While you were waving your placard at no one at some pointless, much-ignored anti-Iraq war march, Ciaron O'Reilly was getting important people to notice resistance against the invasion by destroying more US military planes than the Taliban and beating the charges against him for it in court.
On February 3rd, 2003, the Australian pacifist travelled – with four co-conspirators – to Shannon airport in Ireland, where the US military had stopped off en route to Iraq. The group breached airport security, crawled across a runway into a hangar and took a US air force plane out of action. It wasn't the first time he'd done it, either: in 1991, during the build up to the Gulf War, he attacked a B52 bomber carrying nuclear cruise missiles, meaning the plane was forced to miss out on carpet-bombing raids over Iraq.
So how do you take down a £2 million war machine? With a £20 hammer and a hatred of bully nations slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocents for no reason other than greed, apparently. Ten years since Ciaron's last sabotage, I spoke to him about it.
“We cut our way into the airport and made our way up to the hangar," he told me. "We broke through a door and found another door leading to the US Navy warplane, which was unlocked, so we made our way towards it and began to disable it with hammers. To render it unflyable is relatively easy. I knew the radar was at the nose of this plane, so I worked on that.”
Ciaron continued, "I noticed Damian (another saboteur) was being held on to by a police officer, so I went over, calmed him down and we both went back to work on the plane. By the time backup arrived – about seven minutes later – we had finished disarming the plane. So £2 million worth of damage done in that time wasn't a bad effort."
The group’s plan was to allow themselves to be arrested then use the court case to put the Iraq war on trial. Their defence that they were destroying property to save a life stood up and three years and three trials later, they were acquitted. The trial saw US Marine Jimmy Massey testify on behalf of the saboteurs, and years later Wikileaks cables revealed how close the US came to fleeing Ireland – the action at Shannon brought Ireland's neutrality into question.
After the trial they were handed back the tools they used to attack the plane, which will presumably be used again for exactly the same purpose at some point in the future. Two of the hammers used at Shannon were also used to take out the B52 in 1991, but Ciaron noted that "they have such respect for private property that they keep giving us this stuff back”.
After the B52, one hammer was sent to England to destroy equipment at British Aerospace that was being used in east Timor and Northern Ireland. The hammers were then given to four women who disabled a Hawk fighter plane worth £2 million, passed on to a priest who used them to disable the nuclear convoy vehicle designed to carry warheads to Faslane naval base, then reunited with Ciaron after almost a decade and used in the Shannon sabotage.
The B52 attack was probably Ciaron's boldest action. In 1990, he moved to the US from Australia and was working in a soup kitchen where he met radical Catholic Worker (a Christian activist group who campaign against war and social injustice) member Daniel Berigan, who'd done a stint on the FBI's ten most wanted fugitives list for his anti-Vietnam activities.
On January 1st, 1991, Ciaron and four Catholic Workers cut through fences at Griffiss Air Force Base in New York state – risking use of deadly force if they were caught – poured blood on the plane and made short work of incapacitating it with a hammer. Their legal defence was shut down and they were sentenced to 12 months.
“We have a lot of veterans in our movement. If one is to be serious about waging peace, you have to take the same risks soldiers take in war,” Ciaron told me. “There are a lot more firearms around a US military base than there would be at a civilian airport in Ireland. That group had been in preparation for over six months and we'd discussed the issue of someone potentially being killed. When we were caught, I was put on Con Air and flown to a prison in Texas. It was difficult – there were 24 of us together in a cage and six cages welded together in one room.
"My memory of Shannon is coming through that door and seeing the plane with a big map of Texas on it. I’d served nine months of jail in Texas, so I just focused on this map and started hammering in on the plane.”
Ciaron now lives at a London house run by the Catholic Worker group who offer night shelter to 23 destitute refugees every night and preach non-violent resistance to institutions that create poverty. He spends his days supporting Bradley Manning, a US solider who once passed through Shannon and now stands accused of passing information to Wikileaks. He can also occasionally be seen on TV standing behind Julian Assange, which is what lead to ABC naming O'Reilly as Assange's bodyguard – a misunderstanding according to Ciaron, who insists he was just helping the Wikileaks founder into court before it got inflated into a "Whitney Houston bodyguard thing".
Ciaron isn't currently planning any actions, but says if someone was serious about exploring one he would always listen to their invitation.
“I think what’s significant is either non-violent resistance or solidarity with those doing that. I truly believe that if one percent of the people who marched against the Iraq war had gone into non-violent resistance to the point of imprisonment, and the other 99 percent were stood in solidarity with those people, then we could have stopped the war.”
Follow Brian on Twitter: @brianwhelanhack
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