National Catholic Reporter
Antiwar protesters face federal conspiracy charges
By CLAIRE SCHAEFFER-DUFFY
The U.S. federal government is prosecuting four Catholic peace activists from Ithaca, N.Y., after a state court jury refused to convict them last year for their antiwar protest at a local U.S. military recruiting station. The federal charges made against the activists include “conspiracy to impede an officer of the United States,” a crime punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
“The federal government is clearly trying to make an example of these people and to intimidate future nonviolent protestors by charging these folks with conspiracy,” said Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola University, New Orleans, and an advising attorney for the activists.
On March 17, 2003, in protest of the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq, Danny Burns, Peter DeMott, and sisters Clare and Teresa Grady poured small bottles of their own blood on the walls, floor and an American Flag in the foyer of a military recruiting center in Lansing, N.Y.
Charged with criminal mischief, the activists, who have been dubbed the St. Patrick’s Four, spent four days in jail and in April 2004 were tried at the Tompkins County Courthouse. During their weeklong trial, the defendants, all of whom have children, said they carried out their protest as Catholics and parents who wanted to warn members of the military and potential recruits about the illegality and immorality of the war in Iraq.
“As parents, we know the love of our children and hold deeply the belief that we are all God’s children. It is never OK to kill another of God’s children and it is especially grievous to send one’s children, our children to another land to kill other children,” said Clare Grady, a mother of two.
The jury voted 9 to 3 in favor of acquittal, leading some to conclude the case of the St. Patrick’s Four was closed. But in February, a federal grand jury charged the four activists, all of whom were arrested during a previous demonstration at the Lansing recruiting station, with two counts of criminal trespass, destruction of government property and conspiring to induce “by force, intimidation and threat, officers of the United States to leave the place where their duties as officers of the United States are required to be performed.”
Last month, Thomas J. McAvoy, senior U.S. district judge for northern New York, rejected the defendants’ motion for dismissal and set a trial for Sept. 19 in Binghamton, N.Y. In his May 8 decision, McAvoy also ruled the defendants would not be allowed to cite international law as a justification for their actions at the recruiting station.
“This court offers no opinion on the war in Iraq as it is entirely irrelevant to this matter. Assuming an illegal war, it does not provide a justification for violating the criminal laws of the United States,” he wrote.
It is not clear who requested federal prosecution for the St. Patrick’s Four. McAvoy denied the defendants request for “a copy of all communications” between state and federal prosecutors. The office of Ithaca District Attorney George M. Dentes, who closed the case at the state level, said it could not comment on a trial that was not in their jurisdiction.
Claire Schaeffer-Duffy is a freelance writer living in Worcester, Mass.