They Shall Beat Their Swords into Plowshares…

Sept 29 – Oct 5, ’05
VOL 124 NO. 33
They Shall Beat Their Swords into Plowshares…
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Catholic Activists Put their Faith to the Test Before a Federal Court in Binghamton

BINGHAMTON — On March 17, 2003, the Feast Day of Saint Patrick, the U.S. was on the cusp of invading Iraq.

Compelled by what they considered a desperate situation, four members of the Ithaca Catholic Worker community went to the recruiting center in the village of Lansing, N.Y. They were answering what they heard as desperate pleas from the people of Iraq with desperate actions of their own.

Danny Burns, Teresa Grady, Clare Grady and Peter De Mott poured blood throughout the foyer of the recruiting center. They poured it on the wall. They poured it on the posters. They poured it on the flag.

Last week, in the Southern Tier city of Binghamton, which is in the Southern Region of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, the federal government saw fit to try the self-described St. Patrick’s Four on four counts, the most serious of which was conspiracy.

A conviction for such charges could mean up to six years in federal prison and $250,000 in fines.

The federal prosecutor, Miroslav Lovrick, was attempting to prove that the defendants engaged in the destruction of government property. Previously, the St. Patrick’s Four had been tried in Tompkins County court. The result was a hung jury as nine members persisted in an argument for acquittal.

During the course of the trial, blood, the image and the idea, took on a dense symbology in the testimonies of the defendants.

“Blood is the symbol of life, yet it is shed wantonly in war,” Burns said during his opening remarks at the trial. “Blood cuts through all the media’s spin and lies.”

Clare Grady said that the first time she realized blood had been spilled on the American flag in the recruiting office, her initial reaction was shock. But when she allowed the symbolism to play itself out, she said the blood on the flag was appropriate as it referenced the blood that would be shed in the name of the U.S. and the flags that would be draped over the caskets of American soldiers.

For recruiting officer Rachon Montgomery, however, the blood was but a nuisance. During the course of the defendants’ demonstration, Montgomery’s skin came in contact with some of the blood, which allegedly was that of the St. Patrick’s Four.

“It was one of those things that you don’t wake up and go to work and expect something of that nature,” Montgomery said while on the witness stand.

But even Montgomery couldn’t completely condemn the protesters.

“They are friendly people. We do speak. We just have different views,” he said.

March 17 wasn’t the first time Montgomery had encountered the defendants. In December of 2002, three of the four defendants had participated in a “die-in” in the recruiting office. Along with 11 other compatriots and with 50 other protesters standing outside in support, defendants Burns, De Mott and Clare Grady each collapsed in the recruiting office foyer. The non-violent, performative demonstration is used to simulate the deaths of soldiers and civilians during war.

The blood, the die-in, these kinds of metaphoric forms of demonstration are part of a long history of similar actions engaged in by the defendants and many of those involved in the Catholic Worker movement.

Tradition of resistance

Father Tim Taugher, the pastor at St. Catherine of Siena in Binghamton, is a lifelong friend of defendant Burns. As youths they attended St. Patrick’s Church in Binghamton together. Father Taugher was among those quarterbacking the support effort for the St. Patrick’s Four and was a character witness for Burns on day four of the trial.

Father Taugher was disappointed to see what he considered to be a lack of support from the church in the midst of the demonstrations that arose outside of the courthouse in which the St. Patrick’s Four were put on trial.

“If these were anti-abortionists on trial, there would certainly be a strong, visible presence of the church here,” Father Taugher said, noting that he did not understand why the anti-war movement did not fall under the rubric of life issues. “The pope has spoken against it and asked us to speak against it. Where is our voice?”

Before the trial began, Father Taugher said, “They want to keep it at arm’s length. It’s too controversial. It’s too risky. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with the action of the defendants. But you at least can agree that they’re brothers and sisters in faith with a legacy of action like this in our Catholic tradition — acting on conscience through civil disobedience. There’s a long legacy. Dorothy Day is from the Catholic Workers and there’s so many others just like that.”

The Catholic Worker tradition of non-violence was born in 1933 under the guidance of Dorothy Day, who had previously found a sympathetic movement in Marxism. According to the St. Patrick’s Four, the tradition teaches its adherents to “turn to the works of mercy and away from the works of war.”

In 1984, Clare Grady participated in a Plowshares group action in which the protesters hammered on a B-52 bomber, literalizing the passage from Isaiah 2:2-4 which reads: “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and 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.”

The protesters were symbolically and physically beating on the B-52 bomber in an effort to transform it into a plowshare, according to Clare Grady on the witness stand.

According to Lovrick, the action cost the government $50,000.

De Mott’s practice in civil disobedience is prolific. A former Marine during the Vietnam War and a former member of the U.S. Army (De Mott estimates he spent over seven years in the military between both branches), De Mott also studied for several years at a Jesuit seminary. In 1980, De Mott drove a car into a submarine and two years later poured blood on a submarine to protest nuclear buildup. During both actions, he was participating in the Plowshares movement.

Like beating plowshares out of swords, or, in this case, high tech bombers, the defendants sought to transmute the court in which they were silenced while on trial into a vehicle for opposition to the war.

Burns said his foremost goal was to terminate the U.S. presence in Iraq.

“I want to end the war in Iraq,” he said when asked what he considered a victory in the court. “If I have to lose six years to try to bring this war to an end sooner then I will do that.”

The Trial

Before the trial itself began, Judge Thomas McAvoy had determined that the legality of the Iraq war as well as international law were not to be permitted as arguments for the defense. Nevertheless, the defendants were determined to bring to the foreground the Iraq war.

“I’m looking forward to the trial and looking forward to the opportunity to put the war on trial,” De Mott said the Sunday before the trial began. “We don’t believe that what we did was criminal or illegal or unjust. We think that the war is wrong and we were just trying to say no to the war in a dramatic yet non-violent way.”

“I hope that I will be able to speak the truth in the courtroom – the whole truth – and that would touch the jury’s conscience and that they will be able to understand the criminality of the war in Iraq and be able to make a conscious decision that in fact this has been and is a criminal war affecting the lives of innocent people both here in the U.S. as well as the Iraqi people who have died. We must call our government to task,” Teresa Grady said.

The defendants represented themselves, but were able to call upon the council of a bank of legal advisors including Bill Quigley, a professor of law from Loyola University; attorney Lee Adler, and Peter Orville, a Binghamton attorney and adjunct professor of criminal justice at Binghamton University.

Monday, just over 10 potential jurors were left from a pool that consisted of over 60 from throughout the Southern Tier. While the defense was happy with the jury’s final composition, Orville conceded that he would have preferred that the selection process had included jurors from Tompkins County.

Before both the prosecution and the defense offered their opening remarks, McAvoy read the charges to the jury and drew an early outburst from the defendants.

The wording of the indictment read “On or about March 17, 2003, in the Northern District of New York, defendants…willfully injured or damage, and attempted to injure and attempted to damage, property of the United States of America and the United States Military…” McAvoy, however, replaced the connective “and” with “or.”

De Mott protested the semantic issue after an attorney could be seen talking over his shoulder. Teresa Grady and Burns would shortly thereafter offer similar protests.

“That’s what we based our whole defense on,” Burns told McAvoy. “This is a misjustice [sic]. You’re changing the indictment.”

“I know it says ‘and’ but it’s an ‘or’…it’s disjunctive,” McAvoy said, adding that further outbursts could result in the defendants’ removal from the court.

After a subsequent sidebar, McAvoy relayed to the jury that the defendants had offered apologies for their outbursts. During his opening remarks, Burns apologized as well.

The judge conceded some time to the defendants when they raised the issues of the Iraq war and international law, but sustained Lovrick’s objections when they were uttered.

After the prosecution’s opening remarks, the defendants were each, in turn, permitted to offer their own lengthy remarks. Each defendant introduced his or her own family, the members of which were, for the most part, in the crowd, which consisted almost exclusively of supporters. They also closed by thanking the jurors for their participation.

Before the jury went into deliberation, McAvoy stressed that the juror’s view on the Iraq war was irrelevant when considering the case. “You are the element most important in the structure of democracy,” Teresa Grady said.

Each defendant, in turn, discussed their beliefs in non-violence and opposition to war as their motives for pouring blood throughout the recruiting office.

“I felt that I had a moral obligation to speak out against this war in a peaceful and dramatic way,” De Mott said. “I have, since early childhood, tried to follow in the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

De Mott also stressed that he and his compatriots were ardent supporters of the soldiers in Iraq.

Three days of witnesses, including those who had witnessed the action, as well as the defendants and their character witnesses, led up to Friday’s final remarks.

On Wednesday, Clare Grady, De Mott and Burns were all ruled in contempt of court when none of them would reveal the location of the home in which their blood was drawn for the March 17 action, nor would they reveal who drew the blood.

Lovrick claimed that the motive of the defendants, that is stopping the war in Iraq, is irrelevant to the case.

Lovrick told the jury that it must determine whether or not laws had been violated. “You cannot violate laws even when you are righteous,” he added.

The prosecutor’s final remarks included comparing the alleged lawlessness he ascribed to the defendants as comparable to the Ku Klux Klan’s burning of churches or certain extreme actions by the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

“To do what the defendants suggest brings us to complete anarchy, complete chaos, complete lawlessness,” Lovrick said. He also accused the defendants of trying to “bypass our democratic process.”

During her closing remarks, Teresa Grady said, “Miroslav would characterize us as arrogant and above the law. But we answer to another law: love one another.”

After De Mott, Burns and Teresa Grady presented their closing remarks, Quigley offered his own closing remarks in place of Clare Grady. Quigley compared the actions of the St. Patrick’s Four to certain crucial figures in American history such as the participants in the Boston Tea Party, John Hancock, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr.

During his rebuttal, Lovrick continued with the game of analogies, but twisted it again, comparing the defendants at times to “Timothy McVeigh in hell,” radical anti-abortionists who “blow up clinics because they think [abortion] is wrong,” and the neo-Nazi group Aryan Nation. Lovrick also offered a veiled suggestion that Teresa Grady had offered sympathy to the terrorists, who had destroyed the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I’m sure Timothy McVeigh – right now in hell – thinks it’s [what he did] right,” the prosecutor said.

With the jury out of the courtroom, both Quigley and Teresa Grady objected to each of the analogies Lovrick had summoned during his rebuttal.

The jury went into deliberation around 1 p.m. Friday and before 7 p.m., it broke up with plans to resume deliberation on Monday at 9:30 a.m.

Monday before noon, the jury reached a verdict. The jury acquitted the defendants of the conspiracy charge; by far the most serious charge leveled by the federal government, but found them guilty of trespassing and destruction of government property.

The verdict represents a “very big victory” in the words of Father Taugher. Father Tim Taugher contributed to this story.

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