Five anti-war protesters – including a Jesuit priest from the Hilltop – were handed prison sentences ranging from two months to 15 months in federal court in Tacoma today for breaking into Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor to protest the nuclear weapons stored there.
The five – including two Catholic priests and a sister – were convicted by a federal jury of using bolt cutters to cut through three chain-link fences to enter an area where nuclear warheads are stored on the base, about 40 miles northwest of Tacoma.
The Rev. Bill Bichsel, of Tacoma, 82, was sentenced to three months in prison and six months home detention by U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle. Settle also sentenced 84-year-old Sister Anne Montgomery to two months in prison and four months in home detention.
Supporters, including former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and Retired Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit – praised the five for taking non-violent action against nuclear weapons.
“Their conscience is telling them they have to do it,” Clark said.
But Settle called the protesters’ actions a “form of anarchy” that if left unchecked would result in a breakdown of society. While Settle praised the five for their life stories and humanitarian work, the judge said he was bound by law to send “a very clear message” that legal – not illegal – means must be used to try to bring about change.
“Indeed, there is no indication of remorse” by any of the five, Settle said.
Settle’s sentences for the other three were:
• 15 months in prison for the Rev. Stephen Kelly, 62, a Jesuit priest from Oakland, Calif.
• 15 months in prison for Susan Crane, 67, a retired public school teacher from Baltimore.
• Six months in prison for Lynne Greenwald, 61, a social worker from Bremerton.
Kelly defended the protesters actions during today’s sentencing.
“We went to the base to uphold a higher law,” Kelly said.
Kelly and Crane received the longest sentences because they had the most extensive criminal history. Both have several prior convictions for destroying government property at military installations across the country as a protest of U.S. military weapons.
While supporters in the packed courtroom sang “rejoice in the Lord always,” the five were taken into custody to the federal detention center in SeaTac.
Bichsel has spent about 20 months in federal prison for prior acts of trespass at Bangor and at a federal facility in Georgia.
Prosecutors recommended mid-range sentences for each of the protesters. Settle issued shorter sentences than prosecutors recommended.
He cited Bichel’s work to help others in the community.
“It’s not easy to sit in judgment of people who have lived such sacrificial lives,” Settle said.
The five were convicted Dec. 13 of conspiracy, trespassing and destruction of government property. They faced up to 10 years in prison.
The defendants admitted they broke into the base around 2 a.m. on Nov. 2, 2009. Bichsel previously said the protesters were beyond the perimeter fence for about 41/2 hours before they cut through the final two fences and military personnel responded to an alarm.
The armed guards ordered the banner-carrying activists to the ground and placed bags over their heads so they couldn’t view any more of the secure area. Bichsel has estimated the protesters were within 35 to 50 feet of the weapons bunkers.
During their weeklong trial, the protesters wanted to focus their defense on their motivation for breaking into the base, but Settle barred them from submitting arguments that called the weapons illegal under international law.
During the sentencing, the protesters and their supporters did speak about their intent.
Prosecutors and Settle said the protesters endangered themselves and military guards by entering a secure area.
The five protesters have 10 days from the sentencing to decide whether they will appeal the jury’s verdict to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Members of the group gave differing views whether they would appeal.