Priest Gets “Time Served” for ICBM Protest in Colorado


 

In his December trial in Greeley, Colorado for "trespass" and "mischief" last August 6 at the site of a U.S. nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Fr. Carl Kabat, a 76-year-old Catholic priest, was interrupted on the witness stand a dozen times with technical objections. Finally, he made a demand of "the people," as the prosecutor David Skarkin kept calling himself: "I wish you’d object to nuclear weapons as much as you object to me."


Kabat at the N-8 ICBM site

Kabat’s action took place at N-8, the U.S. Air Force’s nickname for one of its 450 land-based Minuteman III thermonuclear weapons still at-the-ready across the Great Plains. There are 150 at Minot, North Dakota; 150 at Malmstrom Air Force Base, near Great Falls, Montana; and 150 at the Colorado/Nebraska/Wyoming field controlled by F.E. Warren AFB outside Cheyenne. During the protest, Kabat hung banners on the fence surrounding the ICBM launch site, cut through the chain link to enter the "restricted area," and tried to gain access to the underground facility.

Two public defenders helped Kabat present his case, making opening statements, interviewing prospective jurors, cross examining government witnesses, and questioning two defense witnesses. Toward the end of the trial, Kabat politely dismissed his defense attorneys and proceeded to testify on his own behalf and make a closing argument to the jury.

About 25 supporters followed the trial, coming from as far away as Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

During the trial, the prosecutor Skarkin tried to trip up the jail-weary Kabat in cross-examination.

SKARKIN:  You knew you were causing damage?
KABAT:  The real damage is in the ground.
SKARKIN:  Should criminal law be applied to your actions?
KABAT:  Ayone who stops this [nuclear madness] should be given the Peace Prize.
SKARKIN:  So you believe you are above the law?
KABAT:  Just immoral law, like the Fugitive Slave Act and segregation laws.

In his closing argument Kabat urged the jury to remember that helping enslaved people to escape was a felony, but that juries often refused to convict Underground Railroad workers "because they knew the law was wrong. You are intelligent, serious, and significant actors who have a role…the conscience of the community."

After hearing from several Air Force police officers, a sheriff’s deputy, two defense witnesses, and from Kabat himself, the jury of six took an hour to find the long-time nuclear weapons abolitionist "guilty" of two gross misdemeanors. The charges each carried a maximum penalty of one year in prison.

Judge Nichols sentenced Kabat to 137 days, the amount of time he’d already served. The misdemeanors and the comparatively light sentence (Skarkin had urged consecutive maximums, a total of two years) came in striking contrast to previous sentences Kabat had been given after dozens of previous nuclear weapons protests. Since 1980, Kabat has served over 18 years in jail and prison, more than any other individual in U.S. anti-nuclear history.

In 1979, Kabat was a guest lecturer for an ethics course. He sat on the teacher’s table, feet dangling, and told the undergraduates that Hitler’s mass slaughter was carried out with the official stamp of state legitimacy; that the Holocaust and, indeed, all the great crimes of human history had been crimes of obedience. The lesson these crimes teach us is that we must disobey illegitimate authority.

On the witness stand 30 years later, Kabat said the legal protections given to nuclear weapons and their operators today are hardly different from those given to the Third Reich’s death camps and slave labor industries. "Apartheid, Hitler’s acts, slavery were all, like most evils of the world, legal…. The Nazis killed six million. In 30 minutes that’s what 2 of these Minuteman IIIs can do."

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John LaForge is co-director of Nukewatch and edits its quarterly.