Kings Bay Plowshares legal updates, four years after their nuclear disarmament action

March 28, 2022
On April 4, 2018, the Kings Bay Plowshares Seven trespassed onto a U.S. Naval base in Southern Georgia, bearing a message from the great Dr. King: “The ultimate logic of racism is genocide.” There they performed a symbolic act of nuclear disarmament at the home port of the most deadly, omnicidal weapons of mass destruction ever created in human history, the Trident submarine. Four years later, all have served lengthy prison terms, while the exact kind of geopolitical scenario threatening nuclear annihilation which the Seven were trying to warn the world about is now becoming a reality with the war in Ukraine.

First, the Kings Bay Plowshares would like to express our deep gratitude for the wonderful prayers and support we have received these last four years from all of you and our legal team. We are especially grateful for the Brunswick, Georgia community of friends that made our time in their city a love-filled experience.

All seven defendants completed their prison sentences last year, and six remain on three years probation. Elizabeth McAlister was released from probation for health reasons, and she has also moved into assisted living as her memory and overall health has declined. It is suggested that you write to Liz to keep in touch and wish her well: Elizabeth McAlister c/o Frida Berrigan at 246 Connecticut Ave, New London CT 06320. 


The biggest legal news is that the Kings Bay Plowshares have filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court asking the nation’s highest court to dismiss charges in our case because both the U.S. District trial court and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in its denial of our initial appeal, failed to properly consider the elements of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as they applied to the specifics of our case.
Under RFRA, each of us had to meet specific criteria to be eligible to use RFRA as a legal defense.
1. We had to have “religious beliefs”
2. … that were “sincerely held.”
3. We had to prove that the government “burdened our practice” of said beliefs by its sanctions against us.
4. Finding the above to be true, which the District Court affirmed, the government was required to “use the least restrictive means” to sanction us.
In its response to our RFRA brief, the court found that we seven “engaged in symbolic, prophetic, sacramental de-nuclearization” by our actions at Naval Station Kings Bay. Our substantive argument to SCOTUS is that the government failed to even consider the “least restrictive means” when it turned the seven of us over to the police and subsequently handed down three felony charges and one misdemeanor without considering other options.
Attorneys Joe Cosgrove (our attorney of record for SCOTUS) and Vern Walker (our RFRA expert advisor) have ushered us through this next step. 
We are pursuing the SCOTUS option for two major reasons: 
A. to hold the court accountable for failing to follow its own legal criteria regarding our right to use RFRA; and 
B. to have our charges dismissed, which would result in our probation being dismissed and we’d get back the $33,000-plus that was “stolen by the government” for restitution.
In addition to the SCOTUS appeal, Mark’s appellate lawyer has also filed an appeal in the 11th Circuit asking that the restitution be dismissed under RFRA. That case is slated for oral argument in Atlanta on May 19. Several of the defendants plan to attend the oral argument. It should also be available for the public to listen in to the arguments as was done with the earlier appeal. Details should be available closer to the date.
There is another 11th circuit appeal, filed by Patrick’s appellate lawyer, that is also addressing RFRA arguments. (You might also be interested in Patrick’s response in National Catholic Reporter to his being thrown out of the Knights of Columbus for his plowshares conviction:
In another legal matter, Mark’s probation was initially violated by a Hartford, Connecticut federal District Court Judge because Mark refused to submit to drug testing, refused to hand over personal financial information to his probation officer and refused to pay restitution. After the restitution question became moot because the money was stolen from Carmen, the judge agreed that Mark no longer needed to disclose his financial status, and he allowed Mark to skip drug testing because drugs were not part of his “crime.”
Update on Restitution
Before we were all sentenced to prison, Carmen’s father, Frank Trotta, died. Carmen received an inheritance from his father’s estate. The government found out about Carmen’s inheritance and garnished a portion of the inheritance to pay off our collective restitution in full. 
Fr. Steve Kelly’s Status
Following his release from federal detention last April after three years in various jails coast-to-coast, Steve Kelly was “required” to report to his Georgia probation officer within 72 hours of his release. Steve, who always refuses to comply with conditions of probation as a matter of principle, never reported. District Court trial Judge Lisa Godbey Wood issued a warrant for Steve’s arrest and he remains “at large.”
While on probation, we are all required to report to our probation officer when ordered to do so, to get permission to travel outside of the federal district in which we live, to submit to random drug testing (except Mark) and to pay restitution (now moot). 
Letter from Patrick O’Neill
March 27, 2022
Dear Friends,
 A year ago today I spent my 65th birthday isolated in a solitary confinement cell in the segregated housing unit (SHU) of Federal Correctional Institution Elkton after spending four days shackled to a hospital bed.
 During my time in prison I was well-supported by hundreds of friends and strangers who sent me letters, made donations and prayed for my family and codefendants. I was in solitary, but I was never alone.
 Thank You for making my time away from my family a meaningful experience in countless ways. I am deeply grateful for your love and support.
 April 4 marks the 4th anniversary of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 action at Naval Station Kings Bay in St. Marys, Georgia. We acted against Trident on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who warned the world of the “giant triplets” of evil facing humanity: “racism, extreme materialism and militarism.”
 King was a visionary who also rejected violence and war. Said King: “The choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence; it is either nonviolence or non-existence.”
 While most of you reading this reflection supported me and the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, there are many people — in fact the vast majority of people in this nation — who view the 7 of us, and all of you as foolish because of one simple fact: We are opposed to killing anyone. And we certainly want nuclear disarmament ASAP. As Ralph Hutchison says: “The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is the only pathway to disarmament. We need to be proclaiming that from the rooftops and in the streets, to the public, to the media, and to the politicians.”
 In my early years as a peace activist in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I did not tell people that pacifism was a necessary component to human survival. While many people were certainly troubled by nuclear weapons, and opposed them, most people I knew were democrats who believed war was sometimes necessary and did not oppose their tax dollars being used to support the pentagon and the military industrial complex.
 I was glad many people saw the folly of nuclear weapons even if they continued to support the vast war machine that has squandered trillions of dollars on war preparation, war itself and the maintenance of our nation’s war economy. My views regarding pacifism have changed. Today I see nonviolence as a necessary component of any effort to save humanity from extinction.
 In other words I am now a total war abolitionist. I think the pentagon must be shut down, and all war spending must be directed toward the elimination of global warming. War can no longer be a viable option as a means of conflict resolution. The risks of a major global climate disaster are simply far too great for humans to waste any of their precious time and resources engaged in warfare.
 As the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 have often noted, nuclear weapons are like a cocked gun threatening all of creation.
 Sadly, I also realize that my war abolitionist position makes me even more of an outlier than simply calling myself a pacifist. But I see no other way out of this unprecedented climate crisis than to reject war.
 Also, as a father of eight and grandfather of three preschoolers, I feel an enormous responsibility to save the world from destruction so my family — and all of creation — will have a safe world in which to live.
  The Signs of the Times must be recognized. Humans must turn away from war-making and begin sincere cooperative efforts to save God’s Creation from doom.
 So, let’s keep praying, smashing idols and crying out for “Peace On Earth.” Let’s create a Critical Mass Movement for Peace and Social Change. To do so we must become nonviolent people of peace. It is our only hope.
In Peace with God’s Blessings,
Patrick O’Neill