Daniel Berrigan (Born May 9, 1921) was an internationally renown peace activist and Roman Catholic priest. Daniel and his brother Philip were for a time on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list for illegal, non-violent actions against war, and was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Daniel Berrigan was born in Virginia, Minnesota, a Midwestern working class town. His father, Tom Berrigan, was second-generation Irish-Catholic and proud Union man. Tom left the Catholic church when church leadership forebade Catholics from joining unions, but Berrigan remained attracted to the Catholic church throughout his youth. He joined a strict Jesuit seminary directly out of high school, where he spent the next twenty years studying theology.
Protests against the War in Vietnam
Daniel Berrigan, his brother Philip Berrigan, and the famed theologian Thomas Merton founded an interfaith coalition against the Vietnam War, and wrote letters to major newspapers arguing for an end to the war.
In 1969, Philip Berrigan was arrested for non-violent protest actions and sentenced to six years in prison. Afterwards, Daniel Berrigan seriously considered taking more direct action against the war. Howard Zinn, professor emeritus at Boston University, invited Berrigan to accompany him on a trip to Hanoi to negotiate the release of three [U.S.] pilots held prisoner by the North Vietnamese. Although the mission had a high chance of success, it was opposed by the FBI on the grounds that it violated their policy of non-negotiation with North Vietnam. J. Edgar Hoover went so far as to publicly call Zinn and Berrigan "traitors". U.S. planes even bombed locations where they were scheduled to be. Despite the opposition, three pilots were returned home. They were the first American POWs released unharmed by the North Vietnamese. The lack of acknowlegement and appreciation by the US government helped to radicalize Berrigan.
In 1969, Berrigan decided to participate in a more radical non-violent protest. A local high-school physics teacher helped to concoct homemade napalm. Nine activists, who later became known as the Catonsville Nine, walked into the draft board of Catonsville, Maryland, and burned 378 draft files. The Catonsville Nine, who were all Catholic, issued a statement:
"We confront the Catholic Church, other Christian bodies, and the synagogues of America with their silence and cowardice in the face of our country's crimes. We are convinced that the religious bureaucracy in this country is racist, is an accomplice in this war, and is hostile to the poor."
Berrigan was arrested and was sentenced to three years in prison, but he refused to serve his time. Instead, he went underground, living discretely among like-minded individuals. The FBI, to their great embarrassment, was not immediately able to apprehend him, although he frequently showed up briefly at public events, made impromptu speeches, and went back into hiding.
Eventually, the FBI managed to find and arrest Berrigan. He was released from prison in 1972.
The Plowshares Movement
On September 9, 1980, Berrigan, his brother Philip, and six others (the "Plowshares Eight") began the Plowshares Movement when they entered the General Electric Nuclear Missile Re-entry Division in King of Prussia, PA where nose cones for the Mark 12A warheads were made. They hammered on two nose cones, poured blood on documents and offered prayers for peace. They were arrested and initially charged with over ten different felony and misdemeanor counts. On April 10, 1990, after nearly ten years of trials and appeals, the Plowshares Eight were re-sentenced and paroled for up to 23 and 1/2 months in consideration of time already served in prison.
Since this action over seventy Ploughshares actions have taken place around the world against weapons of war, several involving Berrigan himself.
Berrigan has spoken out on many issues since then, and has been involved in many protests. He has led protests against American destabilization of Central America, the 1991 Gulf War, the Kosovo War of 1991, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He is also a prominent anti-abortion activist.