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Cheryl's Daily Diatribe: Friday, November 1, 2002


Part Two: The Trial of the Minnesota Eight

by Cheryl Seal

Click here for Part 1: Patriotism Means Resistance: The Story of Frank Kroncke and the Minnesota Eight.

(Note: All passages in italics are excerpts from Frank Kroncke’s unpublished manuscript "Patriotism Means Resistance.")


We, the Minnesota Conspiracy to Save Lives, have destroyed all the 1-A files for your county. In effect, what we are trying to communicate by our action is: Do you want your life? If you do then use this opportunity to take control of it. If you don't want your life, then go down to the Morrison County Draft Board and give it back to the Selective Service System so that the government can use your body and life as a tool to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. The rich comprise .5% of the population of the U. S., yet they control the key decision-making positions throughout the country. They are the elite few who have something to gain from a war which their sons and husbands do not have to fight. It is the draft age men of the middle and especially the lower classes which have everything to lose (their lives) and nothing to gain from cooperating with the participatory totalitarian regime of the U.S. that has no second thoughts about sacrificing your life for their benefit. Think about it! We invite you to take control of your own life and thus become a member of the Minnesota Conspiracy to Save Lives. We've done our part to give you back your life. The rest is up to you. SAY N0 TO DEATH; SAY YES TO LIFE!

  —The Minnesota Conspiracy to Save Lives

Government Exhibit E37, Trial of the Minnesota Eight: Frank Kroncke, Mike Therriault, Chuck Turchick, Don Olson, Bill Tilton, Pete Simmons, Brad Beneke, and Cliff Ulen

Today Minnesota is a land of liberals — a state that has produced a diversity of legendary progressives from Bob Dylan and Walter Mondale to Paul Wellstone and Garrison Keillor (who became a friend of Frank's, and visited him in prison). But in 1970, Minnesota was still an extension of the conservative heartland. It was not the time or place to be apprehended as a war resistor — especially if you wanted to avoid doing serious time. The state’s Federal Courts appeared to have an umbilical cord linking them to Nixon’s White House — one that tightened like a noose around dissenters caught between the two. At the time of the trials of the Minnesota Eight, the MN Federal District was routinely devoting over 50% of its time prosecuting draft Resistance cases. By 1971 and 1972 it was spending nearly 2/3 of its time on these cases — the highest percentage of criminal prosecutions against draft resistors for any Federal court in the Nation. To make matters worse for the captured Eight, the guiding chief justice for their case was one Honorable Edward Devitt, a dour and arrogant federal district judge with the icy conservatism of a Puritan churchman and "a wolf’s hunger for antiwar people" (as Frank Kroncke put it).

"We knew from hard, hard experiences that the word "fascist" was almost too kind a one to give to Devitt when he had captured some Resisters. Uncle Ed bodes no disagreement within his courts, and he grants no respect to the powerless, least of all to traitorous sons of the Establishment."

In any case, there was no way the Nixon administration was going to allow the Minnesota Eight to become heroes in the public’s eyes, or to reveal the truth about the war in Vietnam. The earlier Trial of the Chicago Seven had led to too many questions, had turned Tom Haydn and Abbie Hoffman into icons for too many young people. By reducing the Eight’s charges from sabotage to the equivalent of common burglary, the courts made it possible for the men to make bail — but not to tell their story or to be publicized as civil disobedients.

"We had hoped, during our many pre-indictment meetings, that the government would hit us with sabotage. Under that charge we could really spring open some political nightmares for the government. The issues of the war, the function of the Draft System, the unconstitutionality of certain military budgetings, and other sticky issues, could all be dragged into court while we explored the outer reaches of "sabotage". But some legal beagle in Washington had his head screwed on right, and saw what we saw. So we not only had our legal scope reduced to mere breaking and entering, but we weren't even politically charged with conspiracy!"

Disillusionment and despair played at the edges of Frank’s psyche those early weeks in jail as they were processed through the system — and the young man-turned-outlaw got his first tour of the ugly belly of the beast.

"When we were in the County Jail together, the days were dank and closet hot. However, when I lay down, my shoulders, legs and chin shook with chills and sweat. During the days I’d pace up and down the tier; walk, Try to read, but couldn’t concentrate. Then, as a fitting symbolic event, when I went out to meet my family on the first visiting Tuesday, I walked into a small, glass and steel enclosure to speak to my mother and sister through some wedged vents. As I was speaking my body began to cry. Compulsively, my chest heaved and sobbed and the tears ran salt streamlets down my cheeks. Indeed, my mind refused to recognize my emotions."

Attorney Leonard Wineglass, who had represented the Chicago Seven was called and expressed a strong interest in taking the case. But, the court saw the threat posed by the presence of the charismatic lawyer and retaliated by setting outrageous conditions. Devitt demanded that Wineglass, who was based in New Jersey, travel bodily to Minnesota every time briefs needed to be filed, instead of filing remotely (as is customary with out of state lawyers). As a result, Wineglass was forced to decline the case. In the end, Frank represented himself, as did several of the other eight.

Despite the court’s efforts, publicity about the case got out. Protestors were there at the courthouse every day any of the defendants were there, while a series of fundraisers were held to add to the legal defense fund (Doctor Spock attended at least one). Buttons were passed out printed with what had become the Minnesota Eight slogan: "HIGHER ALLEGIANCE." The anti-war groundswell was growing despite Nixon’s determination to pretend all was well on the Indochina front, despite his increasingly heavy-handed suppression of dissenters and the media. At the same time, the rightwing pro-war devotees of Nixon — pressed from the same stamp as the "Freepers" and "Bushies" of today — became increasingly more belligerent. Just as now under Bush, their jingoistic bellicosity was encouraged, rather than suppressed by those in authority. "In the Aquatennial parade through St. Paul that July, " Frank recalls, "the organizers allowed one float to display a noose with a big sign, "HANG THE MINNESOTA EIGHT. During the trial there was spray painted "Hang the Minnesota Eight!" graffiti all over town."

For the Eight, there was no such thing as "innocent until proven guilty". They were treated as convicted criminals by the court system — escorted from jail to the courtroom by Federal marshals, who shoved them roughly if they didn’t move quite quickly enough, refused to allow them to speak, and kept them manacled until they were seated before the judge.

These early post-capture weeks were ones of psychic cave-ins and let-downs ... fears and thoughts and feelings tore out from my skinned spirit ... having been "captured" gave my inner and outer self a whole new perspective on life. "To Establishment society, I am a criminal! An Outlaw! Outside the law! If one becomes an outlaw by opposing war and death, then what type of society are we living in?"

Even Frank’s friends and families were treated as outlaws. On several occasions, though most of the gathered crowds were there to support the defendants, when the courthouse doors were opened, the guards shoved anyone not conservatively dressed and coifed roughly aside — i.e., most of those there to support the defendants. Once, when a guard shoved a young longhaired man out of the way, saying "Make way for the people!" the young man replied, "Aren’t I people too?" "Not today you aren’t!" growled the guard (the incident was so striking it actually made it into the evening papers). In any case, Frank, who had never even been arrested, was appalled by the lack of justice exhibited by the so-called "justice system," from indictment to conviction.

"The Grand Jury met to "impartially" consider our indictment — and yet not one of us was called to testify. The Grand jury only hears the Government's case and the FBI witnesses. I asked our advising lawyer, "But why do they bother to even go through those motions? Of course Renner [the prosecutor] can persuade them to indict us. We could persuade them to indict the Government if they'd let us in to testify!"

The Eight were all indicted on charges amounting to breaking and entering. As an additional step to prevent the trial from being an "event," three separate trials were scheduled. "You could not really call them trials," says Frank, "because they had nothing to do with justice or even with the reality of our actions. I would call them, instead, three 'happenings.'" Three happenings designed to convict the Eight and whisk them out of America’s sight and mind as quickly as possible. The questions raised in the public’s mind by the dissenter trials of the late 60s and early 70s may well have been one of the threats that motivated the Bush administration to push for military tribunals of selected "threats to security" — closed to the press and public.

The defendants were forced to resort to the "defense of necessity," which asserts that some crimes are justifiable in the interests of preventing larger crimes or tragedies (e.g., stealing a car to transport an injured person to the hospital). The tragedy the Eight hoped to avert, was the "enslavement" and deaths of young men, and the crime of war itself. To Frank, the draft system represented an ultimate form of slavery.

We contend that among other demonic things, the idea and the acceptance of war, with all of its violences, visible and invisible, is the primary source of the enslavement of man, both physical and spiritual enslavement. Wars force men to live in fear, and they express their fears by creating Death Machines, whether as dramatic as the ovens of Dachau, the Minutemen missiles of North Dakota, or the ghettoes of Harlem.

In this immediate case, we strike out against that very subtle Death Machine the involuntary Selective Service. The court must take notice that any system which offers as its alternatives either physical death or cultural death must be demonic. Consider, that a young man between the ages of 18 and 26 has NO CHOICE but to surrender his body to kill or be killed; or else he has to go to jail or leave his country, these latter being forms of cultural death. There is nowhere, as we can see it, in the Declaration of Independence, the paper which presents the ideas and ideals of America, that a person must, in reference to America, "LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT!" Rather, the greatness of this Declaration is that it commits people to safeguard and help to develop the God-given rights of every individual, regardless of race, color, religion or political beliefs. The court will only consider and hear HOW something was done. Obviously, the court wants the case at hand to be faceless — and Resisters want Facts with Faces. Just as to us the draft files were not faceless but were the face of your son, brother, cousin, or fellow Indochinese human being."

As luck had it, all of the Eight except Mike, Frank, and Chuck Ulen had the misfortune to have the iron-fisted Devitt presiding over their "happenings." (Chuck Ulen "dropped out" and pleaded guilty soon after the arrests — leading many to wonder if he had acted as an informant.) Any effort to fully state their real case — why they had felt compelled to commit their acts of civil disobedience — was crushed and thrown out. After closing arguments were made, the juries seemed to go out and return through a single turn of a revolving door. All six men had been tried, sentenced, had their appeals denied, and been sent to prison in a matter of a few months, Frank and Mike were more fortunate — if you can call a gray kettle somewhat more fortunate than a black pot. Their presiding judge was the Honorable Philip Neville, a silver-haired, rubbery-faced man Frank describes as " a cross between Ronald Reagan and Howdy Doody," who was forever running his hands nervously through his hair or tugging on his cheeks — as if made jumpy by Nixon’s recurring tugs on his puppet strings as the case progressed.

Never would I find Philip Neville's eyes; they'd always shoot away from my glances, lose me somewhere in a swivel of the black leathered chair or in a distracting wave of his hand as he slapped his desktop. That morning [of our arraignment], I didn't know that I would actually have to enter a formal plea of "guilty/not guilty" right then. The words that did trickle forth were all about Jesus and how he couldn't tolerate war, how the Gospel stood against violence, and how Jesus when confronted by the accusing political power of Pilate remained silent. So after 12 minutes or so of noisy silence, I stood "mute"! That meant, as Judge Philip kindly told me, that the Government would enter a plea of "not guilty" on my behalf.

While Devitt had given the other six just 14 days to file their pre-trial motions, Neville gave Frank and Mike 60 days. And, unlike Devitt, Neville decided to grant the defendants seven days of the trial to present their case against the war. Frank believes Neville made this move because he did indeed have a conscience — albeit one with a devil on its shoulder. He knew full well that the trial’s outcome had been predetermined, but may have thought he could buy off the angel on the other shoulder by tossing Frank and Mike the bone of one week to state their side of the case.

At the time, a still optimistic Frank was ecstatic, believing that he would at last have a chance at justice — at the very least a chance to speak truth to power. The list of witnesses was both impressive and diverse, ranging from Agent Orange experts from the American Association of Scientists to Joe, the troubled vet to whom Frank had given spiritual counsel to "outlaw" priest Al Janicke.

Marv Davidov, a dedicated antiwar activist, spoke about how the evil of the war was spilling across the American landscape like a toxic wave, lapping even at the doors of Minneapolis. There in the Twin Cities, declared Marv, the Honeywell Corporation was, at that very hour, constructing nightmarish anti-civilian weaponry — a fragmentation bomb designed to shatter into tens of thousands of needle-like fragments that would slowly, excruciatingly kill those peppered with the deadly shards. Neville was furious at such an accusation. Then, as now, corporations not only operated above the law — the law itself guarded that exalted position zealously.

"We are not here trying Minneapolis Honeywell," Neville fumed, "Whether they are just or unjust or proper or improper in what their Board of Directors do ..." Marv spoke but a syllable in response and down came Neville: "You are not to talk! You are not to talk! You are a witness to be asked questions of and to give answers."

When another witness, FBI agent Patty, was being cross-examined as to why the FBI had kept files on the Eight, he said it was because they had participated in demonstrations.
Question: "What is a demonstration in your words?"
Answer: "A public display of dissent, or not necessarily dissent, but of your views."

Incredible! This was the basis for the birth of an FBI file — that a citizen "demonstrates" — which means "a public display of your views!"

Andrew J. Glass, an editor at the National Journal, testified that 88% of all soldiers sent to Vietnam were draftees, and that a draftee’s chances of surviving his tour of duty were far slimmer than those of an enlisted man: While 234 draftees out of every 1,000 sent to Vietnam were being killed or wounded at that time, just 31 of 1,000 enlisted soldiers in Vietnam were meeting the same fate. In short, every thousand cards stolen by the Eight represented, potentially, 234 lives spared. The response of the head of the Minnesota Selective Service, Col. Robert P. Knight to the "sacrificial bloodshed" endured by draftees was colossal indifference and blind acceptance: "Mankind has always been at war." When Knight had been called as a witness at the Devitt-controlled trial of Bill Tilton, he had declared the issue of draftee death count "irrelevant."

Tilton summed up my feelings: "I have said it before and I will say it again, I don't see how anybody that is a reasonable man or a human being can sit here and try to say that stuff is irrelevant. I don't really know how somebody could look me in the eye and say that. It amazes me. I have one question: Colonel Knight, do you at all care about the people you send to die in Vietnam?"
Renner: "Objection, immaterial!"
Devitt: "Objection sustained"
Tilton: "No more questions!"

In a further move to render the reality of the Vietnam War as "irrelevant" as possible, Neville refused to allow any visual material depicting blood or unpleasantness. Thus, the Eight could not present pictures of the Mai Lai Massacre, napalmed children, or American soldiers blown to pieces. But they were allowed to present photos of scorched napalmed land and deadened herbicide-drenched countryside. But, as it turned out, the agony of the lacerated land cried out to the farmers on the jury as palpably as any dying child. There were tears in their eyes as the scientist with the AAS described how farmland soaked in agent orange would yield no crops, would lie dead, for at least 20 years to come. This was the reality of war — nothing escapes its mindless fury, not even the soil beneath our feet.

"Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation. The unique hazard of modern warfare consists in this: it provides those who possess modern scientific weapons with a kind of occasion for perpetuating just such abominations. Moreover, through a certain chain of events, it can urge men onto the most atrocious decisions. That such in fact may never happen in the future, the Bishops of the whole world in unity assembled beg all military leaders to give unremitting thought to the awesome responsibility which is theirs before God and the entire human race."

  — Vatican Two, Chapter 5:
"The Fostering of Peace and the Promotion of a Community of Nations," Paragraph 80, page 294

      When another witness, FBI agent Patty, was being cross-examined as to why the FBI had kept files on the Eight, he said it was because they had participated in demonstrations.
      Question: "What is a demonstration in your words?"
      Answer: "A public display of dissent, or not necessarily dissent, but of your views."
      Incredible! This was the basis for the birth of an FBI file — that a citizen "demonstrates" — which means "a public display of your views!"

Frank quoted liberally from Vatican Two, which had been issued a few years earlier. The document condemned "total war" — the non-defensive, systematic scourge of not just human beings, but their culture and their landscape. Under Vatican Two, Bush’s preemptive war is thereby condemned as a crime against God and the human race. Frank firmly believed that at its core, the war issue was a moral issue and thus also HAD to be a religious issue. How could it not be — especially with the issuance of Vatican Two?

For months I had been trying to get the hierarchy of my Church to listen to my theological argument., I even sent out feelers as to whether I could get a church trial. Now this was a far-out idea in some ways — after all, Church trials usually lead to burnings at the stake or the Rack! However, I wanted the Church to seriously confront what I said, so I knew that I'd have to find a structural, administrative way to dislodge them from their crimes of silence. The catch in the whole matter was that I could have had a trial if I were a cleric. My being a lay theologian, that is, a person without clerical status but who is a qualified and professional theologian, didn't hold any weight. Week after week following our arrests I began sending out letters to every liberal Bishop, priest, theologian and faculty of theology that I could think of. But, alas! My daily mail openings revealed the true moral state of today's Liberal Catholicism … not allowed to speak in the Democracy, not allowed to speak in the Church.

Frank appealed to have Daniel and Philip Berrigan released from prison to testify on his behalf. It had been their writings that had helped inspire him on his road to activism. This request was denied. However, another "renegade" priest, Father Al Janicke made a memorable witness at Frank’s trial. Janicke had been tried and convicted for his part in the Milwaukee 14 draft raids and had spent a year in a Wisconsin prison.

Here was a man who had already suffered greatly at the hands of the Government, a man who had witnessed and returned now to witness again. Al's voice shattered the conversational hum of the courtroom, "I AM PLEADING along with Pope John and in that tradition THAT HUMAN LIFE IS IMPORTANT!" The jurors' bodies and spirits clattered their bones together. "All people, whether Christian or not, are HUMAN, and as a member of the Human Society, PEOPLE APE IMPORTANT. In fact, they are so important that it's from the Tradition that we come from that we have the stipulation that LIFE, as such, IS OF BASIC IMPORTANCE!" Even Philip Neville couldn't muster a response to Al.

A major "star" of the trial, however, turned out to be a surprise witness who invited himself.

One morning Ken comes over to me and says, "Look, Frank, we have this guy named Daniel Ellsberg from high-up in the State Department who wants to come and testify. What do you think?" It seemed some Movement People on the East Coast said that this Government guy was looking for a Resistance trial through which he could get some information out.

Daniel Ellsberg, former Marine Corps commander, civil servant through five administrations, Harvard Fellow, RAND think-tank, DOD, State Department, representative for the Pacification Program in Vietnam, an FSR-1 — the Foreign Service Rank just below a Presidential appointee ... What on Earth did this man — this poster boy for a conservative administration — want with his trial, Frank wondered. Judge Neville and those "men behind the curtain" in Washington wondered too. Frank recalls how Neville’s whole attitude changed once Dan came into the courtroom.

Through Ken's questions, we learned that Dan had worked with various groups like "the so called William Bundy working group analyzing alternative strategies for the President in the fall of 1964. I became attached to a study group in the Department of Defense set up by Secretary of Defense McNamara to do an objective study of the decision making on Vietnam going basic to 1940 and going up to 1968." At this point Neville's ears formed radar cups … with every word he tried to pull the threads into the pattern. "This was a very large study in which I participated; I did not do it by myself and I was not in charge of it. I wrote the major draft for one of the 30 volumes of the study which ran to 10,000 pages, and consulted on a great deal of the rest." Dan paused and then said with grim significance." I have read all of it."

The 10,000-page document to which Dan referred was the colossal litany of lies revealed soon to be known to the world as "The Pentagon Papers." Once he had started to read it, Dan had recognized the enormity of the document’s significance. It meant that the entire war — its pretexts, its precipitation, its perpetuation — all were lies, calculated, cynical lies to the American people. For weeks, he had covertly copied it over, page by page, his entire family helping him, to insure that it would find the light of day. Dan felt that a public trial was the safest venue for the release of the information. Ken tried to lead the testimony in that direction, but Neville had become hypervigilant, leaning constantly over the side of the bench toward Dan as if poised to tackle him. Like every other voice that spoke out at the trial, Dan was soon silenced.
Ellsberg: "While I was working for the Government I was quite ignorant, I would say of the principles of non-violence in an explicit way. However, as I came to understand them as important, the principle of non-inflicting injury on others, and the Gandhian principle of acting truthfully, and it is a case of coincidence that a great deal of my analysis in the Government had come to revolve around the question of truthfulness and the consequences of Congress and the public, although …"
Kroncke: Ooops! We lost the battle.

After the trial, Dan and Frank became good friends, spending hours on the phone exploring the depths of the issues that troubled their souls as only two tormented spiritual-intellectuals can do. When Ellsberg wrote Papers on the War, his book about the Pentagon Papers, Frank’s name was cited in the dedication.

Having Dan essentially smothered as a witness was not to be the greatest blow dealt Frank. The big one fell on the day of closing arguments, after the 6 days of testimony against the war. Neville directed the jury to strike all testimony relating to the war from their deliberations. Frank was shocked. When Neville said in a paternalistically condescending tone, "Well, you had your forum!", Frank shot back, "But I wanted justice."

To justify his decision, Neville’s comments to the jury rambled on in an often disjointed, convoluted way — much like the rambling, convoluted justifications in the Supreme Court decisions that overturned the 2000 election. Some of Neville’s comments were equally outrageous in the context of a democracy:

"It becomes my duty now as the Judge to instruct you as to the Law that applies in this case. And it is your Duty to accept the law as I give it to you. If you have any idea of your own as to what the law is. Or, what it ought to be. Or, what it should be. I instruct you that you must DISREGARD YOUR OWN IDEAS and accept the law as I give it to you….Lastly, I want to talk with you about ... the testimony about the Vietnam War and the Selective Service System. In that connection I advise you that you have a VERY LIMITED RESPONSIBILITY IN THIS CASE. It is solely to make a determination under these standards of Law which I have stated to you as to whether these defendants are guilty or not guilty. And THAT IS ALL. You have no philosophical, or religious, or theological responsibility at all!"

When Neville’s stunning discourse was over, Frank and Mike discovered they were not alone in their shock and dismay. The jurors were equally hit by the injustice and stared at Neville in disbelief.

Upon finally hearing the worst what we all along expected! the collective feeling in the court was like a sagging in the stomach when the breath is knocked out of you. The jurors left, mutedly. Ken stood to lodge his complaints that Neville hadn't given our proposed Instructions. For my part, I rose, more calm then I expected myself to be, and questioned the morality of what Neville did. "'Well, Mr. Kroncke I guess that I don't have to defend myself but I took an Oath to enforce the law when I was made a judge."
Me:"And I was baptized before God to live a free life!"

But Frank’s shaken faith was, before the trial’s close, given an unexpected burst of encouragement. The jury did not, as in the Devitt trials, turn right around and come back in. They were gone for at least two hours — long enough for Mike and Frank to adjourn to a nearby coffee shop. When they were called back to the courtroom, instead of delivering a verdict, the jury foreman Ronald Bisson returned alone to the courtroom to read a note.

It states that the jurors were confused about what evidence was permitted. Wow! Neville had failed in his hoodwinking task. The jurors couldn't believe what he had said, that he had thrown out our case! So Neville rapidly reread Instruction #15, about no theological responsibility, etc.

The jurors didn't seem satisfied. Juror Anna Gertner leaned over to the foreman, Ronald Bisson, and whispered into his ears. Bisson stood up and asked directly, "Can we consider the Documents of Vatican Two?"

What had happened? Well, we had the Documents and one philosophy paper written by Mike introduced as evidence. Neville had permitted them in, and when he threw out our defense, his Clerk of Court; confused, I'm sure as the jurors were didn't remove them from the evidence box. Therefore they went into the deliberating room along with the torches, and glasscutters, and other Government evidence. In my Closing, I had told the jurors to read a certain section, "The Church in the World Today" ... and they were reading it! What a victory! The people were listening. But not to be undone, and with the (always) final trump up his black robed sleeve, Neville slammed down the winning Ace. He told them that they were to ignore the Documents and … Mike's paper. So, the jury filed out once again.

This time we didn't move from our seats ... we knew what was happening. Mike started taping something onto the edge of the defense table facing the jury box. He had written some statements on two posters, they read: "'We love you." "We understand you," read another. "Your coerced verdict does not charge our love for you."

With Neville’s relentless directions — which, in turn, had been remotely directed from Washington — the jury had been left without any choice. In less than 10 minutes, they filed back into the courtroom, heads bowed, grim as pallbearers. Several of them, both men and women, wept as the verdict was quickly read, and the jury polled.

In the brief moments before Neville had entered, and the jury was already in their boxes, there had been an electric silence in the room. Out among my family my Mom couldn't take it any more, she started sobbing and saying, "Oh no. They can't do this." At that point the earthfired human heart had risen to protest and to plead with its final sobs. Philip Neville couldn't handle this. He accepted the verdict, and rushed out of the room ... without setting my bail, or finishing off the standard legal matters. He was gone! The jurors walked funereally from their boxes past me and then Mike and were lead by two Federal Marshals out into the hallway. When I met Anna Gertner she was crying. This old woman from rural Westbrook, Minnesota was tearfully apologizing to me, "I'm sorry." I just placed my hand upon her shoulder and said, "It's okay. Take care of yourself."

Following an appeal — denied, of course — Frank and Mike were sentenced, as the other six had been, to the maximum time in prison: five years (all Eight ultimately ended up in Sandstone Federal prison). During the six months Frank spent waiting for his appeal to be processed, he traveled, soaking up his last days of freedom — mediating on the shores of the Pacific, praying, talking, questioning. He also renewed his contacts with his fellow resistors, traveling East to visit Daniel Ellsberg and once sneaking into prison to visit his fellow "conspirators" (who had already started their terms) by dressing up as a Catholic priest. But he was tormented by doubts — to all appearances, it seemed that evil had prevailed.

The verdicts of those days rendered apart my body and spirit. I'd walk along the streets really doubting my sanity. Across every cup of coffee came the question, "Are you doing the right thing?" From the 5:30 Mass altar-boy to Society's criminal: that's not the way a good half-Irish Catholic boy was to go. {Half Germanic rigor.) At times my vision of the world and the Church pouted cracks, and chunks crumbled ... I was not always happy with my life ... not always sure. There were indeed many Dark Nights of Resistance... and of my Soul. What is it then that does enable us Resisters to go on? In the face of such overwhelming secular and sacred odds Among ourselves we exchange a wealth of critical thoughts and challenges and there doesn't seem to be one social or political or moral theory that binds us. Rather, I think our common sense belief in, and respect for, the value and dignity of all people is our mutual support and center. For myself no matter how bad a hundred people are to me, one kind person restores my faith in the creative possibility. This creative possibility is how and what I find to be worth living for.

The inevitable day came when he entered Sandstone, where he would become a number — his punishment for refusing to allow others to be reduced to that equation. As a prisoner, Frank's Federal Bureau of Prison number was 8867-147 ... "which remains mine forever! So if I go back, it's still me!"

A poignantly ironic moment came when, on Frank’s first day in prison, he walked into the dayroom where the TV news was playing. He was just in time to catch the announcement: John Mitchell, the Attorney General of the United States was being indicted! " So what am I doing in here?!" Frank exclaimed aloud.

The supreme irony, however, came in 1973 when Nixon — the same man who had made sure they went to prison for the maximum time — ordered the release of the eight — along with dozens of other jailed dissenters around the nation. "What was particularly ironic," said Frank. "Is that to spring us all, they had to break the law!" The fact of the matter was, the heat was on Nixon and the GOP — the Pentagon papers had been released, Watergate had happened and would shortly be discovered. "With the tide turning, the GOP didn’t want the Minnesota Eight to be heroes." Frank theorizes. "To be filled with undying gratitude and disappear. ‘Daddy is no longer angry with you. Now run along and be good — just don’t pull an Oedipus and come back and kill me or anything!"

"We had far more impact on Nixon and the rest of them than they would ever have admitted at the time. Nixon wanted so much to preserve his own illusion of himself that he had started committing crimes. He had gone way beyond "Imperial" — he truly had a dark side."

Is Bush like Nixon? "Bush IS Nixon — just not as smart. Bush doesn’t even have enough smarts to know what game this really is he’s playing. But in any case, Bush is not motivated by a quest to do something good for America. He says "I walk in the light! I walk with Jesus!" — except the devil is in his back pocket and on his shoulder. He has reactivated the dark shadow in the White House. Culturally, people sense this, but they are avoiding it — it is too much to face so they cling to the illusion."

What does he think of the compliance many Democrats have shown toward Bush since 9/ 11? "Liberals have not learned from history — they have not learned from Nixon and the revelation that came during that time of the myth of the infallible presidency. Instead, Bush has taken on Nixon’s mantle and is leading the nation to war for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with justice and peace. If you are a soldier in the U.S. military right now, you’d be better off playing Russian roulette — you’d have a better chance. Any soldier will tell you they need someone to watch their backs — Ain’t none of ‘em believe Bush will watch their backs!"

Frank’s message to today’s antiwar activists: keep centered, stay committed, have a life outside activism. "I understand the jeopardy of activism — the temptation to cross to the dark side of violence. People need to have a daily interior life, a spiritual resource to avoid that. But just remember, the struggle has a history, a story. Each person that takes up the struggle is a keeper of the flame."


            By Millie Stong Beneke,
            Mother of Brad Beneke

            I watched a public hanging
            It was called a trial.
            Freedom was hanged.
            And I watched Faith slain.
            Truth was assaulted
            And the rope around Hope's neck
            Grew tightly taut
            As God's name was fouled
            In a lethal complaint.
            Youth was on trial
            Allegiance to a higher Being
            Youth ... versus the Sage
            Callous Age
            Tyranny sat behind closed eyes and ears
            And urged Justice
            Black-robed and blind
            To try Youth for a double crime
            Yours ...and mine ..
            But this is why I really cried
            Deception masked by Patriotism
            Was the Advocate
            On Age's side ...

Frank has devoted much time to developing an alternative concept to the "warrior mythos" upon which western society is based. The result: Earthfolk, a tradition that holds life, Earth (as an interconnected living network) and spirit as sacred — a concept in which there is no place for the violent "blood rituals" of the warrior tradition.

© 2002, Cheryl Seal

Cheryl may be contacted at