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50 resist nuclear bomb production in KC; 10 arrested

Catholic Workers from around the Midwest came to Kansas City to protest the making of parts for nuclear weapons there, and the preparation for doubling the size of the nuke-plant.
Ann Suellentrop, left, and Steve Jacobs monitor proceedings as protesters in yellow vests put "Crime Scene" tape on a dump truck used to prepare a field for building a huge addition to the bomb factory in KC, MO.--Photos by Jim Hannah

By Jane Stoever

Barbara Kass, left, watches as her husband, Mike Miles, is handcuffed. They and five others crossed the property line at the National Security Campus to protest the making of nuclear weapon parts there, in KC, MO.

With workers streaming into the Kansas City Nuclear Security Campus (NSC)—not a campus but a giant factory making parts for nuclear weapons—50 Catholic Workers and friends took action to try to stop production of nuclear weapon parts at the NSC. And—oh, yes—we protested the building of new structures to make the so-called campus twice its size.

Three persons put “crime scene—do not enter” tape on a huge dump truck on the field the NSC needs flattened for the new building to make new nukes. Workmen told us, “We’re just moving dirt,” an amazing disconnect between their labor and the factory to come that will do mechanical/electronic work for US nuclear bombs.

Lindsey Myers, left, leads a chant; Mary O’Connell, seated, calls for us to stop paying for war–the right message for tax day.

Two persons—Brian Terrell of Maloy, Iowa, and Bennette Dibben of PeaceWorks KC—put the same “crime scene” tape on the hulking sign at the NSC entry road. Brian and six others crossed the purple line indicating the NSC property line and stayed there under arrest. Our presence and commotion led the guards to place waist-high concrete highway dividers across the main entry road and sent employees to a further entry. Brian later said, “We stopped the workers from getting to the plant as usual!”

All 10 persons were driven hand-cuffed to a police office for fingerprinting, picture-taking, and release. No bond was demanded—no fee had to be paid to get out of the police station. The arraignment for most of the line-crossers will be June 3, 1:30 pm, in the KC, MO, Municipal Court. 

The media, including the KC Defender (see Instagram), tracked the action. The Kansas City Star interviewed us, took pictures, and gave us a front-page story April 16 (https://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article287691830.html#storylink=cpy). A photo drone flew overhead, thanks to a volunteer from the local Free Palestine group.

Later, resisters and supporters met at Cherith Brook Catholic Worker in KC MO for a feast. They soon retrieved their belongings from the nearby Jerusalem Farm, where most had settled for the April 12-15 Midwest Catholic Worker Faith and Resistance Retreat.

Overheard after the resistance:

Kathy Kelly of St. Charles, IL, explains the little-known work of the Kansas City National Security Campus.

—“Some of the drivers headed for the plant parking lot gave us a thumbs-up,” said Barbara Kass of Anathoth Community, a Catholic Worker farm near Luck, WI. “With the news about Iran and Israel this weekend, everyone is nervous. All are on alert.” Barbara spoke with the woman officer who drove her and others to the police station. The woman said, “I’ve lived in Kansas City my whole life and didn’t know this was there”—the nuclear weapon factory. Kansas Citians on the retreat said many local people do not have a clue what NSC does.

—Mike Miles, husband of Barbara Kass, said he liked doing the resistance at about 7:30 am as workers were arriving. Often PeaceWorks KC has held actions at the NSC entry road on Memorial Day or a weekend. For the future, Mike advised, “Go there when people are there!” Mike got to talk with one man walking toward the plant. Mike asked, “You work here?” The man replied, “Well, for now.” Maybe he’s re-evaluating his work at the nuclear weapon plant?

—“It was important that we held signs on the road some ways from the entry road,” said one supporter, feeling that it helped give drivers notice of our reason for descending on the area. Sarah Cool of Atlanta, GA, said it would be wise once a month or so to have a few folks hang out with peace signs near the entrance, on the public right-of-way, where people if they wished could converse with us.

Protesters tell Honeywell, operator of the National Security Campus, to stop escalating nuclear war; others explain the resisters are upholding the law.

—“Jane, watch out who you hang around with,” Scot Bol of Duluth, MN, said to me about Greg Boertje-Obed. “He’s a terrorist!” This comment came after Scot, Greg, and I had succeeded in taping up an earthmover and were relaxing after release at the police station. One officer had noted that their files identify Greg as a terrorist. Well, Greg has done some Plowshare actions where government property was damaged. Scot took issue with the terrorist brand, saying, “Greg is the gentlest man I know.” Greg and his wife, Michelle, founded the Duluth, MN, Hildegard Catholic Worker House.

Millie Fried is on duty with her sign.

Brian Terrell, of the Strangers and Guests Catholic Worker House in Maloy, IA, said he saw progress in our KC experiences since 2010 with the guards, the police, and the courts. In the October 2023 trial of Ann Suellentrop, of the boards of Physicians for Social Responsibility and PeaceWorks, after the defense had rested its case, the prosecutor asked the judge to add the name Honeywell to the citation from the police. The judge, who had already heard the case, refused that request and declared Ann not guilty. “You are free to go!” the judge told Ann—meaning no sentence of community service, no court fine, no probation. Just free.

Bennette Dibben, left, drums as she and Debora Demeter, both PeaceWorks activists, share a light-hearted moment on the protest line.

At this year’s April 15 event, Brian overheard a guard telling the police, in their citation, to refer to our resistance as occurring on the NNSA site (National Nuclear Security Administration site) instead of only identifying Honeywell. In other words, Honeywell simply operates the factory for NNSA. Brian underlined the national aspect of our KC efforts. Thanks, Brian!

Among the Catholic Worker families attending the retreat and resistance were Paul and Sara Freid and two of their daughters, Millie and Louise. During the April 13 evening talent show, Millie, 11, played her ukelele and sang “I’ll Fly Away.” At the police station April 15, while some of the early civil resisters were waiting to be allowed to leave the station, Paul Freid and another line-crosser arrived for processing. Recalling Millie’s rendition two days earlier, the resisters sang (softly) “I’ll Fly Away.” Indeed, there was a sense of jubilant flying away after the two-part resistance.

For the record: Besides the civil resisters named in this story (Brian, Barbara, Mike, Paul, Scot, Greg, and myself), the others to be arraigned are Tom Fox (former National Catholic Reporter editor and publisher), Eric Garbison (of Cherith Brook Catholic Worker), and Al Zook (of Luck, WI).

—Jane Stoever serves on the PeaceWorks KC Communications Team. © 2024, Jane Stoever, Jim Hannah, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International License.

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