Ralph got to visit both Michael and Greg, and passes on this news:
both mike and greg are well. mike reported getting a letter from kathy and he is clearly ready for mail. he suggests people use his correctly spelled last name and the jail mispelled name and hyphenate them. walli-walley. he is hoping to correct the jail spelling. whether or not that happens, or whether the double spelling is necessary is unclear. however, kathy’s letter was addressed that way and got through, so…
mike was in fine spirits, was interested to hear about media coverage of the trial, said he is doing fine, and expects to go to ocilla any day. he had a pre-sentencing interview, about 20 minutes he said, and has had a couple visits from chris irwin, his lawyer. he doesn’t get to see greg. i conveyed to him how wonderful his testimony in court was and how proud we all are of him.
greg was also in good spirits, laughed several times.
And that is the news from the Knox County Detention Center! Ralph was not able to visit Sr. Megan, who is at the Knox County Jail (separate facility); Shelley will be visiting her this weekend.
Here are the addresses of the three. Sending them mail is one of the best things we can do at this time — let’s all show them that we are thinking of them, and that we’re grateful for their action and witness!! Please note the jail (mis)spelling of Michael’s name.
Important tips on sending mail: letters and cards are okay as long as they are just paper. Photos are also okay if they are appropriate. Nothing else may be sent in, not stamps or staples or paper clips. Make sure to write a full return address on envelopes. These addresses will change if/when the three are sent to Ocilla. We will post the new addresses when that change occurs.
Also — Greg’s birthday is tomorrow, May 18th. Consider sending him a birthday card!Michael Walley: IDN: 1226169
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.
“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.”
- Sr. Megan Rice
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 Administration.
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 2013. 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, 2013.
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 an Indianapolis attorney working on local and international poverty issues. His column appears in The Indianapolis Star every other Monday.
by Michele Naar-Obed
Following on all that has been reported about the Transform Now Plowshares action and trial I wanted to add a couple more observations and what I think are inspired insights. I submitted these insights along with a few other questions to the legal and support team and now want to share them with our wider Catholic Worker community. They are given here in the form of excerpts from a letter I sent to the legal team:
It struck me that the govt or the corporations felt so threatened by Megan and Michael going to those congressional hearings that they tried to criminalize that by saying they violated a condition of release. I think this is very telling. Remember Greg’s closing statement with regards to the “Good Samaritan” parable. He said we have heard the cries of the people on the side of the road and there are many of them. We are trying to raise their voices, their voices and stories of oppression of fear of living under the threat of the bomb, of feeling the depredation and loss of life-giving resources plundered and squandered for the benefit of a few.
The prosecution badgered them about going to far. Why can’t they protest from inside the new hope building or the side of the road he asked over and over again?
They couldn’t because they needed to bring the voices of all those people on the side of the road directly to the beast. They marked the beast, they tapped on the shoulder of the beast and begged the beast to listen. Then they went to the people who feed the beast, the lawmakers and policy makers and begged them to listen too. They were begging them to stop feeding the beast with more money. And then they went to the courtroom to the jury in hopes of convincing them that they did this for them too. Megan tried so hard to get them to recognize the spiritual death so many of the workers have undergone by protecting that beast and remaining silent even as they watched their brother and sister workers get sick and die.
I really think that these are the things that the shadow government run by these trillion-dollar corporations want to silence. criminalizing them and locking them up is their attempt to assassinate the Word made flesh and carried by the Holy Spirit by the hands and feet of Megan, Michael and Greg and all of us who are supporting them. They are hoping that by criminalizing them especially by labeling them as terrorists, they will be able to defame their character and take away their credibility. But they must know that they have to do that to all of us because you can’t take away the Spirit as long as there are a few people to receive Her and welcome her. That’s what Catholic Workers do.
And now we are asking you, the lawyers in particular to bring this message into the judges chambers. This is where justice and the law has the opportunity to meet and this is where justice and mercy might kiss (I think that is from Micah). As you continue to analyse what happened in that courtroom and where you will go next with the law in this last phase of sentencing, I’m hoping you will consider these thoughts that the Spirit raised with me in the night.
Happy Mothers Day, Peace, Michele
Sue Frankel-Streit shares a moving reflection on hope in the face of injustice, as our friends Sister Megan Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed, and Michael Walli are in jail pending sentencing. Sue is a founding member of the Little Flower Catholic Worker Farm in Louisa, VA, and she took a hammer to a B-52 as part of the Anzus Plowshares action in 1991.
It’s been a number of years since I’ve been to (or in) a Plowshares trial, but standing outside the federal courthouse in Knoxville on Monday as Greg, Michael and Megan prepared to start trial took me right back to those moments when I’ve been there before. Federal courtrooms are intimidating places, surrounded as one is by their rich, dark walls, insignias of state justice and gun-toting Marshalls. The first plowshares trial I witnessed, some 25 years ago, was also one of Greg’s. It was in Philadelphia and he and his codefendant, who’d hammered on a helicopter bound for Latin America, had already hung two juries.
I’d been at the Catholic Worker a couple of months, had no idea really, what a plowshares action was or why anyone would do one. After two days of listening to Greg and Lin Romano, the only thing I couldn’t understand was how the judge couldn’t agree with them. As always, the logic of plowshares is impeccable. The reasoning is upheld by international, and even national, laws, and certainly by the defendant’s religion, which is often shared by the judge. The love of the defendants and their desire for a better world shines through their testimony. They have taken a personal risk to act against a clear injustice. Often they are not allowed to explain any of this to the jury, and/or the jury is instructed to disregard much of it. And so they are almost always convicted of crimes that don’t match their actions, and sometimes sentenced to jail time that seems to far outweigh the “crimes”.
When Greg and Lin were convicted, I remember being furious and sad and depressed. Years later, when Greg’s wife Michele was convicted, I felt the same way. At the all the plowshares trials I’ve been to, including my own, the injustice of the court seems to pain the supporters more than the defendants. I believe that’s because the defendants have the action to look back on. The moment of complete freedom when you stand beside a nuclear weapon and label it as the injustice it is, despite the likely consequences, is a powerful thing to hold on to. When I saw Greg, Megan and Michael preparing to enter court, my heart flipped and my head bowed as I re-experienced the pain of being shut down in court, the helplessness of watching good people go to jail, the lies let stand in court, and the long, absence-filled days of jail. But then I looked up at Michael Walli, who I’ve known for 25 years, and saw the happiest smile I’ve ever seen on his weathered face. And I knew where that joy came from and I knew he’d be OK. He’d be free no matter where he was.
There are a lot of critiques of Plowshares, some of which I share. But in spite of them all, this simple action continues to carry a power far beyond the symbolic disarmament of a weapon. In the end, a plowshares action is an act of hope. I just hope we can all remember that on sentencing day.
U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar today issued an order that will keep the convicted Y-12 protesters in jail until their Sept. 23 sentencing hearings.
Frank Munger, Knoxville News Sentinel
At a hearing Thursday, Thapar discussed case law with attorneys for the U.S. government and those representing the three defendants — Sister Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed. At that time, the federal judge indicated he would receive information until Tuesday before deciding whether the newly convicted felons would be eligible for release under any circumstances.
Today’s order, however, indicates that Thapar looked at all avenues and decided there was no choice — given the seriousness of the felony charges that fall under the definition of “federal crime of terrorism” and carry maximum sentences of 10 or more years — but to keep them incarcerated.
Both of the offenses — interfering with or obstructing the national defense and depredation of government property — fell into the category of more serious offenses, so one of the few avenues for possible release would have been the chance for acquittal on one of the charges.
In this case, Thapar has yet to rule on the defense motion to dismiss the charge of injuring the national defense. But, regardless, the judge has already denied a motion to dismiss the other charge, so he said that avenue had been closed.
“Nor have the defendants shown exceptional circumstances warrant their release pending sentencing,” he wrote in the order.
“The defendants must be detained,” he said.
He denied the defense motion for release pending sentencing, and said it’s no longer necessary for the U.S. team to file a brief on whether the defendants would be a flight risk. Because that no longer applicable.
It’s not clear where the three will be imprisoned, pending their September sentencing. U.S. Marshal Jimmy Fowler earlier this week said Knoxville has been sending their federal prisoners to a facility in Irwin County, Ga., if there’s more than a short-term stay involved.
The Transform Now Plowshares sentencing has been set for September 23rd. No decision has been made yet about whether the defendants must be held awaiting sentencing; lawyers have until Tuesday to submit more material for the judge to consider, and Michael, Megan, and Greg are being held until then. After about an hour of combing through case law, conditions and sub-conditions this morning to determine whether or not the three should be held until sentencing, Judge Thapar asked the prosecution in frustration, “Don’t you find it a little troubling that Congress would write a law that wouldn’t let me distinguish between peace activists and terrorists?”
When Megan, Greg, and Michael arrived in the courtroom they were wearing tan prison jumpsuits marked “FEDERAL INMATE,” with their hands shackled to their waists. We sang to them, “Sacred the Land, Sacred the Water.” Francis Lloyd noted that Megan had begun to suffer from the cold, and got permission from the judge to lend her his jacket. Much of the morning was spent exploring legal references, a purely academic effort to understand and apply the logic from previous cases. “I mean, you may win under the B analysis, but I’m still on the A analysis,” the judge told the prosecution at one point. Greg, who had been passing the time by toying with the shackles on his wrists, looked up with an amused smile on his face. None of the defendants seemed particularly invested in the outcome of the morning. At one point, Megan whispered loudly to Bill Quigley, “This is bothering my conscience. I don’t want time wasted on this!”
There was an occasional break in the legalese when the judge would stop to reflect on the seriousness of crimes related to United States “national security” matters, and when the prosecution would remind the judge that the defendants showed “absolutely no remorse” for their action and were “of a VERY recidivist nature.” Before the hearing was brought to a close, Bill Quigley asked to state for the record that “the defendants would like to point out that they were there to prevent a crime of violence far far greater than that of which they are accused.”
As Megan, Greg, and Michael were taken away from the courtroom, Kathy once more led the gallery in song: “We ain’t gonna study war no more!”
Outside, Paul Magno and Ellen Barfield briefly summarized the morning’s events for the press then introduced them to a range of eloquent speakers: Clare Grady to talk about the role of resistance in contributing to the evolution of law, and Father Bix, Chrissy Kirchhoefer, and Jim Haber to speak about the action in the context of ongoing nuclear resistance nationwide.
Below is the transcript of Clare Grady recapping for you all what she told the press:
So today what we heard was a lengthy, lengthy examination of the law, and yet the supreme laws of our land were left out of the courtroom, left out of this trial. The Constitution, Article Six Section Two: “All treaties, pacts, and protocols that are signed and ratified become the supreme law of our land; every judge is to abide by them.” And those laws have evolved over the years to outlaw war of aggression; outlaw weapons of mass destruction; outlaw killing civilians; outlaw occupation; outlaw stealing the earth’s resources to build these weapons. We are not upholding those laws.
Our friends in this courtroom have manifest the original law that is written on our hearts, the law to love one another. We all bring each other forward, help each other when we each manifest that law; then our human laws will start to reflect that as well.
This is not just about Greg and Megan and Michael. It’s a collective that has offered us this by example, and then we offer each other this by example. This is a tag team, a relay race — whatever you want to call it, but it’s something that’s done in a collective, it’s not done alone.
First, the facts. Greg, Megan, and Michael were found guilty today of both counts brought against them — sabotage and depredation of government property — and they were remanded from the courtroom as we sang them rounds of “Rejoice in the Lord Always,” and “Vine and Fig Tree.” The prosecution has stated that the defendants stand convicted of a “crime of violence”; if this is the case, law requires that they remain in prison until sentencing. They will spend the night in jail, and we will return to the courtroom tomorrow at 9:00 to see what the judge will decide.
In light of these heavy facts, it might seem irrelevant to share with you the evidence presented today in the courtroom. But truth-telling deserves to be celebrated — even if the jury wasn’t swayed, glimmers of truth did make their way into courtroom, thanks to the sharp minds and firm convictions of the defendants and their lawyers. Such good news should be shared.
A lot of evidence was presented today: Francis finished his questioning of Megan and the government cross-examined her. Michael, Col. Ann Wright, and Greg were also questioned and cross-examined, and lastly the judge read the jury instructions and allowed closing arguments before sending the jury out to deliberate.
Greg’s testimony came after the afternoon break, and in a way it tied together much of what had been said all day. He called to our attention the story of the Good Samaritan stopping to help an injured man on the road to Jericho. We see people on the roadside lying wounded, and our job is to do something to stop the violence and help the victims. Greg outlined the violence that we are obligated to stop in our world today: the United States is the only country to have over 700 military bases all over the world; we are the only nation that uses drones to kill people around the world; and we use nuclear weapons to threaten people around the world, weapons whose very manufacturing causes sickness and death.
Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan because someone has asked him, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer to this question is a major point of disagreement between the defense and the prosecution. “Do you consider yourself an American?” the government prosecutor asked Sister Megan Rice. “I believe I am a citizen of the world,” answered Sister Megan. “Boundaries are arbitrary.” The prosecutor went on to ask if Sister Megan had ever protested nuclear weapons by traveling to nuclear powers other than the United States. She responded that national borders are arbitrary lines; each and every human life on the planet is threatened by the use of nuclear weapons. Michael too was asked where he considered home. “I am a citizen of heaven and I travel here and there,” he replied. We are all citizens of heaven first; this loyalty takes precedence over any national allegiance we might have.
Greg cited a second story too, after the parable: the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. It was a little boy who revealed what was missing, Greg said — and he was the only one who dared speak. The emperor here is the United States DOE, and it does not have effective fences. What is more, the emperor doesn’t have real security. Greg explained, “Real security comes when we foster justice among all the nations.”
Ann Wright’s expert knowledge of U.S. security withstood all efforts of the government to discredit her testimony. She established firmly that the emperor has no clothes, insofar as Y-12 does not have effective internal security tests. If Y-12 was running internal security tests, there would never have been so much critical security apparatus that was broken or otherwise not in place. “That’s where the problem lies,” said Col. Wright. That is the key.” Col. Wright testified that Greg, Megan, and Michael’s action improved national security by pointing out this national security deficiency, even if that was not their intention.
Throughout the government’s closing arguments, the prosecutors accused the defendants of disobeying the rule of law, taking the law into their own hands, forcing their will on other people. How ironic! Disregard of the rule of law and treaties is exactly the behavior that the United States engages in, in their foreign policy, that Michael, Megan, and Greg came to Y-12 to address. The same smoke and mirrors allow the government prosecutors to accuse the defendants of “crimes of violence.” How absurd, when crimes of violence are precisely what Greg, Megan, and Michael desired to put an end to when they came to Y-12.
“The teachings of Jesus are practical, doable, worthy of emulation,” Michael said from the witness stand today. “Our role is to try to open their eyes,” Greg said, “to come out of the ways of death.” Megan said, “I believe we are all equally responsible to stop a known crime.” As we think of our friends in jail tonight, let us allow their words to echo in our hearts and minds.
“Our prayer is that this trial can truly be an occasion to continue the transformation process that began at Y-12 on July 28th. We pray for open hearts and minds and for the ongoing conversion of everyone involved in the trial, to the way of love, nonviolence, and justice.
Let us be clear. Sister Megan, Greg, and Michael have committed no crime. Rather it was their intent to prevent a crime, and uphold God’s law and international law.”
– Art Laffin, leading the Transform Now Plowshares supporters in prayer outside the courtroom this morning.
After hours of courtroom tedium yesterday, today our hearts were ready to welcome the voices of our friends.
The government presented its case first, insinuating all sorts of fear, disorder, and extremism, and then the defense reframed the issue. Chris Irwin, like Francis Lloyd after him, emphasized the nonviolence of the defendants — they brought roses not dynamite, bibles not grenades — and he also brought attention to the slow response of security officers. Greg gave his opening statement next. He stood at the podium wearing his Viva House Catholic Worker 40th Anniversary T-shirt, with its inscription, “Love One Another,” as he described his life of service, Megan’s, and Mike’s, and described the convictions that led them to their action. What is real security? What is false security? Nuclear weapons provide only an illusion of safety; true security is a life of service to those in need. Greg ended by quoting a favorite bible passage of Michael’s, exhorting the jury to take seriously their role as the conscience of the community: “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.”
The government ran through its case today from start to finish, calling four witnesses and bringing forward banners, bolt cutters, surveillance videos, recorded jail phone calls and media interviews as evidence.
A few highlights from the government witness testimony:
Steven Erhart, NNSA manager at Y-12
Sgt. Chad Riggs, second security responder to the Transform Now Plowshares
Officer Kirk Garland, first security responder to the Transform Now Plowshares
Gen. Rodney Johnson, in charge of security operations at Y-12
The government called one more witness, Ryan Baker, special agent with the DOE Office of the Inspector General, and then rested its case.
The stage was set for Sister Megan Rice. Sister Megan took the stand after 5:00pm and spoke for almost an hour, and yet she commanded the attention of every last juror. The whole room listened in rapt attention as she responded to Francis Lloyd’s questions, describing her early childhood realization of the horrors of nuclear weapons, her education in radiation biology in her master’s program at Boston College, and her missionary work in Africa, teaching science and building schools. She spoke of the sacredness of the Nevada desert, taken from the Shoshone people (“illegally, breaking a treaty”) and desecrated by the effects of nuclear testing; she spoke of the suffering of downwinders, the cancer caused in people and animals, and the $6 million apiece spent on each test. She spoke of the transformative power of her participation in the Nevada Desert Experience. Besides the” harmonious vibrations” emitted by the mountains and all the earth, Sister Megan also felt in Nevada “the culture of silence, the culture of secrecy” surrounding weapons testing and its consequences. “It was extremely clarifying about the reality of the military industrial complex of this country.”
Fast-forward to July 28, 2012. As Megan, Greg, and Michael approached Y-12, Megan says they “prayed together, we were filled with love and compassion” for the people who had to work in such a dangerous facility. “We wanted to bring love and healing.”
She felt led by the Holy Spirit, and was more and more surprised to find herself reaching the heart of Y-12. When Francis asked her about the surveillance tape footage and the way she bowed to Mr. Garland, Megan explained the Buddhist tradition of deeply reverencing each living being. In response to questions about the extent of the damage she did, she said lightly, “I could have repaired it!”
As 6:00 approached, Sister Megan was still not quite finished answering Francis’s questions. The judge dismissed the jury anyhow, and when he did, Megan stood, folded her hands in front of her, and bowed to the jurors as they filed past the witness box.
After the jury left, the next half hour was spent presenting arguments for and against acquitting the defendants of the sabotage charge, based on lack of evidence. The decision will hinge on what evidence there is of “specific intent” on the part of the defendants, and whether or not there is enough evidence of specific intent for a reasonable jury to convict the three. Prior Plowshares appeals cases are being taken into consideration. Arguments were also presented as to whether or not Jim Sessions and Ann Wright should be allowed as expert witnesses for the defense. The judge will give his rulings tomorrow.
“Let’s stop pouring our billions into false, impossible security.” — Sister Megan Rice
Anabel Dwyer put the focus on this quote of Sister Megan’s this morning as she addressed a handful of media representatives at the Transform Now Plowshares pre-trial press orientation. Nuclear weapons have unavoidable catastrophic global effects, and nuclear “security” is a sham. As Paul and Anabel briefed the press, a crowd of supporters and onlookers began to gather at the other end of Market Square, tuned into the drumbeats that signaled the beginning of a prophetic tableau.
Giant blindfolded puppets walked towards the crowd, carrying a huge cardboard nuclear weapon. Sue, dressed as a jester, announced, “These people have been specially chosen to go from town to town bringing this BEAUTIFUL RESOURCE that their country has poured thousands of dollars into, that they are so happy to bring for all to see!”
“Our first citizen believes that what she is carrying is… a BICYCLE!!! (COOL!) Our second believes that what he is carrying around the country to be admired and used is… a TOASTER!!! (YUM!) A third citizen believes she is bringing books, and a fourth citizen just knows that he has been given an astounding and awe-inspiring… WHALE!!!”
In the end, the citizens remove their blindfolds and see clearly what they have been carrying, and the nuclear weapon is transformed by household hammers into beautiful trees and rivers, mountains and towns full of life and joy.
With that, the crowd danced in the square, and continued dancing in procession all the way to the courthouse. At the courthouse there was more dancing, drumming, and chanting, some statements by the defendants, and a blessing of Greg, Megan, and Michael as they went into the courtroom. John Amidon of Veterans for Peace has put together a three-minute video that gives a wonderful feel for the spirit of the street celebration.
The rest of the day was nowhere near as interesting: in court, the process of sorting through seventy prospective jurors was uninspiring, disorganized, and repetitive. “It was more boring than jail,” reported a seasoned resister in the gallery.
Of the pool of seventy, 44 had close ties to the military, and several dozen had close ties to law enforcement. Only three had any experience attending protests. “That’s what it means to be in front of an east Tennessee jury,” said Ralph Hutchison. Almost 90% of the jury pool had heard about the case prior to arriving in court today. Finally, at 7pm, a jury was chosen. A group of fourteen chosen, which will later be separated into twelve jurors and two alternates; ten are men and four are women. All are white.
After court, we enjoyed the hospitality of the First Presbyterian Church and the wonderful cooking of the Great Smoky Mountains Peace Pagoda. We had a humorous recap of the day from Ralph and Anabel, and some more music from Charlie King before he has to leave us tomorrow.
Court will be starting at 8:30 daily EXCEPT tomorrow, Tuesday — we will begin at 9:00am due to the late finish tonight.
Below you will find links to a sampling of the media coverage so far this week.
“Let us rejoin the global community; do away with the attitude of imperialism; and send nuclear weapons back to hell where they came from!” — Michael Walli
The Festival of Hope this evening saw an coming-together of friends from Oklahoma, Indiana, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, New York, Wisconsin, Washington state and Washington D.C., Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Louisiana… and more. We all made our way to Knoxville to honor the desire that Michael expressed, that we each hold deep in our hearts: the desire to overcome violence and form one world community.
The day had begun for some of us at Erik and Libby Johnson’s house in Knoxville, where Rev. Janice Sevre-Duszynska led us in a Sunday liturgy. We reflected on unjust laws, resistance, and the ministry of “afflicting the comfortable” in light of the good news Jesus brought. After sharing bread and wine around the table, we shared a delicious meal together (soup and pie!) and divided up for the afternoon. Some went to hear Paul Chappell speak, others attended a planning meeting. Others still continued their puppet artistry, preparing for the week’s street theater.
It has been raining for two days straight here in Knoxville, so when OREPA’s weekly five o’clock vigil came around, Sister Megan decided to be sensible by staying out of the rain. Greg, Michael, and fifty other people were not deterred by the wet weather however, and rallied with their umbrellas and ponchos on Bear Creek Road outside the weapons complex, brightening the dreary day with songs for peace and freedom from nuclear weapons.
The Festival of Hope was a spectacular, moving end to a meaningful day. The Church of the Savior provided generous hospitality, and over a hundred people were present for the celebration. The Emancipators, Charlie King, and OREPA’s own Ralph Hutchison provided music throughout the night: “sing for Light, sing for Justice, sing for a world without nuclear bombs”; “for swords into plowshares, the hammer has to fall”; “no prison cell, no iron bars can hold your heart.”
Kathy Boylan gave dear introductions for Greg, Megan, and Michael, and each of the three were then able to share with those gathered some of what moved them to act. Michael shared his dismay at the erosion of rule of law, and how not only Phil Berrigan and Dorothy Day, but even Abe Lincoln could not rest easy knowing that nuclear weapons production continues at Oak Ridge. Greg spoke to us about the inspiration Dan Berrigan was in his life, and also shared a letter he received from a friend, reminding him that he is on trial to do the will of God, and that requires listening, and letting the Holy Spirit speak through you in the moment. In the insanity of the moment, the company of saints will be standing with you to help you be the instrument God requires you to be — and in this moment, maybe the truth will be heard. Megan emphasized that she and her co-defendants are simple people who very simply entered a place built on secrecy and lies. “There is no way to secure even one nuclear bomb until it is dismantled. Let’s stop pouring billions in to false, impossible security.”
As a closing reflection, Beth Brockman led us in a meditation on light. Light, she said, is beautiful to look at in and of itself. But even more importantly than that, light is there to show us the truth, show us what is. Greg, Megan, and Michael each lit a candle, and everyone present went forward to spread that light by using the co-defendants’ candles to light a small candle at the front of the room.
The last reflection of the night was taken from J.R.R. Tolkein: “Such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”