Monday, September 27, 2010

Snow Ghost Community Show.

On May 17, 1968, the "Catonsville Nine" went to the draft board in Catonsville, Maryland, took 378 draft files, brought them to the parking lot in wire baskets, dumped them out, poured homemade napalm over them, and set them on fire.

On the 40th anniversary, we talk with Catonsville Nine member Tom Lewis, and long-time peace activist Michael True.

The 9 were:

* Father Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest
* Philip Berrigan, a former Josephite priest (deceased)
* Bro. David Darst (deceased)
* John Hogan (deceased)
* Tom Lewis, an artist (deceased)
* Marjorie Bradford Melville
* Thomas Melville, a former Maryknoll priest
* George Mische
* Mary Moylan (deceased).

George Mische and Father Phil Berrigan were prime organizers of the Catonsville 9. Numerous Baltimore community members assisted in key ways as well. The organizing process was very democratic- with interminable meetings and who's in, who's out hand raisings.

Fr. Philip Berrigan and Tom Lewis had previously poured blood on draft records as part of "The Baltimore Four"- with David Eberhardt and James Mengel - and were out on bail when they burned the records at Catonsville. The first documented action against draft files is reputed to have been by Barry Bondhus in Minnesota- who, along with other family members, carried human ordure into a draft board and then defaced draft records.

The Catonsville Nine were tried in federal court October 5–9, 1968. The lead defense attorney was William Kunstler. They were found guilty of destruction of U.S. property, destruction of Selective Service files, and interference with the Selective Service Act of 1967. They were also sentenced to a total of 18 years jail time and a fine of $22,000. Several of the nine- Mary Moylan, Phil Berrigan, Dan Berrigan and George Mische, went "undergound"- when it came time to show up for prison- in other words, the FBI had to try to find them. Father Dan Berrigan caused considerable embarrassment to FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, by popping up and giving sermons and then fading back into the "undergound".

Fr. Daniel Berrigan wrote, of the Catonsville incident: "Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children. . . ."- the whole of his statement is in The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.

Large demonstrations occurred outside the Federal Courthouse on Calvert St. during the trial. The trial came soon after the events of the Democratic Convention in Chicago- where considerable violence took place. The 9's trial, with religious people involved, made the overall peace movement a bit harder to dismiss- since protesters in Chicago consisted of younger, student and SDS, Weather Underground, and youths with long hair.

Both the Judge- Roszel C. Thomsen and prosecutor of the 9- Stephen Sachs, realized the historic proportions of the event- but allowed little leeway to the defendants arguments. In these early trials of such actions- the government always overcharged and always tried to keep the trials to "nothing but the facts"- i.e.- did the 9 destroy files? or did they not. The 9, on the other hand, often referred to a higher law that they were following- God's moral law, as well as such precedents as the Nuremberg war crimes trials after World War II. They called several expert witnesses. At one point, prosecutor Sachs quipped that "the government is not a balloon attached to the consciences of the 9."

Numerous reunions have occurred with participants including jurors- the prosecutor- Steve Sachs, who later ran for Governor of Maryland- and, of course - members of the 9.

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