Father William "Bix" Bichsel, a Tacoma Jesuit priest, had been fasting to protest "nuclear weapons, inhumane treatment at prisons and the separation of policy from conscience," according to his attorney. The ailing 83-year-old broke his fast Wednesday because he felt himself weakening.
A Tacoma priest and peace activist best known for breaking into a nuclear submarine base in Kitsap County has ended a two-week fast that drew sharp concern from some in the local faith and peace communities.
Father William “Bix” Bichsel, a Jesuit priest based at St. Leo’s Parish, had been fasting to protest “nuclear weapons, inhumane treatment at prisons and the separation of policy from conscience,” according to his attorney Blake Kremer.
The ailing 83-year-old broke his fast Wednesday, according to portions of a letter from him published in the Disarmnowplowshares’s Blog, because he felt himself weakening.
Bichsel has been arrested in connection with peace protests and acts of civil disobedience numerous times.
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In 2009, he was among a group of five protesters who made headlines when they breached high-level security at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor by cutting through two fences to reach bunkers where nuclear weapons are believed to be stored.
The group, which included another priest and a nun, set up banners, sprinkled blood on the ground, scattered sunflower seeds and prayed until they were arrested, according to court documents.
Bichsel and the others ultimately were convicted of conspiracy, trespass and destruction of government property in the Bangor incident and were sentenced to terms ranging from two to 15 months, court documents show.
In July 2010, Bichsel was arrested for trespassing at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., where a nuclear-weapons manufacturing complex is planned, according to Disarm Now Plowshares. For that act of civil disobedience, Kremer said, he was given a three-month sentence, which he began serving Nov. 10, 2011, at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac.
This month he was moved to a residential re-entry center, or halfway house, in Tacoma, according to Kremer.
It’s unclear exactly what happened once he arrived at the halfway house, but for some reason he was sent back to SeaTac the following day and placed in solitary housing.
Kremer said Bichsel believes he was sanctioned because two Buddhist monks were waiting for him, and drumming, when he arrived at the transitional house.
The Bureau of Prisons declined to talk specifically about what policy Bichsel is alleged to have violated, but Kremer said Bichsel believes supporters were not supposed to be notified of his move or new location.
Kremer said that when Bichsel was moved back to SeaTac, he was initially denied warm clothing and extra blankets required for his circulatory and medical conditions.
2 pints of milk a day
Bichsel began his partial fast, taking only 2 pints of milk each day, to protest what he saw as the arbitrarily inhumane and harsh treatment of his fellow prisoners as well as to draw attention to his opposition to nuclear weapons and the existence of policies “divorced from conscience,” Kremer said.
News of Bichsel’s sanction, and subsequent fast, sparked outrage and a flurry of letters and phone calls to the prison and the media from members of the faith and peace communities. A vigil was held for him outside the detention center last Sunday.
Virginia “Ginger” Kennedy, a member of St. Leo’s Parish, where Bichsel serves, said she was concerned about his well-being.
“He shouldn’t even be there. He’s not a flight risk, and he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body,” she said.
In his letter last Tuesday, Bichsel said he has now received additional clothing and blankets. In addition, he has been so encouraged by the support from well-wishers and by “a real sense of God’s presence” that he no longer seeks release from the Special Housing Unit.
“Thank you hugely … for the tremendous outpouring of help and consciousness you have brought about,” he wrote. “Overwhelmed and humbled am I.”
Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or firstname.lastname@example.org