BALTIMORE | For decades, Sister Carol Gilbert and Sister Ardeth Platte have practiced their Roman Catholic faith with an unwavering focus on world peace. Their antiwar activities even landed them in federal prison earlier this decade for trespassing onto a military base and pouring blood onto a nuclear missile silo.
Now they face fresh infamy as two nuns secretly branded by Maryland State Police as terrorists and placed on a national watch list.
“This term terrorist is a really serious accusation,” Sister Ardeth, a nun for 54 years, told The Washington Times on Thursday in the first interview that the women have given since being informed they were among 53 people added to a terrorist watch list in conjunction with an extensive Maryland surveillance effort of antiwar activists.
“There is no way that we ever want to be identified as terrorists. We are nonviolent. We are faith-based,” she said.
The women freely acknowledge their participation in antiwar activities.
On Oct. 6, 2002, the two sisters and another nun - armed with bolt cutters, a hammer and baby bottles filled with their own blood - broke into an unmanned Minuteman III missile site in northeastern Colorado and painted bloody crosses on the silo. It was the day before the one-year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan.
Sister Carol was sentenced to 30 months and Sister Ardeth to 41 months in federal prison for the action.
“I learned to make it a meditation, almost a prayer,” Sister Carol told the Baltimore Sun upon her release in 2005.
But they say being tagged as terrorists in a federal database is false and a blow to their commitment to a pursuit of peace.
“We’re Dominicans; our mission is ‘veritas,’ which is truth,” Sister Carol said.
State police have said their surveillance was limited to the period of March 2005 to May 2006, during planning for security related to the executions of two death row inmates.
But activists have long said they think the state police and local law-enforcement agencies cast a broader net across Maryland’s protest community.
The nuns said they were not involved in the protests state police say they targeted. And other activists who were labeled terrorists, including a member of the antiwar group Code Pink, have said they were not active in Maryland protests during the state police’s time period.
E-mails released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland show that Baltimore police were coordinating with the National Security Agency in 2003 and 2004 to spy on Quakers, who routinely protested outside the security agency’s headquarters. And a member of the American National Socialist Workers Party, or Nazis, told lawmakers Wednesday that he was among the 53 to receive a letter from the state police informing him that he was on the list.
“This leads me to ask who exactly was the Maryland State Police was watching when they thought they were watching me,” Bill White wrote the lawmakers in e-mail obtained by The Washington Times.
Nancy Kricorian, a member of Code Pink, also was entered into the database. She never lived or protested in Maryland, said David Rocah, a staff attorney for the ACLU, which represented the nuns in the effort to obtain information on the spying.
The state police have offered to let the activist see the files and have them purged but have denied them and their attorneys access to the hard copies.
A police spokesman did not answer questions Thursday about allegations that the spying was more expansive or involved many other groups, and said he was unsure why the nuns and other activists were entered into the database.
“The fact there was a record with their name is the reason we’re in this situation that were in,” said state police spokesman Greg Shipley. “We’re certainly not going to perpetuate the problem by creating more records and handing them out.”
Mr. Rocah has asked Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, to force state police Superintendent Col. Terrence B. Sheridan to grant hard copies of the files and allow attorneys to be present during the review.
“It is clear to us that the full extent of the MSP’s improper activities have yet to be fully disclosed,” Mr. Rocah wrote.
The sisters said the O’Malley administration is trying to brush off questions about broader police surveillance.
“Think they just want to kind of pooh-pooh it away and say it’s no big thing,” Sister Carol said.
An O’Malley spokesman deferred questions to the state police.
The spying occurred during the administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, and while the state police was being run by Thomas E. “Tim” Hutchins.
Sisters Ardeth and Carol, a nun for 43 years, said they won’t review their records or have them purged until they are given hard copies and allowed to bring attorneys with them to the state police headquarters.
“Democracy is built on these elements on being able to speak out to speak what we believe is truth,” Sister Carol said.