Anti-Nuke Activists Get Years Behind Bars While 'Real Crime' Continues

A 84-year-old nun and two peace activists who engaged in a non-violent demonstration at nuclear weapons production facility in Tennessee because “our very humanity rejects the designs of nuclearism, empire and war” were sentenced Tuesday to several years behind bars while critics of the verdict say the true crime of nuclear weapons proliferation remains unpunished.

U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar sentenced 84-year-old Sister Megan Rice, a Catholic nun, to 35 months in prison and three years probation. Thapar sentenced 58-year-old Greg Boertje-Obed, an Army veteran who lives at a Catholic Worker House in Minnesota, and Michael Walli, a 64-year-old Vietnam veteran who lives at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker house in Washington DC, to five years in prison and three years probation as well.

The trio’s crime: a ploughshares action at the Y‑12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The New York Times has reported that the “plant holds the nation’s main supply of highly enriched uranium, enough for thousands of nuclear weapons.”

While officials called the Oak Ridge, Tenn. facility the “Fort Knox of uranium” in July 2012 peace activists Rice, Boertje-Obed and Walli were able to hike two hours in to the Y-12 grounds, cut through multiple fences, hang peace banners and spray-paint peace slogans, pour blood, pray, sing and pound the ground. It took two hours for the three to be arrested. 

The trio call themselves the Transform Now Plowshares, a reference to the Bible’s Isaiah 2:4— “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

At the Oak Ridge facility, they left messages including “Woe to the empire of blood; The fruit of justice is peace; Work for peace not for war.”

Previously explaining why they did the action, Rice said that “we had to [do it]— we were doing it because we had to reveal the truth of the criminality which is there, that’s our obligation.”

“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,” she added.

Initially accused of a misdemeanor, their charges were upped to a felony. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Theodore said Tuesday that the activists have a history of such actions, saying, “They just keep doing it … They are incorrigible,” adding, “There has to be a heavy toll.”