Beating Swords into Ploughshares
In April 2008 Peter was one of three Catholic Worker activists who, calling themselves ANZAC Ploughshares, broke into the US run Waihopai spy base outside Blenheim in the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. After they broke in they deflated a radome, exposing the satellite dish within. Waihopai is a ground receiving station for space-based signals and electronic “intelligence”, which is then fed into the US “Defence” (war-fighting) system. The other Catholic Workers are young organic farmers, Sam land and Adi Leason.
Just like Pine Gap in Australia, information received at Waihopai is a key weapon in US wars around the world. The intelligence is used to generate real- time battlefield information, and to discern military, economic and political targets for operational purposes. The US military calls this space-based intelligence capacity a “force multiplier” – and has been accelerating its use since 1991 and its first war against Iraq.
Peter Murnane says the information collected at Waihopai is also used to identify people for the US “extraordinary rendition” program where suspected “terrorists” are kidnapped and tortured in CIA black ops. Waihopai is part of the Echelon eavesdropping program of US intelligence.
When the ANZAC Ploughshares deflated the Waihopai dome, they not only exposed the role of that spy base in waging global war – they also showed how it’s possible for human beings to act directly and effectively against war.
They are Catholic Workers implementing on Earth the promise of God and the prophecy of Isiah.
The Green fields of Aotearoa
Unlike Pine Gap, which has close to 1,000 personnel overall, including some 400 intelligence analysts on-site interpretting the data harvest as it comes in, Waihopi simply does some independent analysis in Wellington, but mostly just relays the raw data back to the US (or to Australia) for processing.
So Waihopai physically is a small installation surrounded by the verdant green of Aotearoa. It has electrified fences, state-of-the-art security and surveillance systems, and a small box for two security guards – none of which prevented the Catholic Worker activists from entering the base and deflating one of the domes.
Sam Land, Adi Leason and Peter Murnane broke into the spy base using bolt-cutters and they used the two “ten dollar sickles from Bunnings” to slice into one of the Kevlar domes. The tools then formed part of a shrine where the activists prayed while the dome was coming down.
The dome took 15 minutes to fully deflate, and reveal what hid below. It rendered the satellite dish inoperable for several days. When the ruptured dome was removed, it revealed the actual hardware, from which its operating frequencies, and direction (which satellite the base was spying on) could be deduced. It took the state 15 months to replace its discrete covering.
They face trial in the Wellington District Court commencing March 8.
Faith on Trial
I’ve been invited by Sam Land to attend the trial, network with peace activists in NZ, and speak at various gatherings about what’s happening at Pine Gap outside Alice Springs in central Australia (which is growing ever larger and more important to the US military).
I first met Sam Land in October 2006 when he came to Alice Springs to support Christians Against ALL Terrorism during our pre-trial hearings at the Supreme Court in Alice Springs. In his early 20s, Sam is a tall, lanky, easy-going kind of fellow – an organic farmer raised in a Catholic Worker community, with a large extended family and a passion for active peace-making.
With his cousin Renford, Sam made a big heavy cross for a Saturday of action at the gates of Pine Gap, followed by a Sunday celebration of Mass in the same location. The Australian Federal Police found Sam & Renton’s cross so threatening they broke it off its anchor point on Saturday night (after we’d all been directed to leave), and stored it inside the base where they could keep an eye on it.
When they broke into Waihopai and ruptured the Dome, Sam, Peter and Adi built a shrine and prayed for an end to war, an end to torture, and the creation on Earth of a just and peaceful society.
As good Christians do.
The ANZAC Ploughshares were acting in the great tradition of Christian nonviolence.
They acted also in the original ANZAC spirit (working class men and women from Australia and New Zealand sent to slaughter for the British Empire. Those who survived came back to warn us – NEVER do this again!)
The Ploughshares movement shows a clear way forward for our times.
HOPE v DESPAIR
When I assert my vision of hope, some folks usually come back at me with one or both of the two great myths of human disempowerment:
First, war is natural and inevitable to human beings. Nonviolent Direct Action can only ever be a futile and empty gesture that cannot possibly work.
Second, religion has caused more war and misery than any other force known to humanity, and Christians therefore have no right to even talk (let alone preach) about peace-making.
Logically, both cannot be true. Spiritually, I believe both are false!
I’m 55 years old, and I have some thinking about why people believe these myths so passionately. It has to do with disempowerment and fear – and the subsequent tendency to avoid personal responsibility.
Most people are fooled by the ferocious power of the state/Empire. The state presents as omnipotent. It claims to be able to listen in to our every electronic communication (Waihopai, Pine Gap) and to then be capable of effective action against any person or agency that threatens “security”. (They sell it as “our” security, but I think “their” security comes first). They are heavily armed.
The state claims to exert “control” of our lives and environment. Able to ignore with impunity the public opposition of its own people. For example a clear majority of Australians opposed our participation in the war against Iraq, and a majority currently oppose our war in Afghanistan. Prime Minister Howard called us “the mob” (and got away with it). Prime Minister Rudd has committed A$100 Billion of arms acquisition for Australia’s job as Deputy Sherrif in the south west Pacific.
So the war-like state pretends to exist beyond the power of the citizens to bring it under control. And the war-like state MUST be brought under control if war is to be transformed (peace by peace).
We are all aware to some degree about the atrocities being committed every day in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, Tibet, Chechnia (and all the other wars that imperial powers wage to maintain their wealth and privelege). If awareness of injustice determined the outcome, these wars would all lie in the past. But awareness is only one part of the story. The other part is action – what we do to stop injustice.
If we believe the lie of state omnipotence, and if we imagine we’re alone, that we are isolated individuals whenever we’re moved to challenge the moral authority of the state, then we have to believe that we are able all by ourselves to overbear the state – with all its resources and means of forcing compliance. That’s pretty hard to do. Really hard to do. You’d have to think it’s impossible.
That’s why I’m so grateful to Adi, Sam, and Peter (and all their colleagues world-wide) for breaking through the manacles of false despair, and showing us a glimpse of what human creativity can achieve when harnessed to the revelation of the Sermon on the Mount.
ANZAC Ploughshares Puncture Myths
When Adi Leason, Peter Murnane and Sam Land broke in and punctured that dome, they punctured the state’s pompous claim of omnipotence, revealing it for the ridiculous bullshit it is. We can ALL notice the many areas in which the state isn’t even barely competent!
I have been a peace and social justice activist for a bit over 30 years now. I’ve seen a lot, and I like to think I’ve figured a few things out. Of course I become more confused about some other things. (for one I don’t understand how people can live without faith).
I’ve seen and felt the miraculous – what happens all the time when people find the courage to take a risk, and act on faith. When I broke into Pine Gap in 2005 with Christians Against ALL Terrorism, the Federal Police shone a spot-light right on Donna and I, but did not see. Our action shut that base down for two hours. In July 2009 at Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area, 11 of us trespassed onto the base and brought the live-firing exercises to a halt. When I surrendered myself, an armoured column of US Marines took evasive action and one APC threw a track, which stopped that column for 90 minutes. In October last year I went for a swim in Trinity Inlet, and stopped the USS Blue Ridge for 10 minutes.
Every day I read of others around the world taking the same kind of action – and HAVING AN EFFECT!
I’ve accepted Sam’s invitation, and soon I’m off to Wellington to observe, organise, and blog about the trial. Stay tuned for further celebrations of grass-roots peace-making.