Prison sentences for three U.S. nuclear disarmament activists

sentencing composite2

by Felice and Jack Cohen-Joppa

Nine months after their conviction on charges of sabotage and criminal damage at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, three nuclear abolitionists were sentenced to lengthy prison terms today, February 18, in federal court in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Federal Court Judge Amul Thapar imposed prison terms less than what federal guidelines recommend and prosecutors asked for: 35 months for Sr. Megan Rice (84 years old), and 62 months for Michael Walli (64 years old) and Greg Boertje-Obed (59 years old), followed by 3 years of supervised release. Divided among them, the three Transform Now Plowshares activists must also pay restitution totaling $52,953.

Thapar heard arguments from both sides about possible downward departure from the sentencing guidelines, and allocution from each defendant. He said that he wanted to hand down a severe enough sentence to deter them and others from engaging in similar disarmament actions in the future.

Defendants reserved the right to appeal.

Sentencing of the three began on January 28, but the hearing that day was continued until today when a worsening winter storm forced early closure of the courthouse. The proceedings on both days were broadcast by closed circuit television into a second courtroom to accommodate the crowd of supporters on hand.

Before adjourning in January, Judge Thapar heard testimony from friends of each of the defendants, about their good works in their communities: Rice’s life-long family friend, Yale University scholar Mary Evelyn Tucker; Walli’s fellow Washington, D.C. Catholic Worker community member Kathy Boylan; Boertje-Obed and Walli’s friends from the midwest, 87-year-old veteran Andy Anderson and Nukewatch co-director John LaForge. Assistant U.S. attorney Jeff Theodore, the lead prosecutor, used the occasion to further ridicule and demean the defendants, saying they were “disingenuous” about their commitment to peace and justice, and challenging Boylan and LaForge about their own criminal convictions in peace actions.

Early on the morning of July 28, 2012, the three veteran activists hiked over a ridge and cut through four fences to reach the United States’ new storehouse for bomb-grade, highly enriched uranium at the Y-12 nuclear weapons complex.

At the base of the concrete fortress they strung crime scene tape between the pillars, poured blood on the walls, lit candles and hung two banners reading “Transform Now Plowshares” and “Swords into Plowshares, Spears into Pruning Hooks – Isaiah.” With their hammers, they began chipping away at the building’s foundation. When the first security officer arrived on the scene, the trio broke bread to share as a peace offering. They took action in the 33-year Plowshares tradition of more than 100 predominantly faith-based acts of direct disarmament around the world.

Their arrest led to a temporary shutdown of Y-12 operations, oversight hearings in Congress, and on-going security overhauls throughout the nuclear weapons enterprise.

For more information, visit the Transformation Now Plowshares blog here.

Report from the courtroom 

by Ralph Hutchison, coordinator, Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance

Judge Amul R. Thapar passed sentence on Greg Boertje-Obed, Megan Rice and Michael Walli on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 in federal court in Knoxville, Tennessee. The three were convicted in May 2013 for their nonviolent action called Transform Now Plowshares at the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, on charges of depredation of property and sabotage—the convictions carried possible maximum sentences of 30 years in prison. Sentencing guidelines, based on factors including history, recommended sentences ranging from 6-10 years.

Sentencing began at 1:30pm; the three were permitted to be in the courtroom together by Judge Thapar.

Michael Walli received a sentence of 62 months on each count, to be served concurrently, followed by 3 years of supervised release.

Greg Boertje-Obed received a sentence of 62 months on each count, to be served concurrently, followed by 3 years of supervised release.

Megan Rice received a sentence of 35 months on each count, to be served concurrently, followed by 3 years of supervised probation.

“Judge Thapar has tried to strike a compromise that reflects the nature of this nonviolent action but satisfies the government’s demand that Megan, Michael and Greg’s sentence send a deterrent message to the wider community. For now, their bodies remain in prison. But their voices are free, reminding us that the central issue of this action and trial have not been resolved—as long as the government continues to produce thermonuclear weapons of mass destruction in Oak Ridge or anywhere, people are required to resist,” said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance

At the hearing, each of the Plowshares resisters spoke, reminding the court of the central purpose of their action—to call the court’s attention to the ongoing violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at the Y12 plant in Oak Ridge. In testimony at hearings leading up to the trial, former Attorney General of the United States Ramsey Clark called the production of nuclear weapons components at Y12 “unlawful,” and the work there “a criminal enterprise.”

Megan, Michael and Greg entered Y12 in the wee hours of the morning on July 28, 2012, cutting four fences and traversing a lethal-force-authorized zone, arriving at the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, the nation’s warehouse of weapons grade highly enriched uranium. They poured blood on the walls of the HEUMF and spray painted “Plowshares Please Isaiah,” and “The Fruit of Justice is Peace.” They also chipped a corner of the concrete wall with a small hammer, a symbolic act reflecting the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah who said, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares.”

The statement issued at the time declared the United States in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and said Y12 was chosen for the action because of plans for a multi-billion dollar bomb plant to be built there—the Uranium Processing Facility. The sole purpose of the UPF (pricetag now $19 billion) is to produce thermonuclear cores for warheads and bombs. Y12 is an active weapons production facility—workers today are performing Life Extension Upgrades on the W76 warhead at Y12.

Supporters outside the courtroom said, “The United States is breaking its own law when it builds bombs in Oak Ridge. Any goverment that would lock up Megan, Michael and Greg is desperate to hide the truth. By their actions, they have broken the silence; their sacrifice challenges each of us to speak up for a safer world. In prison or out, Michael, Greg and Megan will continue to pray and work to save the life of the planet.”


For more information, visit the Transformation Now Plowshares blog here.


From Atomic City Underground, Frank Munger – Nun’s Sentence is Two Years, 11 Months; Others Get Five Years, 2 Months
and After the Sentencing, ‘I Think That’s a Win’

From the Washington Post

From National Catholic Reporter

From Common Dreams

From Counterpunch

From Waging Nonviolence

From the Los Angeles Times

From People Magazine

From The Gazette

From Art Laffin, below


Dear Friends,

I have just returned from the sentencing hearing of our three Transform Now Plowshares (TNP) friends in Knoxville, Tennessee who were given prison terms ranging from 35 months to 62 months, three years supervised release and nearly $53,000 in restitution. From the Festival of Hope the night before the sentencing (see below reflection) to the witness Mike Walli, Greg Boertje-Obed and Sr. Megan Rice offered in court at their sentencing, this was a deeply inspiring hope-filled time despite the heavy sentences that were given. The spirit of community, the loving welcome and special hospitality offered by friends of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA), and the speaking of truth by our three friends in the empire’s court was, for me, an infusion of hope!

This was Part II of the sentencing of the TNP that began on January 28 but was suspended due to a snow storm and continued to February 18. The bulk of the hearing, which began at 1:30 p.m. and lasted to nearly 6:00 p.m., included legal arguments by attorneys for the TNP and the government about how to apply the federal sentencing guidelines. Greg and the defense lawyers urged a significant downward departure from the guidelines referring to previous plowshares cases of Sicken and Platte where judges had done so. But Mr. Theodore said that because these cases were in another district they did not apply. The heart of the hearing though occurred late in the afternoon when our three friends, looking pale and thin, dressed in black striped jail uniforms and wearing leg shackles and handcuffs (it should be noted that the court ordered one hand to be uncuffed during the hearing), but full of the Holy Spirit, addressed the court. They did not hold back and gave eloquent stirring statements (see Summary of Pre-Sentencing Statements below). It was truly a sacred time and an extraordinary moment of grace for all present. The truth, so powerfully spoken by Mike, Greg and Megan in court, not only amplified the moral and legal justification for their action but also exposed, once again, the crime and sin of nuclear weapons and how the U.S. is blatantly violating God’s law, international law and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The legal exchanges that occurred between the judge and prosecutor about how long a prison sentence was warranted to deter the TNP who, they said, had no remorse for their action and utter disregard for the law, was absurd and illustrated how the law is used to sanction weapons of mass murder. It was a another reminder of how the law, as Phil Berrigan used to say, is the real obstacle to justice.

Judge Thapar received some 16,000 letters from TNP supporters encouraging leniency for our three friends. He acknowledged receiving these letters and affirmed the good works and the intentions of the three. Ultimately though, he could not grasp or accept the truth our three friends offered: that in an empire that legalizes nuclear weapons and thereby imperils all life earth, nonviolent resistance is not only necessary but a duty under God’s law and international law to help bring about disarmament and nuclear abolition. Instead Judge Thapar asserted: “If all that energy and passion was devoted to changing the laws, perhaps real change would’ve occurred by today.”  He said repeatedly that as a judge, he has  to judge the actions and not viewpoints of the defendants and that he was not in a position to judge what God’s will is. He also quoted U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stevens several times saying that “no person is above the law.” While declaring that he could not give the three a sentence of time served (eight months), he also said that he could not go along with U.S. District Attorney Jeff Theodore strong recommendation that the three, who Theodore described as “incorrigible” and “habitual offenders,” should be sentenced under the strict federal guidelines. Theodore also remarked that he was a Catholic himself and that while he respected the three, they are not above the law. Seeking to reconcile the sentencing guidelines with the character and personal history of the three, Judge Thapar said the guidelines do not distinguish saboteurs who truly mean harm from peace protesters who intend change. In the end, Judge Thapar, showing that he understood that the TNP were indeed peace activists, rightfully chose a sentence that was below the federal sentencing guidelines. But let’s be clear: Michael, Greg and Sr. Megan should never have been arrested, tried, convicted and given a prison sentence in the first place. And, clearly they should have been granted a sentence of time served. For their action at the Y-12 nuclear weapons complex at Oak Ridge was in accordance with God’s law and international law. They acted to prevent a crime, not to commit a crime. Thus, the real crime of nuclear war preparations at the Y-12 facility, the so-called “Fort Knox of Highly Enriched Uranium” continues and the truth-tellers are locked up!

For further info about the sentencing and where to write our three friends in jail please go to the their web site:

Let us all continue to keep our eyes on the prize as we strive to create the Beloved Community and a nonviolent disarmed world. And let us be filled with the same joy and hope of our three imprisoned friends. As Mike, Greg and Sr. Megan were taken out of the courtroom in chains our gathered community sang: “Rejoice in the Lord Always.”

With gratitude, Art

Summary Notes of Mike’s Pre-Sentencing Statement
*Stated that he was offended by the fact that the Nazi regime had a legal right to exist and that either by silence or overt support Catholics consented to it.
*Quoted St. Thomas Aquinas: “Laws that do not serve the common good are unjust.”
*Quoted St. Augustine: “An unjust law is no law at all.”
*Stated that he acted in accordance with Jesus. Jesus’ declaration “Blessed are the peacemakers” was a call to action.
*Stated  his actions at Y-12 did not constitute a violation of law, but rather his obedience to God’s law. “I am a citizen of heaven. We engaged in our lawful, missionary work at Y-12. I committed no crime. I have no remorse.”
*Stated that he was acting in support of the rule of law. “I am the face of tomorrow. The face total demilitarization and vindication of the prophets.”
*In response to a comment made during the hearing by U.S. District Attorney Jeff Theodore, he stated that we both have something in common in admiring Rosa Parks as he commended him for sitting on the same seat of the bus that Rosa Parks was arrested in during a visit he made to Michigan where the bus was on display.
*Read the TNP action indictment.

Summary Notes of Greg’s Pre-Sentencing Statement
*Read an excerpt of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech re: why he opposed the Vietnam war.
*Read an excerpt from Dan Berrigan’s poem: “Hymn To A New Humanity.”
*Stated that people around the world see that the U.S. is breaking the law. Three new Bomb plants are being built, including at Oak Ridge, which will maintain nuclear weapons for over 80 years. If the U.S. were to abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it “would promote respect for the law.”

 Summary Notes of Sr. Megan’s Pre-Sentencing Statement
*One of the great problems is that people don’t know the 70 year history of nuclear weapons and the secrecy that surrounds nuclear policy. Encouraged the Judge and everyone in court to read the book Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats by Kristen Iversen.
*Spoke of how every single day and all of life is a miracle and how the Bomb is a threat to that miracle.
*Referred to the book  A Beautiful Mind and how many of the best minds today agree that there is an alternative to nuclear weapons.
*Spoke of a “cloud of deception” surrounding the economic extortion going on at Y-12 and that this was never mentioned at the first sentencing hearing regarding the restitution the TNP were ordered to pay.
*Acknowledged the support the TNP have received from all over the world and showed the court a signed card from the Afghan Youth Volunteers that was recently sent to her by Kathy Kelly.
*Appealed to the judge not to show leniency toward her and that it would be an honor to spend the rest of her life in prison.
*Spoke of the injustice she has witnessed firsthand in the for profit detention complex and the dehumanizing jail conditions.
*Spoke of the connections between the rich controlling the wealth and resources at the expense of the poor and how the military budget constitutes a theft from the poor.
*Cited an Appeal Court’s overturning the conviction of the Plowshares Eight and Appelate Judge Spaeth’s Opinion regarding the catastrophic danger posed by nuclear weapons.
*Referred to German Judge Ulf Panzer who was arrested for opposing the deployment of Pershing II nuclear missiles at the U.S. air base in Mutlangen in 1987 and Lawyers and Jurists worldwide who declared nuclear weapons to be illegal.
*Judge granted her request to sing the song “Sacred the Land.” All present in the main courtroom and the overflow courtroom joined in singing the song.

Festival of Hope Reflection

(On February 17 a beautiful Festival of Hope for the Transform Now Plowshares was held at the Church of the Savior in Knoxville, Tennessee. The evening including many inspiring words, stories, poems and songs, including an amazing new song about the Transform Now Plowshares by Ralph Hutchison. Below is the reflection I offered).

I would like to express deep gratitude to the OREPA Community who have welcomed with a loving embrace all who have come from out of town to attended tomorrow’s sentencing. The OREPA community, who has been witnessing for peace at Y-12 for 25 years, is such a great sign of hope for us all. I also want to thank Michele Naar-Obed (Greg’s wife) for for being such a great sign of hope. And I thank all of you present for the great hope you are and offer to our world. And we are so very grateful to Greg, Mike and Sr. Megan for their lifegiving act of hope and courage!

In pondering the theme of tonight’s celebration–Hope–I turned  to the scriptures. I would like to share the following scripture passage, a quote about hope and a meditation that that the Spirit moved me to write.

“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hope for what ones sees? But if we hope for what we don not see, we wait with endurance.”  Romans 8:24-25

“Hope is the firm conviction that the promises we know by faith will be fulfilled.”
-Segundo Galilea, author of Spirituality of Hope


by Art Laffin

Hope, that consummate virtue, that inspiring beatitude, grounded in an unwavering faith.
Hope, that timeless antidote to the futility of despair,
Hope, that prophetic belief that with God all things are possible,
that transformation can and will occur,
that love will ultimately triumph!

Throughout the annuls of history hope abounds!
People, acting, suffering, risking all,
imagining the impossible,
birthing a new creation, practicing Resurrection!

Making the Word flesh,
being change,
redeeming the times–
this is Hope!

Hope compels us to conspire,
to resist the powers in this dark hour,
believing, believing that love is stronger than death,
that the forces of death will never prevail.

Remember, the Risen One has conquered the world!
So keep you eyes on the prize,
stay true to the promise,
persevere to the end,
the promise will be fulfilled!

Like a beautiful sunrise,
justice is dawning,
peace is on the horizon,
rays of hope are shining forth,
illuminating the earth!