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Two Years On, the Crime Remains the Same


by Ellen Barfield

With the two year anniversary of the Transform Now Plowshares action today, 28 July, and with
Megan, Greg, and Michael (MGM!) seeming to be stable at their prison assignments for now, it is
a good time to review the action, the trial and sentencing, and the subsequent responsibility of all
of us to support and move forward their work resisting nuclear weapons.

These hot, humid days of deep summer certainly bring back memories of being in hot, humid
eastern Tennessee two years ago and beginning to travel Oak Ridge and Knoxville area roads 
which later became very familiar after so many visits for hearings, trial, and sentencing. When 
I took Megan’s first call from jail and heard her elation that they had gotten to exactly where they 
wanted and done all they had planned, it was clear the blessings of God or the universe had again 
supported the work of disarmament, as so often has happened with plowshares actions.

This was evident too in the fact that they were found by a long-employed guard with prior
experience with peace activists at Rocky Flats, so he knew that he faced no physical threat
and did not use violence. The video of that meeting we later saw in court was touching; MGM
bowing and holding out their hands in friendship, offering bread and flowers, and the guard’s
calm demeanor in response. What a shame that plant management fired him for doing his job
so well. His union continues to support his claim of wrongful dismissal, as well they should.

So then the media frenzy began. I did my best to convey to cameras and scribbling pencils
that Plowshares is a movement, not an organization, and that the whole point of 3 less-than-
youthful people hiking steep ridges in the dark and cutting and crawling through four fences to
risk their bodies to tag and dent the storehouse of tons of highly enriched uranium which has
only one genocidal use, was to try again, as have over 100 prior plowshares actions since 1980,
to wake humanity up to the horrendous maintenance and further development of mass killing
machines, and the knowledge that officials cannot end the arms race, so citizens must.

Long months of legal maneuvering ensued. The prosecutor sought approval from above for the 
harsh sabotage charge only ever used for Plowshares actions. Defense tried and failed to get 
first-hand testimony admitted as evidence from former Attorney General Ramsey Clark about 
personally helping write the nuclear weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty, and therefore knowing 
exactly what they meant when they said the nuclear nations must totally disarm at an early date.

A terrific legal team of national and local attorneys formed and wrangled about the best courtroom 
strategies. Out awaiting trial, MGM spoke and wrote and attended Congressional hearings where
the meaning of their action was distorted with the government’s focus on the shocking security
breach that MGM were able to penetrate the “Ft Knox” of highly enriched uranium, instead of the 
total breach of all human security which weapons of mass destruction are at every step of their 
existence, from the mine to the missile silo or submarine to the cooling pools in lieu of permanent
“disposal”, sucking up so much money so critical to meeting human needs.

Media attention continued, and as a military veteran myself and ambivalent about the inordinate
notice peace veterans can gather as compared to other run of the mill peaceniks, I was interested
to find out how strongly an old nun trumps 2 veterans! To listen to many outlets you would almost
think Sister Megan acted alone. Excellent and very accurate work also came when reporters could
spend the time to get to know and understand, especially the long article run in the Washington 
Post by Dan Zak with excellent photos by Linda Davidson, drawings by Jeffrey Smith. Exciting
news has come that Mr. Zak has a publisher for the book-length examination of the plowshares
movement he is on sabbatical to write.

Gratifying support from activists and concerned people all over the world generated speaking
opportunities for MGM, donations for legal and travel expenses, and hundreds of signatures on a 
petition to the Attorney General seeking to prevent the sabotage charge, and later thousands of
postcards to Judge Thapar urging that he recognize that MGM are not terrorists but responsible 
citizens pointing out their government’s crime, and to depart downward from the 30-year possible 
sabotage sentences.

However, since sentencing, much generous concern has centered on the relatively mild and
expected 3 and 5 year terms, instead of the ongoing government crime of not only NOT
disarming, but modernizing and reconfiguring nuclear weapons for future missions. It has been
cringe-inducing to see much activist time devoted to calling for reduced sentences or pardons for
MGM, instead of pushing for abolition of all nukes now.

To quote one supporter who does get it:


Beyond what you think about civil disobedience and symbolic disarmament, the US has some 1,950
strategic weapons ready to fire at a moment’s notice; the Russians have 1,800. It wouldn’t take much
in the way of misunderstandings for those missiles to fly and start splitting atoms. But instead of
whittling down those numbers, the US is embarking on a modernization program that will
 cost us over $1 trillion over the next few decades. This despite the fact that in 1996 the
Meanwhile, there are petition drives to get Sister Megan (and now Father Carl) out of prison. I agree they
should be released, but I don’t think that serves them. What they want is for the rest of us to get off our
couches and do something about the weapons. We owe it to them to take a stand.

PLEASE dear friends, keep pushing to abolish weapons. Sign the petition at nuclearzero.org
supporting the brave Marshall Islanders in their lawsuits against the 9 nuke nations for not disarming, 
and learn more and find activist ideas at wagingpeace.org/nuclearzero, help organize and speak out 
on the upcoming Hiroshima and Nagasaki days, support strengthening the recent bills in the US
Congress to reduce weapons budgets. Write MGM to tell them what you are doing. That is what
they want us to do.




from Sr. Megan Rice, on behalf of the Transform Now Plowshares

July 28, 2014

Our Dear Sisters and Brothers,

We send warm greetings and many thanks to all who actively engage in the transformation of weapons of mass destruction to sustainable life-giving alternatives. Gregory Boertje-Obed (U.S. Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Kansas) Michael Walli (Federal Correctional Institution McKean, Bradford, Pennsylvania) and I are sending you some of our observations and concerns on the 2nd anniversary of our Transform Now Plowshares action.

On July 28, 2012, after thorough study of nuclear issues, and because of our deepening commitment to nonviolence, we engaged in direct action by cutting through four fences at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the U.S. continues to overhaul and upgrade thermonuclear warheads.

On that day, two years ago, when we reached the building where all U.S. highly-enriched (bomb-grade) uranium is stored, we prayed and also wrote messages on the wall, such as “The Fruit of Justice is Peace”. (Realistically, the higher and stronger fences built as a result of our nonviolent incursion can never keep humans safe from inherently dangerous materials and weapons.) We acted humbly as “creative extremists for love”, to cite one of our most important and revered leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr.

There are a number of reasons for what we did. We three were acutely mindful of the widespread loss to humanity that nuclear systems have already caused, and we realize that all life on Earth could be exterminated through intentional, accidental, or technical error.

Our action at the Y-12 site in Oak Ridge exposed the storage of weapons-making materials deliberately hidden from the general public. The production, refurbishment, threat, or use of these weapons of mass destruction violate the fundamental rules and principles by which we all try to live amicably as human beings. The United States Constitution and the Laws of War are intended to ensure the survival of humanity with dignity. However, it is abundantly clear that harmony and cooperation among nations can never be achieved with nuclear weapons. (These arguments, we assume, will be made on our behalf during the eventual appeal of our convictions that accused us of sabotage, though it was never our intention to harm our country.)

Our “crime” was to draw attention to the criminality of the 70-year-old nuclear industry itself and to the unconscionable fact that the United States spends more on nuclear weapons than on education, health, transportation, and disaster relief combined.

We three Transform Now Plowshares consider it our duty, right, and privilege to heighten tension in the ongoing debate of Disarmament vs. Deterrence because history has repeatedly taught us that the policy of deterrence doesn’t lead to security, but rather to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. During our trial, the U.S. prosecutors and the U.S. courts accused the wrong people when they claimed that we violated the law, because what we did was to make America’s citizens aware of egregious preparations for mass murder.

We took action because we were acutely aware that our government has failed to keep its long-standing promise to pursue nuclear disarmament. (As Ramsey Clark testified during one of our pre-trial hearings, the U.S. entered into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in the 1960’s because our country was finally facing up to the severe human and environmental consequences of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as to the hideous results of countless nuclear tests conducted by the U.S. government within and beyond our own borders.)

One of our pressing concerns is that U.S. prosecutors and the courts adhere to an obsolete view of security with no cognizance – or consciousness – of the horrific effects caused by nuclear weapons. Greg, Mike, and I believe that, undeniably, the U.S. is in a state of denial. It’s what Hannah Arendt called not evil, but the banality of evil. “There’s nothing deep about it. It’s nothing demonic! There’s simply the reluctance ever to imagine what the other person is experiencing, right?” (Hannah Arendt, “Eichmann was Outrageously Stupid” in The Last Interview and Other Conversations, Melville House, Brooklyn 2013, p. 48).

We citizens cannot permit ourselves to be rendered passive and mute by the banality of evil! Only complete nuclear disarmament can save humanity. At stake is the honor and dignity of the Hibakusha, along with the physical, environmental, emotional, and psychological trauma long suffered by victims of the nuclear system, from uranium miners to down-winders. (From 1946 to 1958, Marshall Islanders were bombarded with 67 atomic and thermonuclear tests that were carried out by the United States.)

Michael Walli, Greg Boertje-Obed and I are in U.S. prisons because, ironically, our action at Oak Ridge was based on the common sense reality that we human beings have endured more than enough destruction and exploitation. We believe that we citizens can exercise our collective power to consciously transform our nation’s priorities. We all need to actively insist on more humane uses for the billions of dollars now budgeted for the nuclear weapons/industrial complex.

Two years ago, as we neared the building in Oak Ridge, we were extremely surprised by the ineffectiveness of the system that supposedly guarded our nation’s most important National Security Complex. We believed that we were about to expose the source of unfettered violence that has led to the chronic spiritual and economic decline in the U.S. As it turned out, it was the laxity of the security system at Y-12 that caught the attention of the courts and the mainstream media. Security weakness became the big story. There was no mainstream acknowledgement that the national security complex is rotting from its own irrelevance.

Most surprisingly, our July 2012 action and our court cases have revealed that it is not the U.S. government that is in control of the nuclear weapons complex, but in reality it is the corporations that are in control through their solicitation and manipulation of endless funding for the refurbishment of unlawful thermonuclear warheads. We three are incarcerated because we stood up to a nuclear weapons industry that is kept thriving by the interlocking and obsolete institutions that subscribe to the long-discredited notion that law and security can be enforced by ever-greater force.

Regarding the 22.8 billion dollar contract recently awarded for the operation of the Y-12 site in Oak Ridge and the Pantex site in Texas for the refurbishment of thermonuclear warheads and a new Uranium Processing Facility (UPF), the relevant corporations don’t actually operate under the long-discredited myth of “nuclear deterrence”. Rather, corporations such as Babcock and Wilcox, Lockheed, and Bechtel operate under limited liability subsidiaries, joint ventures, consortiums, and partnerships for the main purpose of making profits by engaging in huge nuclear weapons production/refurbishment contracts. By this time, Congress certainly is aware that valid contracts can be issued only for the dismantlement of all nuclear weapons and for the environmentally-sound treatment and disposition of all nuclear materials.

In order for the U.S. to negotiate for nuclear disarmament in good faith, we say it is essential to peaceably transform these very corporations so that they are no longer able to violate the most basic moral and legal principles of civilized society by deliberately precipitating planetary self-destruction.

We thank you for your letters and your concerns. We ask you to support the Republic of the Marshall Islands in their current legal actions against the United States in U.S. federal court and against the U.S. and all the other nuclear weapons states in the International Court of Justice, for failure to eliminate their respective nuclear arsenals. You can learn more and add your support by signing the petition at http://www.nuclearzero.org.


Greg, Michael and Megan

Support Transform Now Plowshares

Contributions for jail support for the Transform Now Plowshares activists are welcome and needed! You can mail checks to:

Catholic Worker
PO Box 29179
Washington DC 20017

please mark your check for "Transform Now Plowshares" in the memo line.