President Harry Truman made a personal journal entry on July 25, 1945. It speaks of anguish. "We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world."

On August 6, "Little Boy" was released on Hiroshima and three days later "Fat Boy" was released on Nagasaki. Some victims were vaporized, others terribly disfigured and deaths from radiation exposure continued for decades. In an "unspeakable second" the world was changed forever.

Those horrific bombings by the U.S. signaled the beginning of the nuclear age and the United States began to test nuclear weapons in an effort to perfect and expand its nuclear arsenal.

The earliest tests were conducted in the South Pacific, but a location for testing within the continental United States was imperative. In 1949, a permanent site 65 miles north of Las Vegas, in Nye County, Nevada was selected. All U.S. and British tests would be conducted there for the next 43 years.

The area which became known as the Nevada Test covers 1350 square miles, 100 square miles larger than the state of Rhode Island. The perimeter fence follows the east side of Highwy 95, from just south of the Mercury exit to just north of the small town of Lathrop Wells. Its deadly imprint runs deep into the Mojave desert.

A series of tests in the 1950s became a scientific experiment using infantry soldiers. They were placed a few hundred yards from ground zero for the blast and then marched directly to the site of the explosion. The Army studied their reactions for use in war plans.

The Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in August 1963 forced the atmospheric tests underground. According to the Gallery of U.S. Nuclear Tests, between July 16, 1945 and September 23, 1992, 1054 nuclear tests were conducted at the Nevada Nuclear Weapons Test Site. The cost for each ranged between $6 million and $60 million. Forty-two underground tests were documented to have ventings of radioactive gases beyond the boundaries of the Test Site area.

Protests at the site date back to 1957. By the 80s, there was a series of protests at the Nevada Test Site, primarily organized by two Las Vegas-based organizations, Nevada Desert Experience (NDE) launched in 1981, and American Peace Test (APT) launched in 1985.

But...there had never been a permanent presence at the location until Art Casey from San Diego moved onto the land directly facing the entrance to the Nevada Nuclear Weapons Test Site. This website documents his story and honors the 25th Anniversary of the founding of Peace Camp.

His determination to create an encampment and make a daily peace witness at the entrance to the Nevada Test Site would change the history of nuclear resistance and create a Peace Camp which would ultimately host 536 demonstrations involving 37,488 protesters and 15, 740 arrests.

--- Janice Keaffaber, San Diego, May 1, 2011


The story of resistance to nuclear weapons is ultimately a mystery story. Resistance has triumphed over the most powerful military advocates for sixty five years. The whole story, the whole truth, remains elusive but many pieces are small enough to be remembered. Remembering nuclear resistance focussed on the Nevada Test Site is the aim of the Peace Camp 25 blog.

Twenty five years ago (1986---1989) a permanent Peace Camp was established near the entrance of the Nevada Test Site. Now a Nevada Historical Site it is a part of the international effort which stopped the testing (exploding) of nuclear warheads. This remote desert site was chosen (1950) by the US for the convenience of the design laboratories at Livermore and Los Alamos. Resistance at the site was sporadic until the widespread deadly effects of atmospheric testing created international resistance which forced a moratorium (1963) on above ground explosions. The change to underground testing undercut resistance efforts which were again sporadic (1963---1977). Then a small Franciscan community in Las Vegas began personal vigils at the site. In 1982 the California Franciscans led by Louis Vitale organized the Nevada Desert Experience.* The ongoing worldwide Nuclear Freeze movement first came to the Nevada Test Site in October, 1985.

A permanent Peace Camp in this desert seemed foolhardy. The site is nakedly exposed to a harsh desert climate. Other than a highway (US-95) there is nothing at all to support a camp. Once again mystery is the only explanation for the establishment of Peace Camp. On October 5, 1986, Art Casey with only remote support of friends, NDE, and the American Peace Test began as a solitary camper maintaining daily vigils. Peace Camp 25 tells this and other parts of the story of nuclear resistance at the Nevada Test Site.

The current government euphemism for the site is the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS). Portions of the land within its boundaries will remain dangerously radioactive forever.

*See Ken Butigan's book, Pilgrimage Through a Burning World.


April 12-16, 1987 Tonopah Jail

Tonopah Jail
Holy Thursday, April 16
Day 10 - 14 to go

Dear Janice, Gail,
Yes, hanging in but unlike the lonesome cat, I have lots of support. Thank you for yours.

I never really thought about Camp being a place of good spirit power but you're right, it is. And I do welcome your addition to that power. Another one night visitor (Mike Gray - released from here April 9) has reported all is well as of April 10. The proper attitude might be for me to admit to a role reversal and allow the camp to be a witness, looking after me rather than vice-versa.

The really major deprivation for me in here is very nearly complete isolation from the sky. A few clues exist for day and night. Each afternoon from about four to six, we can actually see two spots of sunlight appear, move and disappear. The major source of time information is the TV - that is a compound obscenity.

We can't get information in here but all hope for great success for Good Friday - Easter witnessing at the Test Site. There is a rumor of another, presumably even harsher move by the District Attorney. History says persecution is good for powerful peacemaking. But oppressive government never seems to pay attention. Violence is the way. We'll see.

Peace, Love,
Art Casey


Tonopah Jail
Sunday, April 12, 1987
Day 6 - 18 to go

Surrender to an Unknown

Last Sunday morning (April 5) , the vigil at the cattle guard boundary of the Test Site was a blessed, prayerful experience. The Franciscan Friars were there in strength (and costume) with a smattering of other peace people. We celebrated a moving, powerful mass. Fr. Louis Vitale offered reflections on the Lazarus story which was the Gospel reading. Louis asked us to focus not on the resurrection experience but on the necessity of Lazarus' surrender to death before Christ could create this teaching of faith.

The challenge which Louis preached (?) was that of faith. The Lazarus story characters are all people of faith. Lazarus, Martha and Mary all knew Jesus to have the power of life over death. They all knew while Lazarus was dying that Jesus could cure him. And almost certainly Martha and Mary urged Lazarus not to die, to cling to life, to hang on until their friend Jesus would come to restore health. But Jesus did not hurry to intervene and Lazarus did let go of life - surrendered to the mystery of death with a freedom found only in the tomb of faith. So into the dark of the tomb is Lazarus' way, and into grieving is the way of his sisters, and grieving is the way of Jesus when he belatedly responds to the sisters' pleas.

The human experience of death is loss, heavy sadness, being emptied of vitality by an unseen incomprehensible vortex. Jesus grieves, weeps human and divine tears for his friend. And Jesus is further burdened by the complaints and rebukes of Lazarus' sisters for not having come to save him. Even when Jesus begins to act, to remove Lazarus from the tomb, to restore life, the very human (very female) Martha protests, "There will be a stink." So this is the human living of great faith, protesting every step of the way, protesting illness, protesting dying, protesting even the process of miracles. (I wonder if Louis was underhandedly (?) motivating protest of the Test Site.) But all these characters did have faith and each, especially Lazarus, lived (and died) that faith which indeed rewarded (birthed) in divine glory.

So then Louis and three of his fellow Friars and two women (not Martha and Mary but Jeanette and Sandra) blockaded the Test Site entrance road in protest of evil. All people of faith acting on the same gamble as that taken by Lazarus - that letting go, surrendering is the way of peace. This surrender is not into the tomb but rather into the criminal justice system, a dark place of evil, a place to test faith. This conclusion (?) of the liturgy was surely the most powerful statement I have experienced of Bernie Cassidy's reading of "Ite Missa Est," -- "The Mass is Just Beginning."

Perhaps the mass is always just beginning. Without having an explicit awareness of this, it now seems true that since embarking on a daily vigil of the Test Site, there have been few endings and many beginnings. The dream is that somewhere somehow peace is beginning and perhaps it is. (How's that for a hedged human act of faith?) Being home with Christ the King community for two weeks allowed me to hear, experience, peace beginning, growing in San Diego.

Just two weeks ago was Sunday, March 29, a day of almost total immersion in the community. Never before have I experienced all four of the Sunday Liturgies on a single day. We all know the diversity of us but the common faith and power of us focused on this Desert Peace Witness was a new beginning. And a really powerful sustaining beginning. Since then I've not slept in the same place more than two nights in a row but such transiency, chaos, is calmed, smoothed by the unifying current of God's grace flowing under this troubled surface. Nice to reflect that that current (with a beginning prior to human knowing) is ever new, ever offering us new life if only we let go. Even when it seems that the flow carries us into the tomb.

This (Tonopah Jail) is not a tomb but a Navy Brig (Nevada Myth) encased in a concrete block house. Nevada's natural chaos is surely matched by it's man made idiosyncrasies. The jails of both Nye and Esmeralda Counties (Tonopah and Goldfield jails) are each one half of the brig of the battleship U.S.S. Nevada. How they got here is a question I continue to ask. But for now this more than 100-year-old steel cage is home. Friday I claimed one of the seven cells of this lower deck where all (so far) peace people (men only, of course) "serve their time" for "crime." Nothing in here is certain but my expectation is that the next 18 days will see me there every night.

That nighttime presence is a matter of choice since the rust of ages makes it impossible to operate the cell door which would lock me down. It is courtesy to fellow prisoners (a courtesy sometimes violated) which keeps the night quiet since in fact all of us could do TV watching, showers, floor pacing or wall climbing at any time. Since the floor, ceilings, walls, deck, overhead, bulkheads, are all steel plates and bars riveted into a single piece, this cage offers great noise, vibration, transmission. Like any caged life we occasionally succumb to the temptation to rattle our cage.

The keepers are far enough away to ignore most of such incidents. As a matter of fact, the keepers tend to be frequent inciters, creators of noise. Many wear cowboy boots which were never intended for stomping around on a steel deck. Opening and closing the hatches to the cell blocks -- one this deck, two above -- is also a great occasion for keeper noise generation. The sequence is something like this: stomp in, shout a name, rattle the keys (a bulging bunch of them), unlock a control box (God knows what its proper Navy brig name is), pull a pin, slide the bolt . That gets the hatch open and all this can be done with much banging on steel to emphasize the mood of the keeper (highly variable). Amazingly, many of us prisoners can sleep through this stuff when new arrivals are brought in. (So far no exits/releases have been made at night. Anticipated 11 P.M. releases have always been accomplished before 5 P.M. but one 11 A.M. release did not happen until 12:30 P.M.) We would probably wake up for a night time release. There is so much euphoria radiating at those moments that everyone experiences a high.

The oppression of the physical cage is mitigated by the social environment. Very important in that mitigation are the current trustees. Both are truly servants to us prisoners while at the same time helping the Deputies in running this place. They manage the kitchen, laundry and all other housekeeping for an ever changing prison family. Upstairs are the "real" criminals whose numbers have varied from 5 to 9. I think capacity there is 16 with more cells that individually lock down. Downstairs I put capacity at 12 but sometime since my arrival Tuesday afternoon, we reached 14. Lots of peace people but currently just four of us and five "minor" criminals occupy this deck. Actually, we are only seven now (daytime) since the trustees are out working. Most of us want to get out to work but the Sheriff won't use his people to supervise work details and other public agencies in Tonopah seem reluctant to accept prison help when the agency itself is very responsible to "hold" the prisoner.

Getting here was a strange journey and I'm not willing to work at retrieving it all from memory, but I want to share just names of people in the "extended" Desert Peace Witness support group. Nevada Desert Experience people -- Duncan MacMurdy, who met me at the airport, Mark Jasper, the Franciscan House "Trustee," Peg Bean who has the Christ the King banner in safekeeping, Wendy of the Catholic worker for cooking and the promise of an "out of jail" feast. Franciscan Friars, Fr. Louis Vitale for hope, Dave for humor, Gary and ?? for music, Jerry Zawada for four days company in jail. Franciscan Sister Karen for a luxury ride Sunday with the two women blockaders Jeanette Armquist and Sandra Le Roy. The San Diego affinity group Desert Waves, who sung me into Beatty Jail with choruses of Peace is Flowing and Down by the Riverside. Sgt. Schuch bitched at the group but the court clerks enjoyed it. Especially Down by the Riverside. The Armargosa River is a laugh. Janice Keaffaber and Gail Weiss camped, vigiled with me and drove me to Beatty. Pam Rider, Mike and Ellen Murphy completed the San Diego group -- until I got here where fellow San Diegan Richard Sickler is on the downhill part of a 12-day sentence. And Thursday Diana Hirschi (Salt Lake City) kept her promise from a camp visit of several weeks ago to visit me on my first Thursday in jail. Our plot to titillate the Deputies was only partially successful. The Deputy monitoring our visit refused to let me have a Playboy and Penthouse in jail, but did say those ought to be dropped off at my camp on Diana's return journey. We prisoners laughed wildly at the censorship. In here we have T.V. with both HBO and Showtime. I really do hope the obscenity on the tube is not surpassed by the magazines.

Thank you, thank you, thank you... to each and every member of "The Support Group" wherever and whomever you are.

Peace, Love,
Art Casey

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