Protesting priest guilty, free, defiant
by Sharon Dunn (courtesy of the Greeley Tribune)
In the end, a jury had no choice but to convict.
The Rev. Carl Kabat, 76, was photographed at the N-8 missile silo in northeast Weld County. Two-foot bolt cutters were found on the ground. There was a hole in the fence surrounding the facility, and he was waiting inside for his eventual arrest.
Kabat had breached nuclear missile facilities like these for the past two decades, and had 17 convictions behind him in his quest to do his small part to rid the earth of nuclear weapons, which the Catholic Church has deemed a crime against humanity.
But the members of the jury had to look beyond the message. After one hour of deliberations, they convicted him of the two misdemeanor criminal mischief and trespassing charges.
“We understand what he was standing for,” said jury member Ben Salgado, 56, of Windsor, after the verdict. “We just wish he would have chosen a different forum.”
As the jury was dismissed, Kabat applauded them, some walking out with tears in their eyes. One said as she left the courthouse: “It was very emotional.”
The St. Louis priest was immediately sentenced to the time he'd already served behind bars — 137 days — though deputy district attorney David Skarka asked for the maximum of one year for each of the misdemeanors to be served back to back. The county already had shelled out roughly $7,950 to keep him in jail for almost five months, based on a cost of about $58 per day per inmate. Had he been sentenced to Skarka's request, the county would have paid $26,000 more to keep him for a remaining 456 days.
“It's unfortunate that they didn't have any significant stance,” Kabat said as he left the courthouse. “I understand because these people are ordinary people, and they don't realize the power they have ... or the insanity (of those weapons) in the ground.”
Weld County Court Judge Dana Nichols opted not to fine Kabat but did impose standard court costs totaling $254.50 and gave the prosecution time to file a notice of restitution to Warren Air Force Base for damages. Kabat promised more civil disobedience.
“I will not make restitution, or pay fines or make any payments. That will be supporting nuclear weapons,” Kabat vowed.
That capped a two-day trial that brought with it one big twist: After his attorneys presented to the jury a multitude of banners he had hung up at the silo facility, Kabat fired them — a move he'd planned months ago so he would have the freedom to say what he wanted to say in court.
But Kabat's testimony on his own behalf didn't go quite the way he planned, as evidenced by the prosecution's objections to him continually bringing up arguments about the destructive power of weapons of mass destruction.
“I wish you'd object to nuclear weapons,” Kabat said.
After several attempts by Nichols to get Kabat to focus on the evidence against him, Kabat decided it didn't matter what he said.
The jury members, however, immediately wrote down their questions.
One juror asked why he wouldn't rather just protest peacefully outside the perimeter of the fence.
“Why in the civil rights (era) did they march down the street when they said, ‘You can't march down the street?' Because it's wrong,” Kabat answered. “I guess I think it's up to us to try to get rid of these things.”
Skarka asked him simply, “Are you above the law?”
Kabat replied: “All wrong law, yes. God's law is above all these man-made things.”
During his closing arguments, Kabat quoted Albert Einstein and Ghandi, and he beseeched the jury to be the conscience of a nation.
“I don't know you, but you are my sisters and brothers,” Kabat said. “We're all God's children, and we have to look after one another. We have to be significant actors. How many times have you written to your senator, to your congressman? ... For some of us, (it's been) countless times.”
Salgado, of the jury, a postal worker by trade and a former military man, said the potential sentence did weigh on the jury's mind.
“That really weighed on all of our hearts,” he said. “It wasn't an aggressive (protest), and he wasn't in there to really damage things. It was just a political statement.”
He said the trial was an eye-opener, however. Some on the jury, he said, didn't even know there were silos in Colorado. But, he said, he wouldn't be surprised to see Kabat protesting again someday. Kabat had earlier said he'd be happy to die in prison for peace.
“I think he's the type of guy that stands for his faith and what he believes,” Salgado said. “I wouldn't be surprised at all, actually.”
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Carl Kabat's Crime Against Nuclear Missiles
Kabat, in the tradition of conscientious objection, of resisting unjust laws, calls to mind the legacy of rabble-rousers and gadflies like Thoreau and Gandhi; like them, his acts of resistance are often met with annoyance and worse. The act of the resister is not one that invites or exhorts the law-abider, as any comment stream will tell you. It risks arrogance, self-righteousness, and the madness of isolation. But that doesn't automatically make it wrong--or, perhaps, even necessary. Thanks to Tim Musser for keeping me in the loop on this one.