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VA Catholic Worker Sentenced to 2 Months in Jail

On August 7th of this year, Brian Buckley, a Catholic Worker from Lousia County, VA, walked into the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum’s hanger in Chantilly, VA with a group of approximately 20 others. This hanger is home to, among many other items, the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These bombs resulted in the deaths of over 200,000 people by the end of 1945. Brian and the others approached the plane and six of the group proceeded to die-in. Brian then poured ashes over himself and the others to symbolize the ashes of those who were incinerated by the bomb. Other members of the group unfurled a banner and passed out flyers explaining the action, calling the Enola Gay a weapon of mass destruction and a killing machine. The group also chanted and sang songs of peace. Brian and another man were arrested and the rest of the group was escorted from the building.

Brian was found guilty of disorderly conduct earlier this year in a bench trial, and appealed the decision. Monday, Dec. 6, he returned to Fairfax County to make his case in front of Judge Keith, and was sentenced to 2 months in jail and a $2000 fine.
Brian’s Appeal

On August 7th of this year, Brian Buckley walked into the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum’s hanger in Chantilly, VA with a group of approximately 20 others. This hanger is home to, among many other items, the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These bombs resulted in the deaths of over 200,000 people by the end of 1945. Brian and the others approached the plane and six of the group proceeded to die-in. Brian then poured ashes over himself and the others to symbolize the ashes of those who were incinerated by the bomb. Other members of the group unfurled a banner and passed out flyers explaining the action, calling the Enola Gay a weapon of mass destruction and a killing machine. The group also chanted and sang songs of peace. Brian and another man were arrested and the rest of the group was escorted from the building.

Brian was found guilty of disorderly conduct earlier this year in a bench trial, and appealed the decision. Monday, Dec. 6, he returned to Fairfax County to make his case in front of Judge Keith. After waiting for over an hour and being shuffled from another courtroom, a lawyer for the federal government began the day’s proceedings with a motion that one of the museum’s docents, whom Brian had subpoenaed, not be allowed to testify. The judge granted the motion. Brian had wanted the docent to speak about the Enola Gay exhibit and about his experiences in WWII (he was a veteran who had flown B-29s in the war). To these requests, the judge rapidly grunted, “What has that got to do with disorderly conduct?? Throughout the trial, the judge made no attempt to disguise his annoyance that Brian was representing himself and was unfamiliar with courtroom protocol.

During Brian’s opening statements, the judge interrupted him to instruct him to present evidence and not to speak about the political aspects of the Enola Gay, or of war in general. Brian responded that his desire in acting was to push for a more accurate representation of the Enola Gay at the museum, one that mentioned not only its technological advances but also that it was used to drop bombs that killed hundreds of thousands of people. No mention of that is made at the exhibit despite years of appeals from thousands of people, including survivors of the bomb blasts.

The prosecution’s case focused mostly on the “inconvenience? created from the use of an “unknown substance? (the ash, which was from a charcoal grill). The building was evacuated until they found out the nature of the “substance.? Brian’s questions of the security and police officers that covered anything but the strict facts of the case were met with objections sustained by the judge. One of the officers stated that Brian told other protestors not to cooperate with the police; this was a lie.

In his testamony, Brian repeated that his motivation was not to cause alarm or inconvenience but to educate the public and to put additional pressure on the Smithsonian to offer a more balanced Enola Gay exhibit, one that included information regarding how it was the vehicle by which the U.S. military exterminated hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians. Brian was dogged by objections again.

In her cross-examination, Ms. Whitely asked him whether he brought a broom to clean up, or whether he had personally written letters to the Smithsonian about the Enola Gay exhibit. She tried her best to ignore Brian’s explanations about the petitions, book, movie, previous actions, etc. that had preceded his action and to suggest that Brian be satisfied with “safe and legal? options after all the aforementioned efforts failed.

Ms. Whitely’s asserted in her closing that Brian “needlessly disrupted? the other visitors to the museum. Yet she also mentioned that she (and the jurors) may not even disagree with Brian’s actions (but that they should find him guilty anyway). One of the conditions that she had to prove was that a reasonable person would be moved to violence as a result of Brian’s actions. To prove this, she tried to assert that the security guard’s use of force to restrain Brian counted as an act of violence. It is unclear whether she realized that what in fact she was doing was saying that we live in a system that institutionalizes violence and that it is reasonable. In the end, she asked for only a few days in jail, to teach him a lesson.

In his closing, Brian proved undeterred by the judges effort to de-politicize his actions. He spoke about war and its consequences; how his action came after many previous ones, that it was done not recklessly but with much thought, planning, and prayer and merely to educate the public. He asserted that we all have an obligation to never let a Hiroshima happen again and that the Smithsonian is abdicating its responsibility by offering a sanitized version of history. He spoke passionately and to the point of tears, imploring that ashes and signs are nothing compared to the destruction of war and urging the jurors to compare the chaos of a couple of pounds of ashes to the thousands of innocent civilians who died.

During her close, Ms Whitely asserted that Brian had acted out of anger. He interrupted to state that this wasn’t true. Just how rattled she was by this statement became apparent after the jury retired. She became angry with Brian for having interrupted, saying that she could petition for additional penalties. She then turned to the group of us who were there to support Brian, to explain to us why she said what she did. Their exchange continued as she walked to the door. Outside the courtroom, she broke into tears and was surrounded by several of the officers who had testified. It is obvious that she was affected by the experience, that perhaps Brian broke through some of her lawyerly conditioning and touched the real person inside.

The jury deliberated for approximately 45 minutes. They declared him guilty and fixed his punishment at 2 months in jail and a $2000 fine. We were all somewhat surprised, especially given that the prosecutor had only mentioned a few days in jail in her request to the jury. Brian was immediately handcuffed and led away to begin serving his time. He left us expressing gratitude and love.

Brian is being held at the Fairfax County Detention Center. For more information, please call Little Flower Catholic Worker at 540-967-5574
 
 


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