Press Backgrounder

“The Kings Bay Plowshares” are U.S. Catholics facing trial in Kings Bay, Ga, for entering in April 2018 the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, the largest Trident nuclear submarine base, to protest nuclear weapons. The United States is one of 11 countries who did not sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons passed in July 2017 with 122 nations voting to adopt it. The base houses 8 Ohio-class submarines, 6 of which carry ballistic missiles and are described by the Navy as "designed specifically for stealth and the precise delivery of nuclear warheads."  The Kings Bay Seven (Mark Colville, Clare Grady, Martha Hennessy, Stephen Kelly, Elizabeth McAlister, Patrick O'Neill, and Carmen Trotta. see bios) are members of the Plowshares movement, a faith-based anti-war movement.  

On April 4, 2018, these seven Catholics were arrested at the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base. They stated that the action had been planned to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, who devoted his life to addressing what he called the “triple evils of militarism, racism and materialism”. Carrying hammers and baby bottles of their own blood, the seven attempted to convert weapons of mass destruction. . They hoped to call attention to the ways in which nuclear weapons kill every day, by their mere existence and maintenance.  The seven were arrested, handed over to local authorities, and taken to the county jail.  Since April, supporters of the Kings Bay Plowshares have demonstrated outside the base, engaged in a peace walk from Savannah to Kings Bay to garner public support for the abolition of nuclear weapons, and delivered a letter to Pope Francis informing him of their action. In 2017, Pope Francis announced that “The threat of [nuclear weapons] use as well as their very possession is to be firmly condemned.” Previously, Catholic leaders had said the policy of nuclear deterrence could be morally acceptable as long as substantive work was underway toward a complete ban of nuclear weapons. With the international nuclear weapons ban enacted, nuclear deterrence is no longer morally acceptable.

The seven Catholics are charged with three federal felonies and one misdemeanor. They face up to 25years in prison. Of the seven, five have been released to home confinement with ankle bracelets, and two  are currently held at the Glynn County Detention Center in Brunswick, Ga. On Sept. 17, 2018, attorneys for the seven Kings Bay Plowshares defendants filed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act Memo in federal court in Brunswick, GA. The RFRA requires the government to prove a compelling state interest if it acts to restrict a person's free exercise of his or her religious beliefs. The defendants have a court hearing on November 7, 2018 where they will testify about their faith-based opposition to nuclear weapons.

The Plowshares movement began 1980 at a General Electric plant in King of Prussia, PA that manufactured nuclear weapons. Eight activists, including Philip Berrigan, Elizabeth McAlister’s late husband, entered the plant and hammered on the nose cones of Mark 12A warheads. Since then there have been at least 100 Plowshares actions around the world, primarily focused on nuclear weapons abolition. In 2017, Washington Post reporter Dan Zak published Almighty: Courage, Resistance, and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age, covering the 2012 “Transform Now” Plowshares demonstration at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., which stores weapons-grade uranium.

The Kings Bay Naval Station is home to at least six ballistic missile submarines. Each submarine carries 20 Trident II D5 MIRV thermonuclear missiles. Each of these missiles carries four or more individual nuclear warheads ranging in destructive power from 100 kilotons to 475 kilotons. The nuclear bomb that destroyed the Japanese city of  Hiroshima had an explosive power of 15 kilotons.[