Saturday, October 11, 2008

Maryland State Police to "Terrorist" Nuns: Oops, Our Bad

I don't think that when someone doesn't agree with me, that person is a terrorist.

But then, I'm not the Maryland State Police.

Attack of the Nuns

Sister Ardeth Platte and Sister Carol Gilbert are Dominican nuns. They've been protesting nuclear weapons and war for over 40 years. Back in 2002, those two broke into a nuclear missile site in Colorado and, in rather loud taste, painted crosses on the silo with their own blood. They weren't acting alone: there was another nun with them.

While You Were Gone...

Sister Ardeth have done their time in federal prison. They're out of the slammer now, and came home to an odd set of letters and emails from the Maryland State Police.

Basically, the messages said: 'We put you on federal database of suspected terrorists, back in 2005 and 2006. We've changed our minds, though.'

Well, it's nice to have the State Police not think you're a terrorist, but it's a little unsettling to know that you were, officially, a suspected terrorist for a while.

Without reason. Or, if there was a reason, it's secret.

Suppression of Dissent, George Bush's Wars, and My Angle on the Story

News media is having a mildly restrained field day with this story. The angle depends on editorial habits of each news service, as usual:
  • "Maryland Nuns Branded as Suspected Terrorists"
    FOXNews (October 11, 2008)
    • " 'To be labeled a terrorist is really very hard to hear and to accept when your whole life has been one of loving nonviolence. And do we resist some of the policies of our government? Yes,' Sister Ardeth said. 'But does civil dissent and civil unrest mean that people are going to be labeled as terrorists?'
    • "Last week, former Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs presented an independent review to Gov. Martin O'Malley concluding that the Maryland State Police conducted unwarranted surveillance of anti-death penalty and anti-war groups between 2005 and 2006...."
  • " 'Terrorist' Nuns"
    IslamOnline (October 10, 2008)
    • "CAIRO — Joining protests against US President George W. Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, two American nuns finally found themselves on the country's terrorist watch list.
    • " 'This term terrorist is a really serious accusation,' Sister Ardeth Platte told The Washington Times on Friday, October 10.
    • "Ardeth and Sister Carol Gilbert received letters from the Maryland State Police that they are placed on the terrorist watch list.
    • " 'There is no way that we ever want to be identified as terrorists,' said Ardeth, a nun for 54 years...."
I've got my own opinions, of course. And my own point of view.

I'm a devout Catholic, living in what was a very Protestant country. My ears prick up when I hear that the State Police are accusing 'those Catholics.'

The news that the State Police were targeting anti-death penalty and anti-war sympathizers got my attention, too. I was in an anti-war march, back in the Vietnam era, and am well aware that someone can be 'anti-war' without being somewhere to the left of Professor Churchill. I'm no fan of the death penalty, either, which I've discussed elsewhere.

So I did a little digging.

From what was in the news, it was obvious that someone in the Maryland State Police got, to be charitable, over-enthusiastic about protecting America. And, the situation has been corrected.

An important aspect of this is that the Maryland State Police, after making what looks like an egregious blunder, made sure that the victims of the state's mistake knew about it. America, from village politics to those shaping national policy, is run by human beings. We make mistakes. And, by and large, when they're discovered, we try to correct them.

And, although I doubt that they should have gone on a "suspected terrorist" list, these Jonah House nuns were involved with an organization that says "...we believe that the US is the world's number one terrorist." On the home page of their website, above the fold.

Which puts them on the same page with Reverend Wright, and pretty close to Iran's President Ahmadinejad, who said, " 'Their concerns about us are not new,' he told King of the West. 'They've always been concerned. They were the ones who inspired Saddam [Hussein] to attack Iran and get us involved in an eight-year war. The terrorist groups that killed our president, our prime minister, our officials, are now freely asked to live in the Western countries.' " (CNN, quoting a Larry King interview)

I don't agree with them.

But that doesn't make them terrorists.

(From the Washington Times, used without permission)

Nuns are tougher than they look: These two broke into a nuclear missile site. But that doesn't make them terrorists.

Protesters? Yes. Terrorists? Most likely not.

I'll grant that breaking into an American missile installation is not something that I'd do. And, it's carrying the concept of "peaceful groups and individuals" a bit far.

Try to imagine Mahatma Ghandi breaking into a British installation and drawing something with his own blood, and you'll see what I mean.

But, aside from damage to a fence and making some sanguine graffiti, I don't see that they've done anything particularly terroristic.

Although it is scary to think that a trio of nuns can break into a secure military facility.

Bottom line: SNAFU, but That's How We Work

Here's how I see this matter of the Maryland State Police, nuns, and America as the number one terrorist nation:
  • I don't think America is perfect
    • But I don't think it's any kind of 'terrorist nation'
  • The Maryland State Police fouled up - big time
    • But they corrected it
    • And told the victims of their blunder
    • Who don't seem to have been hurt by being suspected
  • The Maryland state government is in the process of sorting out the SNAFU
    • Or trying to bury it - it's too early to tell
  • If anything, the experience of these nuns and the State Police says that the American system works
    • Not perfectly
    • But in a way that allows corrections and redress
  • Americans are free to say that America is a terrorist nation
    • It's annoying to people who disagree
    • But that's the way it is in a free country
    • Get used to it
About those nuns being imprisoned for their beliefs? That's not what happened. They were imprisoned because they broke into a missile installation and did some (probably) minor damage. About three and a half years in the big house may or may not be excessive, but under the circumstances, it's understandable.

In the news: Background
  • Jonah House
    • "Sr. Carol Gilbert,OP and Sr. Ardeth Platte, OP, who live at Jonah House, labeled "terrorists" by Maryland State Police and Homeland Security ...
    • "...In contrast, we believe that the US is the world's number one terrorist...


Rebecca said...

Now that was an interesting story, for sure. I've never heard of nuns being accused of being terrorists. But again, I've never heard of nuns breaking into a military facility, for that matter. I always thought nuns were non-violent! :)

Brigid said...

Non-violent, yes. Immune to the failings of the rest of humanity, not so much.

Brian H. Gill said...


This didn't surprise me quite as much as it might have. There are a number of nominally religious orders which have embraced some very curious ideologies.

These two seem to be closer to the 'liberation theology' camp than most.

For a look at a very different sort of nun's work, you might check out EWTN, a global media network founded by a firebrand of an Italian-American nun, Mother Angelica.

Brian H. Gill said...


This takes me beyond the scope of this blog, into theology and sociology. I think there are two points here: Nuns, and everyone else in the Church, are human, and prone to err; and, there's been a serious problem over the last several decades, with some segments of religious orders deciding that they and Che Guevara are the true prophets of God and the revolution - not necessarily in that order.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.