Thursday, April 25, 2013



What with Pope Francis's call for visible, voluntary poverty, and the push for canonization of Dorothy Day well underway, the story of Dennis Apel and his life at the Guadalupe Catholic Worker seems especially timely. 

For those who are just tuning in now, here's:


Here's the final installment. 

And here we are [intentionally] dropping radiation on this island that's supposedly leased. That belongs to the Marshallese people. The fish in their lagoon you can’t eat anymore. They couldn’t go back to their island way of life even if they wanted to. So it’s no surprise when you go over and start talking to them about this, they sort of don’t want to hear it.

Meaning they don’t want to hear, I’m on your side?

Well, they don’t want to hear that something ought to be done about what’s happening to their islands, because even if they got their island back…

It’s ruined.

It’s wrecked. And they’re totally and completely dependent on the United States military. For their income. They have no income outside that. We took their livelihood away and then gave them the only possible work they could have, which is tending to the U.S. military. In order to escape that they’d have to go somewhere else—and they don’t have the money. So it’s hard to…it’s really hard to realize that and see that. And understand that that’s just how we do things. That’s the way we do it.

And I think the…you also feel, as Christ did, the magnitude of “the system.” Where do you even…where do you start…why bother?...but this is our faith. You put yourself wherever you can. You write about it, you carry a picket sign, you have gotten arrested many times, have obviously been to the Marshall Islands to try to better understand…

And you also raise kids. You have to also go toward joy…

You can’t be…you know how resistance is often, “Okay, I’m gonna try and win?”

Yeah, you can’t be adversarial or then you’ve been co-opted by the system…

Not only that, you’re bound to fail. Against the system of the United States. But to keep your juices going, you have to get your satisfaction and your peace from just speaking the truth.

Yes, and believing that matters whether or not it’s deemed to matter.

Take Franz Jagerstatter. He didn’t do anything. Hans and Sophie Scholl didn’t do anything to the Nazis except speak the truth.

And that will get you killed.

And we’re happy to go that way. Because they knew they were speaking the truth. Now I’m not saying they were happy about being executed. But they were at peace with it.

Nor were they “perfect”…Okay I just want to ask you one more question. You don’t pay taxes.


How do you respond to the people who say, Well, you take advantage of the roads and the libraries and the hospitals…

I suppose that…the United States…has some…has a lot of very attractive aspects, even if they’ve deteriorated. Our health care system paid for my heart attack. The government took care of that, the whole thing. And we still have that.

So you’re grateful for that.

I am grateful for that. But then, part of me wants to say…I’m gonna go around this a little. Years ago, I went to talk to a guy who was with the Shippers and Growers Association. He was a lawyer, and then he would take on as clients all the growers in the (Santa Maria) Valley. And he had the role of advising them what they couldn’t do legally. And he also, if they got into trouble, the growers, he would represent them. In return, they gave him a monthly fee. So I went and just knocked on his door.

And he was very personable, Yeah, come on in. Let’s talk. Cause I wanted to know. And he handed me a sheet of paper and he said Look at this. And he was right, it had two columns of regulations for people in agriculture. Very strict, he said, and all of them had fines associated with them. He says, You show me any industry in the United States that has this many regulations. Agriculture is the most regulated industry in the United States and it’s oppressive. For the grower.

So I said, I don’t know, well let me look at it. And these were the regulations: You must have porta-potties for your employees. You have to have toilet paper in the porta-potties. If you don’t have toilet paper and they come and inspect you, you can be fined a hundred and fifty dollars. You have to have potable drinking water. You can’t have hoe handles that are shorter than this length, and down and down and down. I said, Well, I have to admit, you’ve got a point.

These are harsh regulations!…

Exactly. I said, Don’t you see it as an indictment that any human being would have to be regulated to provide that stuff?

And it’s kind of the way I feel about the government. There are things that by law are free. My kids go to school free. My medical care is free. There’s welfare, there’s Social Security, those things are put in place to even out…some people can afford them and some people can’t. Well, that’s a good thing. And I think the government should do that. Why not? And I feel like everyone should be able to have that. What I got when I had my heart attack, I feel everybody should be able to have.

In a country with this much money.

Yeah. The government spends at least half its income on military. And so when they say Oh gosh, we’re going to have to cut back on Social Security or we’re going to have to cut back on Medicare…we don’t have to. We have more than enough. We could fund all that. We choose instead to spend that money on a thousand military bases outside the U.S. And that’s just the beginning. The money that we spend on research and development, all the major defense companies like Lockheed Martin and Northrup, Raytheon, the billion and billions and billions of dollars we spend on research and development—of what? Of what? Nuclear weapons? That are designed to kill millions of people indiscriminately? Or drones? So that we can assassinate people without worrying about one of our men getting shot down?

Or they have all this research on microwave technology, crowd control that they’re developing, so a tank with a dish on it, you have a protest, you need to quell the crowd, they just hit em with microwaves. It causes such intense pain, you writhe on the crowd. And when you turn it off, if you get up and walk away, they turn it on again. There are tons of this sort of thing. Tons of these things that we’re researching and developing. [see, e.g., U.S. Military Unveils Heat Ray Microwave Crowd Control Cannon]:

To the tune of…

Billions and billions of dollars. The annual Department of Defense budget is somewhere between 685 and 800 billion dollars in one year. I read this article, just to give you an idea, if I handed you a dollar every second, if I gave you a million dollars, it would take nineteen days. How long would it take to give you our Defense Budget? If I gave you a dollar every second, it would take 36,000 years [that figures out to just less than 19 billion].

And that’s just every year.

Every year we do that again and again. And again. And that’s just the defense budget. We’re not even talking about the Department of Energy, which the whole nuclear program comes under. That doesn’t fall into the Pentagon’s budget. Then you have the CIA, FBI, NSA, which is the scariest organization on the face of the earth.

Cause it’s secretive.

It’s secretive. So they all have black budgets so we not only don’t know how much they’re spending, we don’t get to know how much we’re giving them. No idea.

Talk a little about the NSA.

It’s the National Security Administration and it’s completely separate, this is my understanding, from the CIA. It’s much like the CIA except it’s for the United States. Internal spying. The CIA gathers intelligence from every country: Iran or doesn’t have a nuclear program. Or Al Qaeda is planning this. The CIA does that around the world,

The NSA does that in the United States. So the NSA has a facility where they gather information. And this facility is set up so that every piece of information that is transmitted electronically is gathered by the NSA. Anything that goes over a computer, a cell phone, a telephone line, a fax, every electronic transfer of any information within the entire United States goes to this building that has just massive banks of computers.

Meaning we don’t have any real privacy.

We don’t have any privacy electronically. Our conversation right now is private [though I was taping it, obviously] but if were talking on the phone…

Oh my…

And then the program is set up to pick out any of that information. If the word “President” and “bomb” are mentioned in the same conversation, it picks it out. Then there are all these potentially interesting pieces of information, whether it’s by an email, it’s all taken out and then gone through and monitored and once you become an actual person of interest, people are actually listening in to phone conversations, reading those emails, monitoring, supposedly so that we can find the terrorists before they do their thing. We can find the groups, certain groups are flags, so any information coming out of certain groups, even if it’s Hey Mom, I’ll be there for Catherine’s birthday, that still gets pulled out.

We already know from Freedom of Information that a number of Catholic Workers have had community members who weren’t really community members. They were working for the government.

So they were internal spies?

Yeah, they did the whole thing, they joined, and then they kept the government informed. They’re gonna do a protest at the Federal Building or whatever. We had this guy Kevin who claims to live in Arroyo Grande who the first time I met him I just knew, This guy is a spy. He showed up more than once and the last time he showed up, I said Lookit Kevin, I know you want to be with us, I appreciate that you want to be with us. But the truth is that we’re gonna have to get to know each other a whole lot better than we do now…I don’t believe you. He said That’s fine…

One time he showed up, we were having a rally before an action at Vandenberg, we’re standing in the parking lot, and I see this guy, I’ve never seen him before, and I walked over and introduced myself and he gave me the whole story, he says, Oh my nineteen-year-old daughter, and I haven’t been active enough, I decided to come out and go to some of these protests, and I notice I’m talking, he’s texting, I’m talking, he’s texting…this isn’t right. And then we have the protest and Kevin goes to leave in a car that’s parked in a place where none of us are allowed to park. He’s parked in a place that only military are allowed to park. And I just happened to see him walking away and getting in his car. So I don’t trust the guy.

Anyway, all that just to say these are all things…the NSA’s purpose is to gather intelligence within the United States from American citizens. Google it, you’ll find out where their facility is. [Here ya go] This place is monstrous. I mean you can only imagine the size of the computer banks that would have to be in place…to gather, to pick out the information…

And we have no idea how much money…

“Security” is the ace-in-the-hole for the U.S. government. You just mention the word and anything goes. Anything can be done and not litigated because it’s a matter of national security.

And isn’t it interesting that we feel less safe, less secure than ever. The more violence we use, the less secure we feel. And thus the more people say, We need MORE violence. It’s just insanity.

People don’t understand…if I poked you in the eye, how many times do you think I’d poke you in the eye before you slapped me back? Yet our government doesn’t think twice about that dynamic with our military. When something like 9/11 happens, we say, What, what? Why did they do this to us? They must be envious of our lifestyle! Muslims think we’re sinful people and we need to be eradicated.

Right. It’s never, They think we’re jerks.

No, nothing about we took all their oil and left them in poverty. Nothing about we supported a dictator who tortured their people. We can’t imagine that people hate us for what we’ve done to them.

No, we’re shocked at this unprovoked attack…while we’re just innocently safeguarding the world’s “freedom”….

There’s a reason why people lash out at us. And we do ourselves a big disservice by not asking ourselves…if you’re against violence in all its form, you have as much of a disdain for the violence of 9/11 as you do for the violence of “shock and awe.” But on some level you have to say, yes, but this level of greed and trying to get everything for ourselves… there is a difference between this kind of reactive violence that comes from stepping on your back, stepping on your back…Gandhi proved violence wasn’t the answer, you could address those things non-violently.

So of course did Christ.

Look at the amount of violence justified…some of it generated by 9/11. All the stuff we’ve done since then to justify…

And as we were talking about before, as goes an individual so goes the nation. That a nation is in a sense an individual writ large and I feel like when someone hurts us in our lives, we have to ask…sometimes it is seemingly is unprovoked, but I think we have to ask ourselves, Did I put myself in a position to be hurt? And I think we often find in our own lives, we did. We passively-aggressively fired the first shot. Someone was a jerk so we were a bigger jerk. That doesn’t excuse the abuse, but it’s a constant examination of conscience we have to undergo in our own lives and then we begin to see how violence really works. The more I indulge my own tendency toward violence, the more violent I become. Even the smallest act of violence opens the floodgates. When we treat people badly, that tends to make us despise them. We have to despise them so as to excuse our own despicable acts. This is the best of Catholicism, that we should be undergoing a constant examination of conscience. We should be doing that as a nation. And my God, if we even scraped the surface, from the beginning of our history on through…

We can’t change the attitude of the masses. We can only work on ourselves. You know this guy Robert, shot and killed my brother-in-law and my niece.


So I’ve struggled not to hate him. And you know, we can’t ask my sister-in-law not to hate him. He killed her husband and her daughter. But for myself I saw my struggle to not hate him. To pray for his redemption. At the same time when we gathered with my family, every one of them said, I don’t want him to get the death penalty, I want to be in a room with him myself where I can take care of him. That’s what I want. I want to take him out myself.

Like a blood…

A hatred, revenge, vengeance surrounding all that.

Which we all have in us. And if it was our kid, who’s to say…

If it was my daughter who was shot. If it was Rozella…

Absolutely. And you absolutely sympathize with that and understand it and know you have that within yourself. But…and to forgive is not to condone. That’s the cross. To forgive even as you’re being tortured…it’s beyond everything. Only with God could you even think that would be possible…

When we went to Robert’s trial, it was two weeks of brutality. We sat through the pictures of the crime scene with the bodies of my brother-in-law and niece who had been shot 15 times and 7 times respectively and the coroner’s report and diagrams of entrance wounds and exit wounds. It was very difficult and the images were projected on a large screen so the jurors could see them.

Robert never looked up once to see the destruction he had caused. He just sat staring at the desk. But, at one point, when the prosecutor put the murder weapon, as 9mm Berretta, on the overhead projector so that the jury could see it better, Robert suddenly looked up at the screen and it was like he was transfixed.

He couldn’t take his eyes off it.



  1. This has been a terrific series, but I've got to take exception with the complaint about regulations re the length of hoe handles. Here's why:

    "El Cortito, 'the short one,' was a hoe that was only twenty-four inches long, forcing the farmworkers who used it to bend and stoop all day long—a position that often led to lifelong, debilitating back injuries."

    Indeed, getting regulations regarding their length was one of Cesar Chavez's first victories.

    And, yes, it’s an indictment against human beings, in this case the farmer, that the government has to force them to do the decent thing. But isn’t it better that government force them to rather than letting the farmworker suffer?

    Anyway, you should read the full article that quote about the hoe was taken from; it's here.

  2. Lydia, I may get to write a series on "saintly" Catholics who've not yet been canonized (and may never be), and was thinking just yesterday: Cesar Chavez. There's a wonderful exhibit of photographs of him at the downtown cathedral...

  3. I'll have to go back and read all this again because I missed the story or connection on Robert. Good interview.

  4. Michael, this was the first mention in the interview of Dennis's recent family tragedy so you can spare yourself plowing through again!

    And Peter, this is fantastic. Here's my thought: how about if I interview you next? You can tell your story as a soldier, Catholic, and human being...I would love to hear it and if you're up for it, would love to post it.

  5. These articles really show the value of good journalism. By exposing the truth, especially via the experiences of a human being who has lived closely with the facts he talks about, you have made me more aware than i was before.

    I still, personally, have not made the connection, at a very deep level, between the personal and the political, or national. I know that this is the very topic you return to again and again. I want to understand, to make the connection. In the previous article, you mention "me" ("us") personally being complicit in the evil that is done at a national level, because we know that we have that same hypocrisy, desire to dominate, to avenge, to be mean, etc as the nation does. I see the one, and I see the other, but I haven't yet really understood how that makes me/us complicit. Yet many of the Christians i admire most understood this truth, and I want to, too. Something, perhaps, about the connectedness of us all.

    Probably i don't spend enough time in prayer. Prayer, soaking ourselves in the Lord's presence, may be the key for me not to identify so much with my own self all the time!

  6. Hi Jane, just for a few examples, complicit in the sense that so much of our tax money goes toward war. Gun owners and advocates are wildly complicit in, and bear a huge responsibility for, our violent culture. And we are all complicit by virtue of the violence in our hearts...

    Beneath all of this is Christ's radical call to a whole different way of being and seeing in the world than the one that requires us, out of fear, to arm ourselves against one another. Beneath all this is the radical belief that we are all part of the Mystical Body of Christ, that what we do, say, and think is a matter of life and death, and that, as Christ frequently pointed out, violence begins in the heart.

    You have to be driven by total love to even want to, or dare to, look into your own hardened, blackened heart and see the violence there, and want that heart to be purified.

    Thus, prayer, yes, is essential. Prayer is KEY. "I am the vine; you are the branches. Without me, you can do nothing." Without Christ, which is to say prayer and the Sacraments, I'm just a person with an opinion, and then an agenda, and then I'm picking up a metaphorical gun and wanting to blow my "opponents" away...

    Have I not said that I generally spend the first one to two hours of my day in prayer?...That our whole lives can become a kind of prayer?...Maybe it's time for a series of posts on THAT!...


I WELCOME your comments!!!