I plan to confront as clearly and simply as possible on Friday… and the rest, as an old friend used to remind me, is God’s problem,” Colville wrote.

The statement from the U.S. attorney’s office said the seven trespassers, once through the security fence, “split into two groups and then damaged and vandalized property inside the facility before being taken into custody by naval security personnel.”

The six other defendants, previously sentenced in the case, include: Stephen Michael Kelly, 72, of Massachusetts; Patrick O’Neill, 65, of Garner, N.C.; Elizabeth McAlister, 81, of New London, Conn.; Clare Therese Grady, 62, of Ithaca, N.Y.; Martha Hennessy, 65, of Perkinsville, Vt.; ,and Carmen Trotta, 58, of New York, N.Y.