BALTIMORE – Dominican nuns Sister Ardeth Platte and Sister Carol Gilbert have spent more than 40 years protesting nuclear weapons and war, even doing time in federal prison for their actions.
They say they have devoted their entire lives to nonviolent resistance.
But after spending two weeks out of town, Sister Ardeth, 72, and Sister Carol, 60, returned to their Baltimore home to find letters and an e-mail from the Maryland State Police saying they were wrongfully labeled as suspected terrorists in a federal database between 2005 and 2006.
For 13 years, the missionary nuns from Michigan have lived and worked in the Jonah House community, a faith-based, non-violent resistance community in Baltimore.
"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. O'Malley was not governor at the time.
O'Malley appointed Sachs to conduct the review in August after the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland released 46 pages of documents in July showing that state police officers spied on the groups.
Sachs' investigation found the state police violated federal regulations by transmitting its investigative findings to the federally-funded Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, and showed a "lack of judgment" by labeling peaceful groups and individuals as "terrorists" and "security threat groups."
Since then, the state police have been sending letters to the 53 activists who were wrongfully labeled as terrorists, inviting them to look at their files in the database. Afterwards, the state police will delete the files.
However, the nuns are outraged that the state police will only show them "relevant documents" in the database and that they will not be allowed to make copies of the material.
Sister Carol and Sister Ardeth make no apologies for their actions and demonstrations in the past. In 2002, the two, along with another nun, broke into a nuclear missile site in Colorado and used their own blood to paint crosses on a silo. Sister Ardeth was sentenced to 41 months and Sister Carol was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison.
But the nuns maintain they did not participate in any rallies or protests during the time period in which they were entered into the database as terrorists, and demand answers from the state police regarding how and why their names ended up in the database.
"Have we participated in actions? Yes. Have we been arrested? Yes. Have we spent time in prison? Yes," Sister Carol said. "But not during the time period that they say we were."
State Police Spokesman Greg Shipley was not available to answer questions on Friday. Capital News Service was told by a state police employee that Shipley is the only police spokesperson who can comment on the surveillance investigation.
The sisters refuse to view their records until they are allowed to bring attorneys and make copies.
Sister Ardeth and Sister Carol said they will continue to protest nuclear weapons and war and urge lawmakers to pass legislation prohibiting unwarranted spying.
On behalf of the nuns and more than 200 other individuals, the ACLU of Maryland has requested additional information from state and local police departments to determine if law enforcement officers spied on more advocacy groups than previously reported.
"If they can label us as terrorists, they can label all kinds of people as terrorists. So then people become afraid to speak out against what the established government might be saying," Sister Carol said. "And that is the demise of democracy."