On April 12th, The Trident Three were found guilty of trespassing in Federal Court. Larry Kerschner, Gilberto Perez, and Bernie Meyer appeared in United States District Court, Western District of Washington at Tacoma. Magistrate Judge David C. Christel presided over the proceedings. A large number of supporters witnessed the trial.
The defendants had their cases consolidated; their cases were all tried at the same time. Attorney Blake Kremer, who has supported and represented many nuclear resisters, represented Larry Kerschner and acted as standby counsel for Meyer and Perez. All parties had already agreed to and signed the “statement of facts” that defined the events that occurred.
On May 7, 2016, during a vigil held by the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, the three demonstrators engaged in a peaceful protest. They entered the main highway and briefly blocked traffic on the federal side of the main gate at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor in Silverdale, Washington. The three demonstrators carried an illustration of Fr. Daniel Berrigan, revered anti-war and anti-nuclear weapons priest, with a statement by him which read, “Know where you stand and stand there.” They also carried a colorful banner with symbols linking nuclear weapons and climate change.
The nonviolent direct action was held in honor of Mother’s Day. In 1872, Julia Ward Howe suggested that Mother’s Day should be dedicated to peace. Howe saw the effects on both sides of the Civil War and realized that destruction from warfare goes beyond the killing of soldiers in battle.
The three resisters were arrested by base security, booked, and released. They received citations pursuant to Title 18 USC Section 1382 for trespass on a military installation.
The court, as it has done in every case involving nuclear resisters at the Bangor base, granted the government’s motion in limine, which disallowed presenting any defense involving the necessity defense, international law regarding the use of nuclear weapons, or the policies of the US government regarding the use of nuclear weapons. At Blake Kremer’s request, however, the court agreed to give some leeway in the defendants’ testimony.
Kremer noted to the court that the defendants have lived lives of service to humanity and that they are united in the belief that nuclear weapons are illegal and immoral.
On the stand, Gilberto Perez spoke of how he prayed as he and the other defendants crossed the blue line onto the Bangor base. When asked by Kremer what he would do for the cause of peace, he replied, “I would be willing to give my life, to spend the rest of my life in jail.” Perez noted that he is willing to sacrifice himself to get across the message that we can use diplomacy with Russia, North Korea, and China to prevent nuclear war.
Larry Kerschner said that people do not consider the implications of the use of nuclear weapons and their effects. “We tried to wake people up to what Trident can do—the indiscriminate killing of mass numbers of people.”
On the stand, Bernie Meyer said, “The experts are warning us. We have to give up business as usual.” He said there must be trust among world leaders in order to solve the existential problems we face, particularly nuclear weapons and climate change. He also quoted former Secretary of Defense William Perry who recently said that it is up to the people to speak out and demand action on nuclear weapons.
During Blake Kremer’s closing statement he said, “These defendants have knowledge that some courts and legal scholars believe they have a right and even an obligation to bring their message of peace and nonviolence to the base commander and the government and that the importance of this message makes it necessary and legally justifiable for them to stand on base while attempting to deliver this message.” Sadly, the court made it impossible for the defendants to use any defenses that have been recognized in other courts! Kremer’s full closing statement can be found at www.gzcenter.org.
When all was said and done, the judge ruled against the defendants based on the “facts” and found all three guilty of trespassing. Referring to the defendant’s “unrepentant” attitudes, the government asked for one year of supervised probation and one hundred hours of community service. The judge agreed with the sentencing request, and, in addition to probation and community service, assessed the defendants a $10 mandatory court assessment plus a $25 processing fee.
In a final irony, Judge Christal also noted, in accordance with the government’s request, that the one hundred hours of community service must be completed in organizations “unrelated to the prevention of nuclear proliferation.” The judge did, however, note before handing down his decision that the defendants are “highly principled people with deeply held values.”
As much as the defendants attempted to bring light to the real crime—the continuing threat of use of Trident against other nations—justice was not served in the courtroom on this day. Instead, the National Security State protected its narrow interests rather than upholding the Constitution of the United States along with the rights of all humanity to live free from the threat of nuclear annihilation.
The Trident submarine base at Bangor houses the largest concentration of deployed nuclear weapons in the US and is the home port for eight of the Navy’s fourteen Trident nuclear powered submarines. More than 1,300 nuclear warheads are deployed on Trident D-5 missiles on SSBN submarines based at Bangor or are stored at Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific (SWFPAC) at the Bangor submarine base.
One Trident SSBN submarine at Bangor is estimated to carry about 108 nuclear warheads. The W76 and W88 warheads at Bangor are equal, respectively, to 100 kilotons and 455 kilotons of TNT in destructive force. One submarine deployed at Bangor is equal to more than 1,400 Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs. The nuclear warheads at SWFPAC and on submarines based at Bangor have the combined explosive power equivalent to more than 14,000 Hiroshima bombs.
A March 2017 report from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists shows that the US has been upgrading the W76 warhead and has developed a “super-fuze” that makes the refurbished warhead three times as lethal as before. This huge increase in kill capability makes it appear as if the United States is preparing for a decapitating nuclear attack.
Before the trial, supporters held vigil in front of the Tacoma Union Station Courthouse carrying signs that read, “Abolish Nuclear Weapons,” and handed out leaflets about the trial.
Prior to their trial, each of the Trident Three made a statement describing the reasons for their collective action against nuclear weapons.
Bernie Meyer: “We are at a juncture, a juncture that we created, that is of our own doing. We created nuclear weapons, nuclear power, a whole system of radiation dispersal. We created a way of life that spews carbon dioxide, methane, and more chemicals into the atmosphere which circulates into the oceans and onto the continents and heats them up beyond our accustomed tolerance. What do we do? What will you do?”
Gilberto Perez: “A moral consciousness is needed in realizing love and compassion for all. The revolution of the heart melts away the walls of hate and war. We must love each other or nuclear annihilation is inevitable. We are not alone.”
Larry Kerschner: “Twenty miles west of Seattle is the largest concentration of deployed nuclear weapons in the US. It is clear that the actual use of nuclear weapons would grossly violate the international laws of humanitarian armed conflict under any conceivable circumstances. How can the US threaten the use of nuclear weapons without violating international law? The Nuremberg Principles absolutely proscribe crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. How can the US Government lawfully establish a threat to commit such heinous offenses?”
May we all know where we stand, and stand there.
Leonard Eiger is a member of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolence. The Ground Zero Community launched itself in 1977 with inspiration from Robert Aldridge, who quit his job at Lockheed directing the development of the Trident system’s sea-launched first-strike capability, and in response to the US Navy plans to expand the Bangor base to accommodate Trident-class nuclear weapons warships.