The St. Patrick’s Four
By Ben Tanzer
On March 17, 2003, days before the start of “shock and awe” and just a month after the February 15-16 anti-war protests held around the world, a group of Catholic Workers who would come to be known as the St. Patrick’s Four (SP4)—Danny Burns, Clare Grady, Peter DeMott, and Teresa Grady—walked into a military recruiting center in Lansing, NY, and poured their own blood on recruitment posters, walls, and an American flag to protest the Iraq War.
Alone in the vestibule, they read an action statement that proclaimed, “As our nation prepares to escalate the war on the people of Iraq … we pour our blood on the walls of this military recruiting center … to remind ourselves and others of the cost in human life of our government’s war making.” Inspired by nonviolent activists ranging from Thoreau to Rosa Parks, they noted that their actions were guided by love for all victims of the war, from Iraqi children to U.S. soldiers: “We … come here with love in our hearts for the U.S. service people, also victims of war making. We find hope in these dark times when sisters and brothers around the world resist the spirit of hatred and violence, lift up prayers for peace—together with works for peace.”
Morally and Legally Obligated
The SP4 were charged with felony criminal mischief in Tompkins County, NY.
During their state trial in April 2004, the SP4 argued that they were compelled by international treaties signed by the United States to take action against the war. In their eyes, the United States was in violation of the Nuremberg principles and the Geneva Convention, and they were legally obligated to take action against the illegal war by the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, which stated, “Anyone with knowledge of illegal activity and an opportunity to do something about it is a potential criminal under international law unless the person takes affirmative measures to prevent commission of the crimes.”
As Clare Grady emphasized in a September 2005 interview, “I know that warfare these days targets civilians. We are violating many of the things we signed on to [by engaging in a] war of aggression. … After the Nuremburg tribunals, and the Tokyo tribunals, what emerged is that all citizens are responsible for the crimes of their government. And Tokyo is more specific: If you know of a crime and you don’t take action to prevent it, you are culpable for that crime. That really reflects where we are coming from with a biblical basis. I am my brother’s keeper and if I know something is going to happen, I have the responsibility to sound the alarm. Nonviolent symbolic action is in that prophetic tradition.”
To understand the SP4, one needs to understand the Catholic Worker movement, which was founded in 1933 by Dorothy Day. Among other things, Catholic Worker communities are known for their culture of nonviolence. Catholic Workers have a long history of being jailed for acts of protest against social injustice and war.
The SP4 are deeply rooted in this tradition. The Gradys’ father, John, was a Catholic Worker and a member of the Camden 28, a group protestors arrested, and then acquitted, for stealing and destroying draft records from a federal building in New Jersey in 1971. Burns is a son of a former Binghamton, NY, mayor who came out against the Vietnam War, against a sitting Democratic president. And DeMott is a Vietnam veteran whose experience in the military convinced him of “the futility of war and of the sad misallocation of resources which war making requires.” He joined the Catholic Worker movement in l979 to work nonviolently for justice and peace.
At the end of the SP4’s week-long state trial, nine of twelve members of the jury deadlocked, and the judge declared a mistrial. Rather than retrying the case at the local level, where he did not believe he could win, District Attorney George Dentes referred it to federal authorities. In September 2005, the SP4 were brought to trial in a federal court in Binghamton, NY, on “conspiracy to impede an officer of the United States by threat, intimidation, and force,” as well as a series of lesser charges. This was the first federal conspiracy charge against anti-war protesters since the Vietnam era, and it was brought despite the fact that the SP4 were alone in the recruitment-center vestibule during their protest—a judicial action interpreted by many as a blatant attempt to silence dissent.
A week before the federal trial, U.S. District Judge Thomas J. McAvoy issued a decision that deemed the Iraq War and international law “immaterial” to the trial. He wrote, “The focus is not whether they believe they were acting for lawful purpose in furtherance of international law, but whether they had the mental resolution to impede an officer of the United States or otherwise engage in conduct alleged in the indictment.” Accordingly, in the federal trial the SP4 could not address the war, the Geneva conventions, Nuremberg, or other treaties as they had during their state trial.
The federal jury found the SP4 not guilty of the more serious charge of conspiracy, but convicted them on the misdemeanor charges of damage to property and trespassing. As SP4 legal adviser Bill Quigley told the Ithaca Journal on Sept. 27, 2005, this verdict “was a signal to the government that it overreacted with the conspiracy charge…Misdemeanor-level trespassing convictions are more typical convictions for protesters charged in federal courts.” The SP4 will be sentenced in January 2006.
I asked Danny Burns if the SP4 expect to go to jail. He said, “I don’t care about going to jail. …I don’t want these kids being killed in Iraq. And is that worth going to jail? Yes.”
Ben Tanzer is a social worker and writer who lives in Chicago with his beautiful wife and two young sons. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Punk Planet, Rated Rookie, Midnight Mind, THE2NDHAND, Prose Toad, The Truth Magazine, Abroad View, and Chicago Parent. Ben grew up in Binghamton, NY, and is the child, grandchild, and great grandchild of activists; he is honored to write about the courageous actions of the SP4.
Clare Grady agrees: “My hope is that my action, that my life will be further transformed and that my actions will ripple out.… A big part of our action is a passion for not just our children, but the world’s children.”