Five men arrested at Kansas City nuclear weapons plant protest

Photo of Br. Louis Rodemann, by Bennette Reed-Dibben

from PeaceWorks Kansas City

Memorial Day event: ‘We spoke truth, we cried, we witnessed, we rejoiced’

by Kristin Scheer

This Memorial Day was the first time I was able to join PeaceWorks-KC at the National Security Campus, where non-nuclear parts are made for nuclear weapons. It was our 10th annual event there. I was moved by the experience.

Jim Hannah was brilliant in reframing the facility we were about to see. In an oversized frame, he hung a flag naming the National Security Campus as it is. The very word campus, he said, conjured notions of a peaceful setting with trees and natural beauty, devoted to our nation’s security. But he contrasted that with the dangerous activity that was truly being manufactured there: the potential for planetary omnicide, he said, that leaves none of us feeling safe. Truly, they are manufacturing terror.

He dropped another flag over the first. It read Global Insecurity Factory. He then invited us to pass through the frame. As I passed through and watched others do the same, I knew we were rejecting the lie of the first flag, and I felt empowered to be part of claiming the truth, now reframed.

PeaceWorks holds this event every Memorial Day to remember the lives lost in KC at the old nuke-parts plant location, at Bannister Federal Complex. First the old and now the new plant (in use since 2014) makes or procures 85 percent of the non-nuclear parts of US nuclear weapons.

Henry Stoever said this is where the “guns” are made that are needed to deliver and deploy the nuclear bullet. In other words, nuclear weapons could not be launched or detonated if not for the work that happens here in KC, and it is a dirty, dangerous business.

In a die-in, we took turns reading the names of some of those sickened and deceased for their service at the old plant. I read the name of William Van Compernolle, a General Services Administration employee diagnosed with brain tumors and seizures at age 42. As I read aloud his name and diagnosis, I was overcome with an unexpected sense of grief for the loss of Mr. Van Compernolle and all the others named and unnamed. I lowered myself onto the tarp-covered ground and shed soft tears as the light rain gently misted down upon us. Ann Suellentrop led us in five minutes of silence and meditation, giving me room for my unexpected grief, and I welcomed the gentle rain.

Maurice Copeland, a 32-year employee at the former nuke-parts plant at Bannister Federal Complex, delivered a passionate message. He spoke of the woman administrator who reported that safety measures were skirted cavalierly. After he spoke, he was asked whether, from the 1960s to 1980s, action was taken. Maurice replied, “No! The bosses said, ‘She’s just a girl,’ and laughed it off.” At the rally, Maurice spoke of family members who were sickened, in addition to employees at Bannister Federal Complex. Workers carried contaminants home on their clothes. Retiring or fired workers were told to take their tools home: “Get the tools out of here. They have to go.” So they took them home and gave them to their boys to work with on their cars. Years later, some family members, and many workers, succumbed to strange leukemias, cancers, and tumors.

At the end of the rally, five men—Jim Hannah, Tom Mountenay, Brother Louis Rodemann, Henry Stoever, and Brian Terrell—spoke of why they were making the choice to cross the purple property line. They each had poignant, powerful purposes driving their action. I was inspired by their courage and their sacrifice, and they were cuffed by the officers there. We broke bread and shared it among ourselves. During their crossing, we offered it to the officers, who respectfully declined. They led our brothers aside to be processed. [The five protesters were issued tickets for trespass by the Kansas City police and released on site. They have an arraignment on July 1 in Kansas City municipal court.]

Then a boom-box loudly broadcast, by Tears for Fears: “Shout! Shout! Let it all out! These are the things we can do without. Come on, we’re talking to you. Come on.” We altered the lyrics. We sang along. We danced. And I felt joy. It seemed the rain took a break for our celebration.

Seventy-two activists and concerned citizens were counted there. PeaceWorks was joined by Cherith Brook Catholic Worker House, the Green Party, Vets for Peace, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Community of Christ Justice and Peace Task Force. We shared outrage at the massive waste of resources—all the tax dollars that could be spent on our mutual wellbeing. Education, support for the impoverished, and the creation of life-affirming green jobs for badly needed environmental revitalization were among the things we called for. In spite of the wet, gray weather, we gathered, we walked, we spoke truth, we reflected on our losses, we cried, we sacrificed, we witnessed, and we rejoiced.

Ron Faust, a past line-crosser, later said, “It took us 10 years to do this peace witness.” I’m so glad I made it this year.

—Kristin Scheer, a member of the PeaceWorks-KC Board of Directors, has been active in GreenPeace for years.


Photo of Tom Mountenay, by Bennette Reed-Dibben

from PeaceWorks Kansas City

Why cross the line vs. nukes? ‘To be on the right side of history! And of the Beloved Community’

by Jane Stoever

“I am taking a simple step, an act of love,” said Tom Mountenay, “towards a future when there will be no weapons of war, as prophesied by Isaiah.”

Tom was saying on Memorial Day why he was going to step across the purple property line on the road to the Kansas City National Security Campus, where parts are made for nuclear weapons. It was to be his first line-crossing there. Later, Tammy Brown of Cherith Brook Catholic Worker House told me, “Tom is so humble! He said so few words!” Then Tammy said she loved it that after Tom spoke so briefly, emcee Henry Stoever noted that Tom had been the support person for his wife, Lu, who had crossed the property line four times and had died in April 2019. Henry added that this year, Tom would cross the line in spirit with Lu, and supported by his partner, Bennette.

What Tammy held in her heart from our 10th annual Memorial Day witness for peace were Tom’s loss and his going-forward. And his humility.

Tom’s friend Jim Hannah, brothers in the Community of Christ ministry, said he would cross the property line to stand on the right side of history, the side of the Beloved Community, “where all people (no exception) and all creation are known as sacred.”

Now Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for the Beloved Community requires work. Like PeaceWorks. Like Isaiah’s prophecy: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks, and nations will learn war no more.”

Brian Terrell, in his words on why he was crossing the line, recalled a Brunswick, GA, judge’s decision a few years ago to allow no testimony about whether nuclear weapons were legal or not. She said it was a “doubtful proposition” that they may be illegal. Brian said this Memorial Day, “By law, any weapon or act of war has got to be proportional. It has to protect civilian lives. A weapon that would kill everyone—‘omnicide,’ our friends in Georgia call it—cannot be proportional, cannot be legal.” Brian, the founder of Strangers and Guests Catholic Worker Farm in Maloy, Iowa, and a veteran of hundreds of line-crossings, explained his strange position: “an anarchist who finds himself over and over again defending the concept of law before a lawless court.”

A big chunk of work.

And Brian shared a second story: “In 2012, Ron Faust and I were on trial in Jefferson City for a drone protest at Whiteman Air Force Base. Ramsey Clark, who was the former US Attorney General under President Johnson and who died just this spring, came to testify for us as an expert in international law about how drone wars are illegal. The judge there refused to allow him to speak. But a year before that, I was on trial in Syracuse, NY, where at Hancock Air Base the National Guard flies reaper drone missions over Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places. Ramsey Clark was allowed to testify there. While the judge in the end ignored Ramsey’s testimony, he was visibly fascinated by all this stuff about international law that he probably didn’t study in law school. The judge leaned over the bench, listening intensively, and finally said to Ramsey, ‘This is all very interesting, but what is the enforcement mechanism? Who enforces international law?’ Ramsey Clark pointed to the 31 of us on trial and said, ‘Why, they are!’ And he pointed to the judge and said, ‘You ought to be doing it, too.’”

The 70-some participants in the Memorial Day rally cheered at the notion of line-crossing as law enforcement. A re-framing of our work.

Another Memorial Day line-crosser, Christian Brother Louis Rodemann, did the work of making a large loaf of bread to break before and during the line-crossing. Sweet bread—lots of honey. Baking counted to Louis during his 28 years at Holy Family Catholic Worker House, where eventually supper was served to all comers six nights a week. On this Memorial Day, Louis was to cross the line his fourth time for a nuke-free world. He compared this crossing with his earlier ones: “This same body will cross that same line, but the intensity of my body’s action will be heightened with a deeper understanding and awareness of how taking this step is an act of faith. Walking with me will be every one of the thousands of guests who were ever welcomed into Holy Family Catholic Worker House through its 44 year history – guests who could come in from their poverty, brokenness and loneliness and be treated with the dignity of the human person they had stopped dreaming and hoping they could become; to get a glimpse, if just for an hour, of the peace and wholeness they justly deserved as a way of life. For making this glimpse just one step closer to reality, I will step over that line one more time.”

And the man who dreamed up this Memorial Day walk and witness, my husband, Henry, was so moved as he read his “why I cross” statement that he teared up. And he has dry eyes. But a reservoir of tears. He said he acted:

  1. “As a matter of conscience, that small voice that asks me to be more faithful to a God of Love”;
  2. “As a matter of justice for the whole world, recalling Gandhi’s words: ‘I regard the employment of the atom bomb for the wholesale destruction of men, women and children as the most diabolical use of science’;
  3. ‘With these words touching my soul and compelling me to act: unspeakable, holocaust, genocide capability’;
  4. ‘Mindful that we are all sisters and brothers who are inter-related, and are inter-dependent to see our way out of this tragedy.’

Henry concluded, “I see our action as an ‘intervention’ in a very dangerous situation. When one sees someone who is of great danger to self or to others, a brave person is compelled to intervene. We are addicted to war, and we are on the verge of omnicide. It is necessary to do an intervention to rescue the planet, to disrupt the danger, to expose the danger, and to foster change. Our tools are the courage of nonviolence.”

—Jane Stoever, chronicler, is grateful to each line-crosser. Bring on the Beloved Community!


Photo by Bennette Reed-Dibben

from PeaceWorks Kansas City

Why are Jim, Tom, Brian crossing the line Memorial Day?

As people prepare to cross the property line at the Kansas City National Security Campus (NSC) on Memorial Day, they’ve put pen to paper to say why.

Jim Hannah of Independence, MO, who is risking his fifth arrest this Memorial Day, observes, “Humanity has developed a weapon that is not just indiscriminately genocidal, or even suicidal. Nuclear weapons at the level they now exist are omnicidal—capable of destroying life as we know it, through blast effects and the ensuing radioactive fallout of nuclear winter.” Jim criticizes the military-corporate-educational-entertainment-religion complex that is fueling a renewed arms race.

Jim holds out hope: “The cumulative effect of many small acts of resistance contributes to an unanticipated tipping point, akin to the fall of the Berlin Wall or the collapse of the Soviet Union. The evidence for such a shift in consciousness is seen in the recent and growing support for the United Nations Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, now with 54 signatory nations. The cracks are beginning to show in the wall of nuclear weapons.”

Jim reflects that “our small acts of resistance” keep himself from changing “into a condition of denial, depression, or despair.” After all, he adds, “I consider love to be the ultimate energy of the cosmos, and it shall prevail. I want to align my life with that life-giving force, not with the death-dealing threat of nuclear annihilation.”

Tom Mountenay, also of Independence, is preparing to step across the NSC property line for the first time. “For many years,” says Tom, “I have seen myself as a ‘side walk’ supporter for those who protest by trespass. I especially admired my wife and friends who would protest at the risk of being arrested. All this time I felt deep gratitude to simply be associated with good people engaged in a good cause. I don’t have a fiery passion, just a strong sense that now is the time to ‘disclose without words’ by a simple action to trespass and join ‘good people in a good cause.’ I believe this is an act of love to move our world towards a future when there will be no weapons of war as prophesied in Isaiah 2:4.—‘They will hammer their swords into plowshares, their spears into sickles. Nation will not lift sword against nation; nor shall they learn war anymore.’”

Brian Terrell, who with his wife, Betsy Keenan, leads the community at the Strangers and Guests Catholic Worker Farm in Maloy, IA, crossed the line at the KC nuke-parts plant in 2018. Brian notes that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons makes it a criminal offense under international law to develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons. “This was a great victory for humanity,” says Brian, “but still only a step along the way to eliminate nuclear weapons, considering that none of the nuclear armed nations ratified it or consider it binding. The great work done by parliamentarians, diplomats, lawyers and others working through official channels cannot be discounted, but the progress so far has also been due to grass roots agitation and direct action such as we see at the ‘National Security Campus’ bomb factory in Kansas City. The elimination of nuclear weapons is necessary for survival and must be included in all of our other great causes for social justice and our hopes for the future. Our Memorial Day protest at the National Security Campus is one part of this essential human obligation.”


Photo by Bennette Reed-Dibben

from the Kansas City Star

We protest at Kansas City nuclear weapons plant on Memorial Day in the name of peace

By Tom Fox, Special to The Star
May 30, 2021 05:00 AM   

Nonviolently, several score in numbers, we will gather again for the 10th year in a row this Memorial Day at the Kansas City nuclear weapons manufacturing plant to protest its operation, its intent and its senseless misuse of resources.
We are your neighbors. Our ranks might seem thin to some of you, but our vision is bold. We are part of a growing worldwide movement to rid our world of weapons of indiscriminate and mass destruction.

We will come face to face with Kansas City police and guards just before noon on Memorial Day after walking one mile to the plant.

Five of us will risk arrest by crossing a line onto private property. These five will cross a line at the foot of the sprawling complex at the southern edge of the city. They will likely be arrested in front of the plant that produces 85% of all the non-nuclear components that make up the U.S. nuclear stockpile — and is euphemistically named a “National Security Campus.”

Once arrested and handcuffed, they will be booked on site pending the setting of a trial date. We admittedly break a civil law to maintain the laws we hold to be of a higher moral order.

 Join us if you like, but do not bring predetermined so-called “tribal” notions to the protest. Police and protesters, we are all friendly. We respect one another. Our protests, under the aegis of PeaceWorks Kansas City, are entirely nonviolent. We respect the dignity of every person, starting with those closest to us at the moment of protest, the police and security officials we face only feet away.

PeaceWorks Kansas City both preaches and models nonviolence. Co-Chair Henry Stoever, a well-known Kansas City attorney, explains to police officials just what to expect. He and they want to avoid surprises and possible violence. Over the years, he has worked most closely with Kansas City Police Sgt. Craig Hope, who oversees the southern area of the city, to explain each move in the program.

“They’re really respectful people,” Hope said to me in a recent phone call. “Everyone is friendly. They intentionally do not go limp when we arrest them so they will not hurt our backs. … We take good care of them and they take good care of us.”

On a particularly hot day, several years back, the assembled police passed out water bottles to the protesters to assure they would be adequately hydrated.

Asked why he returns year after year to protest, Stoever called the plant, which operates on a $1 billion annual budget and is managed by Honeywell, a “monstrous” operation.

Stoever has long been a conscientious objector to all wars. He says he will “cross the line” again this year, for the fourth time, as a matter of conscience. “I see our action as an intervention in a very dangerous situation.”

Christian Brother Louis Rodemann, who for decades fed the homeless at Holy Family Catholic Worker House in midtown Kansas City, said he just recently decided he would be arrested this year during the protest for the forth time by “crossing the line.” It was the feast of Pentecost that moved him to decide. The followers of Jesus were “spirited” on Pentecost to be brave and courageous and to speak out. He took the lead from them.

Said Rodemann: “Walking with me will be every one of the thousands of guests who were ever welcomed into Holy Family Catholic Worker House through its 44-year history — guests who could come in from their poverty, brokenness and loneliness and be treated with the dignity of a human person they had stopped dreaming and hoping they could become; to get a glimpse, if just for an hour, of the peace and wholeness they justly deserved as a way of life. For making this glimpse just one step closer to reality, I will step over that line one more time.”

Tom Fox is former editor and publisher of the National Catholic Reporter.

Photo by Bennette Reed-Dibben