• Sister Megan Rice, two others looking at possible 30-year term in prison for protesting nukes
By Keith Johnson
An elderly Catholic nun is one of three anti-nuclear weapons activists whom the United States government has labeled as “terrorists” for taking part in a symbolic act of vandalism against one of the nation’s largest death factories.
Earlier this month, after only 2.5 hours of deliberation, a federal jury in Knoxville , Tennessee found Sister Megan Rice, 83; Greg Boertje-Obed, 57; and Michael Walli, 63 guilty of willful destruction of government property and injuring national defense premises with the intent to interfere with the national defense. The trio—who are members of the Transform Now Plowshares movement—now face virtual death sentences of 30 years in prison and will remain behind bars until September 23, when they will once again appear before a federal judge to learn of their ultimate fate.
This tragic perversion of justice should be a wake up call to all U.S. citizens who still refuse to acknowledge the growing efforts by their government to criminalize the noble American tradition of dissent and civil disobedience.
The story begins on the morning of July 28, 2012, when the longtime peace activists breached a perimeter fence that surrounds the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oakridge, Tenn. and proceeded on to the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility. Once there, the group used hammers to deface a corner of the building, spray painted peace slogans and splashed human blood on the wall. They then began praying and singing hymns before peacefully surrendering to responding security officers.
According to the Transform Now Plowshares website, the protestors targeted Y-12 because of its “ongoing nuclear weapons production” and “plans for a new $7.5B bomb plant,”—a Uranium Processing Facility—that is slated to begin construction in the near future. Historically, Y-12 was part of the Manhattan Project by producing enriched uranium for the “Little Boy” atomic weapon that was dropped on Hiroshima . Today, it houses nearly 400 hundred metric tons of bomb-grade uranium and is responsible for the maintenance and production of all uranium parts for every nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal.
After their arrest, the three activists were charged with federal trespassing, a misdemeanor offense that carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison. However, according to an article by Fran Quigley in the Indianapolis Star, “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 U.S. policy regarding nuclear weapons.”
Ellen Barfield, a close friend of Sister Rice and a fellow peace activist with Transform Now Plowshares, recently spoke with newspaper. When asked why their movement employs such provocative tactics, Barfield replied: “To get attention. Unfortunately, doing the legal things like standing on the side of a road is no longer effective. The point of plowshares actions is the dismantling of nuclear weapons and holding the U.S. government true to their promise to do so [pursuant] to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty signed years ago. These weapons are insane, immoral, unaffordable and certainly not creating security for any people.”
Barfield, a U.S. Army veteran, says she is not surprised by the government’s harsh response to the recent action and insists that the participating activists had no illusions about the possible repercussions. “This is part of what doing real damage to government property entails,” she said. “Plowshares activists are fully aware that similar actions have resulted in sentences as high as 15 to 20 years in prison. But most have a faith [based] motivation and really take personal responsibility to disarm according to Isaiah’s admonition [of ‘beating swords into plowshares’].”
Sister Rice is certainly no stranger to government persecution. Since joining the anti-war movement, she has been arrested more than three dozen times for her civil disobedience, which has not been limited to concerns over nuclear weapons.
“She’s what we call a ‘prisoner of conscience,’ says Barfield. “Megan took part in a protest with the School of the Americas Watch [SOA Watch], which specifically challenges a U.S. military training school for Latin American troops at Fort Benning , Georgia . SOA Watch has held a big annual gathering there for about 20 years, and Megan was one of those who crossed the line on to the base and was later handed a 6-month sentence by a pretty harsh judge.”
Barfield went on to say that Sister Rice has never been the least bit remorseful for her activities, including the most recent. “When the prosecutor pushed her to answer why she would do such a thing, Megan replied: ‘My regret was I waited 70 years.’”
Keith Johnson in an investigative journalist and host of the Revolt of the Plebs radio program.