[Ppnews] How the US Turned Three Pacifists Into Violent Terrorists

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed May 15 13:56:44 EDT 2013

May 15, 201

The Persecution of the Oak Ridge Three

  How the US Turned Three Pacifists Into Violent Terrorists


In just ten months, the United States managed to transform an 82 
year-old Catholic nun and two pacifists from non-violent anti-nuclear 
peace protestors accused of misdemeanor trespassing into federal felons 
convicted of violent crimes of terrorism.  Now in jail awaiting 
sentencing for their acts at an Oak Ridge, TN nuclear weapons production 
facility, their story should chill every person concerned about dissent 
in the US.

Here is how it happened.

In the early morning hours of Saturday June 28, 2012, long-time peace 
activists Sr. Megan Rice, 82, Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, and Michael Walli, 
63, cut through the chain link fence surrounding the Oak Ridge Y-12 
nuclear weapons production facility and trespassed onto the property.  
Y-12, called the Fort Knox of the nuclear weapons industry, stores 
hundreds of metric tons of highly enriched uranium and works on every 
single one of the thousands of nuclear weapons maintained by the U.S.

Describing themselves as the Transform Now Plowshares, the three came as 
non-violent protestors to symbolically disarm the weapons. They carried 
bibles, written statements, peace banners, spray paint, flower, candles, 
small baby bottles of blood, bread, hammers with biblical verses on them 
and wire cutters. Their intent was to follow the words of Isaiah 2:4: 
"They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into 
pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither 
shall they learn war any more."

Sr. Megan Rice has been a Catholic sister of the Society of the Holy 
Child Jesus for over sixty years.  Greg Boertje-Obed, a married 
carpenter who has a college age daughter, is an Army veteran and lives 
at a Catholic Worker house in Duluth Minnesota.  Michael Walli, a 
two-term Vietnam veteran turned peacemaker, lives at the Dorothy Day 
Catholic Worker house in Washington DC.

In the dark, the three activists cut through a boundary fence which had 
signs stating "No Trespassing."  The signs indicate that unauthorized 
entry, a misdemeanor, is punishable by up to 1 year in prison and a 
$100,000 fine.

No security arrived to confront them.

So the three climbed up a hill through heavy brush, crossed a road, and 
kept going until they saw the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility 
(HEUMF) surrounded by three fences, lit up by blazing lights.

Still no security.

So they cut through the three fences, hung up their peace banners, and 
spray-painted peace slogans on the HEUMF.  Still no security arrived.  
They began praying and sang songs like "Down by the Riverside" and 
"Peace is Flowing Like a River."

When security finally arrived at about 4:30 am, the three surrendered 
peacefully, were arrested, and jailed.

The next Monday July 30, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli were arraigned 
and charged with federal trespassing, a misdemeanor charge which carries 
a penalty of up to one year in jail.  Frank Munger, an award-winning 
journalist with the /Knoxville News Sentinel/, was the first to publicly 
wonder, "If unarmed protesters dressed in dark clothing could reach the 
plant's core during the cover of dark, it raised questions about the 
plant's security against more menacing intruders."

On Wednesday August 1, all nuclear operations at Y-12 were ordered to be 
put on hold in order for the plant to focus on security.  The "security 
stand-down" was ordered by security contractor in charge of Y-12, B&W 
Y-12 (a joint venture of the Babcock and Wilcox Company and Bechtel 
National Inc.) and supported by the National Nuclear Security 

On Thursday August 2, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli appeared in court 
for a pretrial bail hearing.  The government asked that all three be 
detained.  One prosecutor called them a potential "danger to the 
community" and asked that all three be kept in jail until their trial.  
The US Magistrate allowed them to be released.

Sr. Megan Rice walked out of the jail and promptly admitted to gathered 
media that the three had indeed gone onto the property and taken action 
in protest of nuclear weapons.  "But we had to --- we were doing it 
because we had to reveal the truth of the criminality which is there, 
that's our obligation," Rice said. She also challenged the entire 
nuclear weapons industry: "We have the power, and the love, and the 
strength and the courage to end it and transform the whole project, for 
which has been expended more than 7.2 trillion dollars," she said "The 
truth will heal us and heal our planet, heal our diseases, which result 
from the disharmony of our planet caused by the worst weapons in the 
history of mankind, which should not exist.  For this we give our lives 
--- for the truth about the terrible existence of these weapons."

Then the government began increasing the charges against the 
anti-nuclear peace protestors.

The day after the Magistrate ordered the release of Rice, Boertje-Obed, 
and Walli, a Department of Energy (DOE) agent swore out a federal 
criminal complaint against the three for damage to federal property, a 
felony punishable by zero to five years in prison, under 18 US Code 
Section 1363.

The DOE agent admitted the three carried a letter which stated, "We come 
to the Y-12 facility because our very humanity rejects the designs of 
nuclearism, empire and war.  Our faith in love and nonviolence 
encourages us to believe that our activity here is necessary; that we 
come to invite transformation, undo the past and present work of Y-12; 
disarm and end any further efforts to increase the Y-12 capacity for an 
economy and social structure based on war-making and empire-building."

Now, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli were facing one misdemeanor and one 
felony and up to six years in prison.

But the government did not stop there.  The next week, the charges were 
enlarged yet again.

On Tuesday August 7, the U.S. expanded the charges against the peace 
activists to three counts.  The first was the original charge of damage 
to Y-12 in violation of 18 US Code 1363, punishable by up to five years 
in prison.  The second was an additional damage to federal property in 
excess of $1000 in violation of 18 US Code 1361, punishable by up to ten 
years in prison. The third was a trespassing charge, a misdemeanor 
punishable by up to one year in prison under 42 US Code 2278.

Now they faced up to sixteen years in prison. And the actions of the 
protestors started to receive national and international attention.

On August 10, 2012, the New York Times ran a picture of Sr. Megan Rice 
on page one under the headline "The Nun Who Broke into the Nuclear 
Sanctum."  Citing nuclear experts, the paper of record called their 
actions "the biggest security breach in the history of the nation's 
atomic complex."

At the end of August 2012, the Inspector General of the Department of 
Energy issued at comprehensive report on the security breakdown at 
Y-12.  Calling the peace activists trespassers, the report indicated 
that the three were able to get as far as they did because of "multiple 
system failures on several levels." The cited failures included cameras 
broken for six months, ineptitude in responding to alarms, communication 
problems, and many other failures of the contractors and the federal 
monitors.  The report concluded that "Ironically, the Y-12 breach may 
have been an important "wake-up" call regarding the need to correct 
security issues at the site."

On October 4, 2012, the defendants announced that they had been advised 
that, unless they pled guilty to at least one felony and the misdemeanor 
trespass charge, the U.S. would also charge them with sabotage against 
the U.S. government, a much more serious charge.  Over 3000 people 
signed a petition to U.S. Attorney General Holder asking him not to 
charge them with sabotage.

But on December 4, 2012, the U.S. filed a new indictment of the 
protestors.  Count one was the promised new charge of sabotage.  
Defendants were charged with intending to injure, interfere with, or 
obstruct the national defense of the United States and willful damage of 
national security premises in violation of 18 US Code 2155, punishable 
with up to 20 years in prison.  Counts two and three were the previous 
felony property damage charges, with potential prison terms of up to 
fifteen more years in prison.

Gone entirely was the original misdemeanor charge of trespass.  Now 
Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli faced up to thirty-five years in prison.

In a mere five months, government charges transformed them from 
misdemeanor trespassers to multiple felony saboteurs.

The government also successfully moved to strip the three from 
presenting any defenses or testimony about the harmful effects of 
nuclear weapons.   The U.S. Attorney's office filed a document they 
called "Motion to Preclude Defendants from Introducing Evidence in 
Support of Certain Justification Defenses."  In this motion, the U.S. 
asked the court to bar the peace protestors from being allowed to put on 
any evidence regarding the illegality of nuclear weapons, the immorality 
of nuclear weapons, international law, or religious, moral or political 
beliefs regarding nuclear weapons, the Nuremberg principles developed 
after WWII, First Amendment protections, necessity or US policy 
regarding nuclear weapons.

Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli argued against the motion. But, despite 
powerful testimony by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a 
declaration from an internationally renowned physician and others, the 
Court ruled against defendants.

Meanwhile, Congress was looking into the security breach, and media 
attention to the trial grew with a remarkable story in the Washington 
Post, with CNN coverage and AP and Reuters joining in.

The trial was held in Knoxville in early May 2012. The three peace 
activists were convicted on all counts.  Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli 
all took the stand, admitted what they had done, and explained why they 
did it.  The federal manager of Y-12 said the protestors had damaged the 
credibility of the site in the U.S. and globally and even claimed that 
their acts had an impact on nuclear deterrence.

As soon as the jury was dismissed, the government moved to jail the 
protestors because they had been convicted of "crimes of violence."  The 
government argued that cutting the fences and spray-painting slogans was 
property damage such as to constitute crimes of violence so the law 
obligated their incarceration pending sentencing.

The defense pointed out that Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli had remained 
free since their arrest without incident. The government attorneys 
argued that two of the protestors had violated their bail by going to a 
congressional hearing about the Y-12 security problems, an act that had 
been approved by their parole officers.

The three were immediately jailed.  In its decision affirming their 
incarceration pending their sentencing, the court ruled that both the 
sabotage and the damage to property convictions were defined by Congress 
as federal crimes of terrorism.  Since the charges carry potential 
sentences of ten years or more, the Court ruled there was a strong 
presumption in favor of incarceration which was not outweighed by any 
unique circumstances that warranted their release pending sentencing.

These non-violent peace activists now sit in jail as federal prisoners, 
awaiting their sentencing on September 23, 2012.

In ten months, an 82-year-old nun and two pacifists had been 
successfully transformed by the U.S. government from non-violent 
anti-nuclear peace protestors accused of misdemeanor trespassing into 
felons convicted of violent crimes of terrorism.

/*Fran Quigley* is the director of the Health and Human Rights Clinic at 
Indiana University McKinney School of Law.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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