William Rivers Pitt: The Blood of the Righteous
The Blood of the Righteous
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Monday 19 September, 2005
During the Vietnam war, a number of anti-war activists were prosecuted and jailed for taking direct action against recruiting stations and draft board offices. Files were burned and blood was poured on records. Few activists during this time were as dedicated, or as prosecuted, as the brothers Daniel and Philip Berrigan.
In 1967, Philip Berrigan poured his own blood on Selective Service records in Baltimore, and handed out Bibles while waiting to be arrested. In 1969, Berrigan used home-made napalm to incinerate 378 draft files in Catsonville, Maryland. In 1980, the Berrigan brothers entered a General Electric nuclear missile factory in Pennsylvania, hammered on the nose cones, again poured their own blood, and again were arrested.
In every instance, the Berrigan protest actions were grounded in their Christian beliefs. Both brothers were Roman Catholic priests. After the 1969 Catsonville action, Philip Berrigan said, "We confront the Catholic Church, other Christian bodies, and the synagogues of America with their silence and cowardice in the face of our country's crimes. We are convinced that the religious bureaucracy in this country is racist, is an accomplice in this war, and is hostile to the poor."
As the American people grew more and more hostile towards the Vietnam war, actions of conscience taken by people like the Berrigan brothers became more and more threatening to those in government who wished to see the war continue. Punishments became harsher, threats became more dire, all in an effort to derail a popular wave of resistance against the war, and against those who pushed the war.
The wheel has come around again.
Today in New York, a Federal trial has begun against four anti-war activists who went into an Ithaca recruiting office on St. Patrick's Day in 2003 and poured their own blood on the walls, windows and the American flag. The protesters - Daniel J. Burns, 45; Clare T. Grady, 46; her sister, Teresa B. Grady, 40; and Peter J. De Mott, 58 - believed the young would-be recruits in the office had been seduced by video games and government propaganda videos, and wanted to remind them what war was really about. All four opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq. All four are members of the Catholic Worker movement, and model their activism after their heroes, the Berrigan brothers.
"War is bloody," said the four protesters in a statement they read after their action in Ithaca. "The blood we brought to the recruiting station was a sign of the blood inherent in the business of the recruiting station. Blood is a sign of life, which we hold to be precious, and a sign of redemption and conversion, which we seek as people of this nation. The young men and women who join the military, via that recruiting station, are people whose lives are precious. We are obligated, as citizens of a democracy, to sound an alarm when we see our young people being sent into harm's way for a cause that is wholly unjust and criminal. Blood is a potent symbol of life and death."
"Blood is the sacred substance of life," they continued, "yet it is shed wantonly in war. As Catholics, when we receive the Eucharist, we acknowledge our oneness with God and the entire human family. We went to the recruiting center using what we have - our bodies, our blood, our words, and our spirits - to implore, beg, and order our country away from the tragedy of war and toward God's reign of peace and justice."
This trial is not the first time the St. Patrick's Four have faced prosecution for their 2003 action. Initially, they were tried in Tompkins County for felony criminal mischief in April of 2004. All four were offered a plea bargain to avoid trial, and all four refused. The trial itself, to the dismay of the local prosecutor, became a forum on the Iraq war. The four plaintiffs represented themselves. After hearing at length the motivations and life stories of the protesters, the jury in the trial deadlocked, with nine members voting for acquittal.
The prosecutor knew he could not win a re-trial, and referred the case to Federal authorities. Today, the protesters face a variety of serious charges including damaging government property and conspiracy to impede an officer of the United States. If convicted, the four face up to six years in prison and fines of $250,000. Many fear that if the St. Patrick's Four are successfully prosecuted, it will set a national precedent which would allow non-violent protesters to be charged with conspiracy in Federal courts.
So many aspects of this situation are compelling. One cannot help but be moved by four people who went beyond protest marches, pamphleteering and writing letters to the editor, and decided to take direct non-violent action. One cannot help but be gladdened that these four, representing themselves, convinced a jury that their actions were not worthy of prison time. One cannot help but be terrified by the implications of a potential Federal conviction of these four, which would further marginalize the citizen right of protest in a time when more actions, not fewer, are desperately needed.
Yet perhaps the most significant aspect of all this is the simple fact that these four protesters are working to take back the mantle of Christianity from the brigands and radicals who have hijacked and polluted it. When men like Pat Robertson and George W. Bush are allowed to stand as avatars for all things Christian, when hate and fear replaces love and tolerance and violence becomes the chief focus of the so-called faithful, it is all too clear that the words and teachings of Jesus Christ have been subsumed by low people who have more in common with the Taliban than with the fellow called the Prince of Peace.
"Herein lies a riddle," said Philip Berrigan about the very people who have stolen Christianity and perverted it for their own ends. "How can a people so gifted by God become so seduced by naked power, so greedy for money, so addicted to violence, so slavish before mediocre and treacherous leadership, so paranoid, deluded, lunatic?"
One day, perhaps, we will have a solution to that riddle and a cure for the disease which birthed it. In the meantime, four Catholic peacemakers stare down the barrel of a prosecutorial gun today in New York. If you stand against the war, if you stand against the so-called Christians who have so perverted both that religion and our nation entire, if you happen to be the praying type, now would be a good time to put in a word on their behalf.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.