[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
by FRAN QUIGLEY
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
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
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
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
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