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The Ultra-Resistance

That trial tore me up,” he said. “I’m still not sure what they accomplished politically. But whatever religion is, they’re where it’s at…. I suppose the essence of religiousness is to break rules at the proper time…. What the hell do you expect when a great priest like Mullaney leaves the monastery after nineteen years and sees what life is like in Roxbury, Massachusetts?”

On May 26th, the eleventh and last day of the trial, Judge Larson charged the jury, using almost the same words with which the judge of a Federal Court in Baltimore, seven months previously, had charged the jurors of the Catonsville Nine. “The law does not recognize political, religious or moral convictions, or some higher law, as justification for the commission of a crime, no matter how good the motive may be…people who believe that the Vietnam war is illegal or unconstitutional or morally wrong have the right to protest in various ways….”

The defendants went out for beer. There was a glimmer of hope for a hung jury in the sideburned computer analyst, and in two women jurors who had wept during Forest’s and Mullaney’s closing statements. But the twelve were soon recalled. The jury had deliberated for only seventy minutes before returning its verdict, charge by charge, defendant by defendant, thirty-six times in a row, as guilty of arson, burglary, and theft.

There was a half-minute of stunned silence in the courtroom. Judge Larson began to sum up the jury’s findings. Then, as if ignited by a slow fuse, pandemonium erupted in the courtroom. It was set off by a young spectator in the back row who yelled out, “If they are guilty I am too, from this day forward I am a draft resister!”

We thank you, men and women of the jury,” shouted Sister Joanna Malone of the D.C. Nine raiders, a nun who specialized in liturgical dancing, “for finding Jesus Christ guilty again!”

The nun’s voice set off a burst of rhythmical applause by the two hundred people wedged into the courtroom, a chorus of sobbing and weeping, a melee of clenched fists and V signs. Dozens of spectators rose, linked arms throughout the courtroom, and swayed, singing “We Shall Overcome.” The jurors tried to pick their way out of the courtroom through the milling, swaying throng. “Clear the Court, I’ve got to have more sheriffs,” Judge Larson shouted, helplessly standing behind the bench. Eight frantic bailiffs started to drag limp spectators out of the courtroom. “Good God,” the judge cried again, “I’ve got to have more policemen!” As the courtroom began to clear, Judge Larson feebly attempted to restore decorum by repeating the jury’s findings. As he called out their names, the defendants refused to rise, and instead shouted a last protest to the Court. “I pity the nation that fears its young!” Father Mullaney blasted out.

Judge Larson proceeded to cite Fred Ojile, Doug Marvy, and Reverend Higgenbotham for contempt of court during the proceedings of the trial, the latter for having “uttered the name of the Son of God.” “You’ve lost your authority, Judge,” Father Harney snapped as the judge sentenced the three to ten extra days in jail for contempt, whereupon Judge Larson announced the same fines for Harney’s contempt. “Thanks a lot,” Harney said, “and good luck to you, too.”

In the hall outside the courtroom one hundred persons still milled about. Three young men burned their draft cards, and the supporters of the Milwaukee twelve made the sign of the cross on their foreheads with the remaining ashes. The trial ended, as it had proceded, in a bizarre mixture of burlesque and religious fervor.

The Milwaukee twelve were free on bail until June 6th, when they returned to Judge Larson’s court for sentencing. Judge Larson gave the men two years—a benign sentence compared to the six years given Philip Berrigan the previous spring, the three years given to most members of the Catonsville Nine, the four and five years still being given to men refusing induction. As the Judge began to sentence Father Mullaney, he choked on that good Irish name and fumbled among his black robes for a handkerchief. He wept for a few seconds, and then in a timorous voice resumed sentencing the monk, who stood before him triumphantly, dressed in clerical black, his arms folded as if he were the executioner.

This first attempt at legal self-defense raised the political issues as no previous resistance trial had done. It had tortured the consciences of a few in power. The defendants had been let off lightly. The twelve could be paroled, after all, in a mere fourteen months. Movement lawyers began to write manuals for lay advocacy.

During the second week of the Milwaukee twelve’s trial, three more acts of destruction and instruction took place. On May 20th, in Los Angeles, three young men removed and burned several hundred I-A draft files from a downtown induction center. They were all residents of Peace House in Pasadena, a community of draft resisters that had taken sanctuary at a local Quaker meeting house. The Quakers were definitely getting into the act. One of them, Walter Skinner, a former secretary of the American Friends Service Committee, participated in the raid a few days before he was scheduled to be sentenced for refusing induction. “We destroy draft records,” so read the statement of the “Pasadena Three,” as the group called itself, “because we wish to make a statement clear and precise, to the best of our abilities, that we shall continue to carry on non-violent resistance to this government… We urge others to responsible action.”

At seven the following morning, three young men, Michael Bransome, eighteen, Leslie Bayless, twenty-two, and his seventeen-year-old brother John Bayless, entered the Selective Service Office at Silver Spring, Maryland, and mutilated part of its records with a mixed medium of black paint and blood. “We accuse you, the American government,” the Silver Spring Three’s statement read, “of mass murder in Vietnam, of economic oppression in underdeveloped nations as well as in our own cities, of the creation of a life-style based on the priority of property over lives….” Leslie Bayless, like his Pasadena colleague, was about to be sentenced to five years in prison for refusing induction. The Bayless boys’ father, a Pentagon official, was unavailable for comment.

Five days later, at five a.m. on May 25th, thirteen men and two women entered a draft board in Chicago’s South Side, grabbed an estimated forty thousand draft records out of the filing cabinets, and celebrated Pentecost by burning them in a nearby alley. The group included two priests—a Carmelite monk and a curate from Father Groppi’s Milwaukee parish; a staff member of the American Friends Service Committee’s Chicago office; a twenty-three-year-old girl truckdriver; and two men, Charles Muse and John Phillips, who are the seasonal heroes of the Ultra Resistance for their sheer persistence in choosing to live in jail.

Twenty-year-old Charles Muse left Allenwood prison last December and had been discharged from parole supervision only eighteen hours before he took part in the Chicago Fifteen’s draft board raid in May. “I feel guilty about having it so good,” he told a friend a few days before the action. “It’s not really so different out here from in there.” As for twenty-two-year-old John Phillips, he had refused to leave jail when his term was up. He had been rolled out of Allenwood in a wheelchair, and had gone home to Boston to found an organization named the Prisoners’ Information and Support Service, called PISS for short. Its mottos are “Void where Prohibited,” and “Words are Shit.” In John Phillips’s style, the draft board witnesses have recaptured some of the scatological splendor of their origins.

The insouciance of Phillips and Muse are, at the moment, characteristic of the communities of witness. The Chicago Fifteen’s loot—40,000 draft files—was the biggest to date. Yet the group had had only two briefing sessions before their foray. “We brought them out in pillow cases, in potato sacks,” Margaret Katroscik of the Fifteen describes it, “in shopping bags, in duffle bags, oh, it was gorgeous.”

Another member of the Fifteen, Charles Fullencampf of Milwaukee, who had been reclassified six times in six months by his draft board, says that the process of going through C.O. applications was much more painful than his decision to join in the Chicago action. “We had drunk and celebrated the night before most joyfully,” he reports. “We all slept in a pad a few floors below the draft board. Everyone was so relaxed, I got up to go to the john a few hours before the action was scheduled to go and I heard most of the guys snoring, fast asleep.”

The attitudes of this new vintage of raiders are more cynical than those of the witness movement’s pioneers. As the Ultra-Resistance grows younger and more secular, it expresses increasing frustrations with the narrowness of its audience. However brilliant the trials of the Catonsville Nine and the Milwaukee Twelve, they failed to produce the forum which the protesters had hoped to obtain. The trials seem like chamber music played to the intimate audience of the peace community. The acts themselves are felt to be symbolic and not political enough. There is a growing anguish among the young about the obscurity of the witness they will offer.

The leaders of their movement, the older, more established and more eloquent men like the Berrigans, O’Leary, Forest, will continue to expound their mystique of protest in the religious and Left press. But the jail terms of the Chicago Fifteen, the Pasadena Three, the Silver Spring Three will have little educational impact. Who ever hears about the Boston Two, Suzi Williams and Frank Femia? They were denied bail at their first arraignment, and have already been in jail for over a year. It is with people like them in mind that the Ultra-Resistance is starting to question its basic premise of witnessing in jail. It is debating whether the “stand-around” actions for which they will surely be arrested are really preferable to the more destructive possibilities of anonymous hit-and-run sabotage. “Is it going to be a stand-around or a hit-and-run?” is the new stock question.

In July a group of five women calling themselves Women Against Daddy Warbucks carried out what seemed to be a combination of the two styles of action—a hit-and-run at the central draft board in Manhattan followed a day later by a playful stand-around in Rockefeller Center Plaza. In August the tactics became more elaborate. Draft boards were ransacked during the night, first in the Bronx (where 75,000 files were upset) and then in Queens, where a note was left saying that those responsible would soon identify themselves. A week later, on August 21st, eight protesters, two of them Jesuits, called a press conference at the Overseas Press Club and introduced themselves as the New York Eight who had made the raids to “underscore the horror of the military system that drafts Americans that kill and die.”

Members of the New York Eight also delivered manila envelopes filled with mutilated draft records to the chairmen of the boards of W. R. Grace and Company, Anaconda, I.T.T., and Standard Oil of New Jersey to “regale them with complicity,” as a friend of the group put it. The corporations sent the draft files back to federal authorities with extraordinary speed. The New York Eight stressed the fact that six of them are Irish-Americans. In fact, the Ultra-Resistance, since the Berrigans’ early work, has been predominantly Irish and had a streak of the I.R.A. in the viscerality of its emotions and its tactics. “We liken the situation in this country to that of Northern Ireland,” the New York Eight said in their press statement, “where civil rights are not respected and where violence is considered an alternative to respect for human rights.” The group had a three-hour meeting with Bernadette Devlin on the second day after her arrival in New York. So far none of the Eight has been prosecuted; whether they are or not, it seems likely that their way of doing things will recur often during the coming months.

However, many young purists still hold out for the original pristine stand-around. “There is no point to running,” John Phillips writes in his PISS newsletter. “Repression is certain; if depersonalized, repression will be general…. We are demythologizers, in running we maintain the myths…. Do your thing but run means not doing your thing, unless your thing is running….”

If, as others predict, the hard core of the Movement moves away from the moral violence of witness actions to the physical violence of sabotage, it will retard the violence of the government but it will not expose it so well. Its concern for destroying property without harming persons—so far highly solicitous—will be harder to control. It will lose its moral force and its dimension of hope. The witness movement has been in the highest tradition of civil disobedience, which is based on the hope that the system can be changed through non-violent means, and which considers jail as a necessary measure to prove a moral point.

Actions such as those of the Milwaukee Fourteen’s have been a witness to hope. The hit-and-run actions will be a witness to despair. And whatever token moves are taken by the Nixon Administration to deescalate the Vietnam fighting, the most terrible toll taken on this country by this insane war is precisely the loss of hope, the sense that not only legal means but also the process of non-violent civil disobedience have been tried and left wanting in reforming various areas of injustice.

Resisters feel that the legal system is much at fault. The courts’ predictable unwillingness to let themselves be used as forums for the airing of anti-war views, the judges’ natural reluctance to inject issues of political morality into their charges to juries, the selected conservatism of the jurying classes, have helped to inject a mood of hopelessness into the most utopian faction of the Movement. “If you decide that the only issue in this courtroom is whether we intended to take and burn draft records,” James Forest had told the jury in his closing statement, “you will make non-violence less likely and more difficult than ever.”

The Federal trial of the Milwaukee twelve which began on June 9th, three days after the State sentencing, was brief, abortive, and totally unexpected in its results. The charges were destroying government property and interfering with the working of the Selective Service System. After a tedious voirdire of two and a half days in which he cross-examined 141 prospective jurors—mostly hostile to the defendants—Federal District Judge Myron Gordon dismissed the government charges against the twelve on grounds that “prejudicial pre-trial publicity” caused by modern press media had made a fair trial impossible. The decision was said to have no precedent. Other court rulings involving news coverage of criminal cases, such as the Sam Sheppard case, had never resulted in dismissal of charges, but in reversal of conviction followed by retrial. The Federal Court’s decision—favorable though it seemed on the surface—had ominous implications for the twelve men. The government immediately filed an appeal. If the twelve are tried and convicted in a Federal Court in six or eight months, as they are apt to be, there will be virtually no chance of their Federal sentences being served concurrently with their State sentences, as has been usual in civil disobedience cases. Judge Gordon’s ruling is predicted to add six or eight months to their stay in jail.

The fate of the Milwaukee twelve seems to have become enmeshed in local Wisconsin politics. Judge Gordon, a dour Harvard Law School graduate who would have run a much tighter trial than Judge Larson, has been fighting a political vendetta with the Milwaukee press for several years. He is known to be a close friend of the city’s mayor, Henry Maier, who had been instrumental in getting him appointed to the Federal bench. When the liberal Milwaukee Journal in 1967 criticized the Mayor’s stand on civil rights as being timid, Judge Gordon backed the mayor. He accused the Journal of running a monopoly press, and was attacked in turn by the paper. By dismissing charges against the war protesters on the grounds that the local press had made a fair trial impossible, Judge Gordon may have turned conservative elements in the city against his acknowledged enemy. By such vendettas are the lengths of men’s jail terms frequently dictated.

On the afternoon after the last day of the government trial, the wives of James Forest, Doug Marvy and Robert Graf drove to Waupun State Penitentiary, an hour north of Milwaukee, to make their first visits to their husbands. “We drove through miles of Wisconsin farmland,” Linda Forest told me, “and arrived at a place which looked very much like Maria Lach, very monastic—a wall some fifteen feet high, four blocks long, broken up by wrought iron arches. When they see you coming there’s a large humming and snapping sound coming from a watch tower, which issues a loud report when the gate swings open. You walk to the guard house across a large stretch of grass—there’s a lot of grass everywhere. We were cordially received by the guards, who took us to the sergeant. Everybody was polite to us, they kept saying ‘M’am, M’am.’

The sergeant accompanied us through what looked like a series of cloisters, one building enclosed inside the other, past the chapel enclosure, the gymnasium enclosure, past a first set of dorms, you’re always walking on very soft grass. Prisoners were hanging out of windows, some windows had boxes of geraniums on them. We made the V sign at them and they flashed it back. The sergeant ushered us into a very neat building, the architecture was very clean, very modern. The guard on duty there was a Robert Young type with a pipe in his hand, extra friendly. ‘Linda,’ he said, ‘you have two hours of visiting time a month, you can have them both at once if you want.’ Finally he ushered us into the reception room, it was like a seminary, or a university. There were lots of century plants around, smart brown curtains, Danish-type modern chairs scattered around modern coffee tables. On each coffee table there was a plastic-coated slip of paper which said the following:

We have made a conscientious effort to create as much of a living room atmosphere as possible for you and your relatives. We hope that you won’t embarrass us by extreme displays of any sort. Visitors are allowed to embrace and kiss prisoners before and after each visit.

Jim looked very well. He looked about nineteen years old with his head clean-shaven, and without his mustache. He says the food is very good, cafeteria-style, they are forced to eat everything on their plate. For the first few days he’s not allowed any books except his Bible and his breviary. He’s been saying his breviary every hour, he’s been saying his hours. We sat and talked about our marriage and about how we would grow through this, how it might be the best thing for our marriage. When I hugged Jim he smelled so good, a smell of clean plain soap and of fresh clean linen, he smelled like a nun, or like a child when you put him to bed.”

Letters

Moral Choice October 9, 1969

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