FORT MORGAN-As they came to be known, the “radical missile silo nuns” returned to the scene of the crime-the US government crime they say-in northeastern Colorado on Saturday. About 30 peace activists returned to Minutemen III Missile Silo N8, the same location where in 2002, three Roman Catholic nuns were arrested after they protested the US missile program by entering into the site, performing an action of prayer and then pouring their own blood onto the missile and also along the missile grounds in the shape of a cross. They wore white jump suits bearing the words “Citizen Weapon Inspection Team”, and proceeded to pray in front of the silo. The 3 were tried while they dressed in full habit in the courtroom. They continued their protest in the courtroom by responding to the judge simply nodding in response to his questions. The judge in turn prevented the three from using arguments that their actions were legal under international law and further prevented them from using the Nuremberg defense-a plea that can be used in a court of law that means a person, cannot be held guilty for actions which were ordered by a superior official or a public official. They were found guilty and served between 30 and 41 months in prison.
Platte served an additional three years of probation and is listed as a terrorist by the Maryland State Police.
Colorado currently has 49 nuclear missiles on “ready-alert” in northeastern Colorado. Ready alert refers to being launch-ready and armed with a nuclear warhead. The launch can be ordered through the National Command Authority and executed through a nuclear command and control system within 15 minutes.
Peace activists have opposed the nuclear weapon threat especially because the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed by the US, which according to the treaty, agreed to dispose of its nuclear weapons. The treaty was authored in 1968-during the time that many of the missiles were first positioned-and was considered binding in 1970. On May 11, 1995, the Treaty was extended indefinitely. A total of 190 parties have signed the Treaty, including the five nuclear-weapon States.
Beginning at the turn of the century, the three nuns held the US accountable for this treaty by staging actions at US nuclear missile sites. That year the three illegally entered Peterson Air Force Base and blotted a fighter plane with their own blood. The three women were arrested and held in prison until the charges were dropped. Two years later the Colorado protest took place near Fort Morgan, the site of missile site N8. On Saturday, the two surviving nuns returned to the site to gather in remembrance of those who have died as the result of military violence, those who died challenging the violence, and to remember their fellow nun, Jackie Hudson. Jackie Hudson has since died of multiple mylenoma in 2001 at the age of 76. Gilbert and Platte said that they wanted to continue their work to raise awareness.
Sister Ardeth Platte remembered that day to those who turned out to the memorial vigil:
“We have never told you this, but we’ll tell you now. When we went into this, you know this part, we opened this fence wide, but they smashed it, and we opened the other one wide, and they smashed it. Within 15 minutes a car drove up and parked right about where those vehicles are and they kept watching us, so we thought within 5 minutes we would be gone, right? We just took for granted that they were going to get a call and so on. But we were weapons inspectors and I think they really knew we were weapons inspectors. (laughs) So like 45 minutes later, even before that though then all of a sudden they were over the hill. That hill there, there was one humvee and then another one with their guns drawn on us. So they stayed there until the whole barrage came. I mean everybody came. There were vehicles galore, police galore and sheriffs, and FBI. You know all kinds of people came then. But we were there trying to expose the site-and to be able to tell people that there was a crime going on here-for close to an hour. And so we knew they knew who we were because they said ‘they are singing religious songs.’ So we knew they knew who we were, the ones that were on the hill with the weapons. And we were singing peace songs galore so loudly that when they arrested us, they put us down on the ground, face down and it really got cold. We almost went into hypothermia.”
What is it like to be back?
“It reminds me of the work we have to do. It reminds me that the windmills that we see down in that area, that the windmills right here would be great too. The conversion is essential, that’s what we look at. But all of this is new. New gates. New fence. Although the ones that we did were right there. See the three. One, two, three. [We] opened it up to expose it so that people who would come, the military came and we said that this is an illegal site because this missile is threatening to use it against other people and you can never threaten to use nuclear weapons according to the International Court of Justice. So we just taught the military the day they came that it was not something that they should be part of. That it was a crime happening here. This is a crime scene. And it’s still a crime scene.”
About 30 other people from Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins took part in the vigil including Bob Kinsey 2012 Green Party US Senate candidate who said that he was at the 2002 action, “It’s been so many years that we have come here and it’s so moving to witness that the Catholic religious people made it here, not just the two nuns that were here today but Jackie Hudson who’s deceased and Sachio ko [-Yin] and Daniel Sicken who were here before them and also spent 3 or 4 years in jail for the same type of witness.” Peace activists Daniel Sicken of Brattleboro, Vermont, and Sachio Ko-Yin of Ridgewood, New Jersey, were sentenced on February 18, 1999 in Denver Federal District Court for sabotage, conspiracy, destruction of government property. Sicken was sentenced to 41 months and Ko-Yin to 30 months, “and Carl Kabat who is a Catholic priest who was here as well,” In 2009 outside of Greeley, Father Kabat used bolt cutters to enter another Minuteman III nuclear missile site. He attempted to open a hatch to the silo but was unsuccessful, “Remembering their courage and commitment to peace and truth and a life of love. Carrying about the people of the world and saying that the money we spent on these disasters, these terrible weapons would have been better spent feeding the poor and making the planet work right is the reason I come to remember them and express my solidarity with their witness.”
Carol Gilbert pointed to a fence that she said was not there the last time she came to the site, “This is new. We came to this one because we really wanted to be visible to the world, to the world community. So when you’re up there, it’s on a hill. When you’re up there, you can see the highway. We knew that the road was right down here and it was close enough right off that county road. So that’s why we chose N8, was because of its location. And then after we did the action, the police did shut the county road down because we could see the semis starting to line up on both ends.
It’s hard to know that 12 years later, those weapons are still pointed towards people on this planet to be used. War continues in even worse conditions than it was when we acted here 12 years ago. But its beautiful to see how faithful these people have been in Colorado who continue to come from Colorado Springs and Boulder and Denver that continue to witness at this site and to the other silos. And then it was hard to see as we came, which will not be irrigation being done but the fracking. The pipes that are being laid for the fracking. But then we see beautiful windmills also on this land, so it’s clear that we could make decisions for the planet, and for light, and for beauty if we wanted to. And this is the first time back also having Jackie’s spirit with us but not her body with us. It’s a good time. It’s an important time.”
The group finished the vigil in prayer, “You have given us life, intelligence and the beauty of Creation, O Lord. Your good gifts were given so we might be stewards of all that is alive. In our arrogance we have unleashed fearful forces that destroy. We have brought down fierce fire from the sky.”
Although a local police officer was on site before the group arrived, there were no arrests or confrontations between police and vigil participants. The police officer who said he was the same officer, who had observed other actions at the site, said that his superiors knew that the group would be coming but would not divulge how he knew, “I just take orders from my commanding officer.”
The nuns said that they drew additional inspiration for the day’s action from the Jefferson County students whom they saw protesting their school board’s policies on Wadsworth Boulevard in Denver the day before.