Jury finds Transform Now Plowshares guilty; 3 activists jailed till September 23 sentencing

A circle of support in front of the courthouse before the first day of the Transform Now Plowshares trial in Knoxville – Michael, Megan, Greg, Greg’s wife Michele and Art.

by Patrick O’Neill

NOTE — During a Thursday morning hearing to decide if Michael, Greg and Sr. Megan would get released pending their Sept. 23 sentencing, the judge, a George W. Bush appointee to the federal bench, was clearly struggling with his decision because it appeared that he might have “no choice” but to remand them to custody because the U.S. Attorney told him a congressional law might require him to do so because the three were found guilty of sabotage — an “act of violence” against the United States. “It is preposterous that Congress would pass a law that would not distinguish between peace protestors and terrorists,” the judge said — and off to jail they went.

Knoxville, TN – In the annals of “Plowshare” lore there was nothing like it. An 83-year old nun, Sr. Megan Rice, and two other “senior citizens” as one defense attorney called Rice and her companions, Michael Walli, 63, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, seemed to pass through the midst of what was considered the most secure nuclear weapons facility on the planet.

Like the “unsinkable” Titanic, the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge — aka the “Fort Knox of Uranium” — was supposed to be terrorist-proof, but it turned out to not even be pacifist-proof. Rice, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, only needed a cheap pair of bolt cutters, a Google map and Boertje-Obed to clear a path through the darkness and the brush to hit pay dirt. Four cut fences, a series of mal- or non-functioning sensors, good timing, a guard in a gun tower who never noticed anything and “Presto,” the trio of determined, veteran peace activists were face-to-face with a building the Department of Energy calls the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF), where there’s enough weapons-grade uranium stored to end life as we know it on Planet Earth.

On May 8, a jury of 12 stern-faced jurors returned guilty verdicts on two felony counts that will likely mean lengthy federal prison sentences for the trio who claimed it was a miracle that they were able to get to the “inner sanctum” of the Y-12 plant where they used blood, spray paint, hammers and crime-scene tape to “transform” the HEUMF. A sentencing date of  September 23  has been set for the three.

Even though the damage was largely symbolic – vandalism was a descriptive term used at times during the group’s three-day trial – the government came down hard, charging the three with intentionally and willfully harming “the national defense of the United States,” a sabotage charge that carries a 20-year maximum prison sentence. They also were charged with “depredation” (to plunder, lay to waste or to prey upon) of government property, a 10-year felony. Sentencing guidelines will likely keep the defendants’ actual prison terms at less than five years, but still formidable for Rice, who has a heart condition.

The trial produced plenty of fascinating twists and turns as witnesses for the government explained in great detail how Y-12’s security was compromised, leading to a 15-day shut down of the plant primarily to evaluate the security failures. While many outside observers — and at least one Congressman — appreciated the fact that the anti-nuclear activists exposed major security flaws at the site, the jury showed no gratitude, returning with a “guilty on all counts” verdict after just 2.5 hours of deliberation.

“The security at Y-12 has never been stronger,” the head of operations testified during the trial, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Theodore, a Catholic, wasn’t giving any of the credit to Rice, Walli and Boertje-Obed, telling the jury in his closing argument that that would be like saying: “I broke into your house, but it’s your fault because your security wasn’t good enough.”

Defense lawyers Bill Quigley and Francis Lloyd and Boertje-Obed, who represented himself, did their best to convince the jury that none of the defendants “intended” to compromise national security with their protest, but the message didn’t stick. The trio actually turned down a plea deal that would have spared them the sabotage charge, which might have also spared them years in prison because the depredation charge has much less-severe sentencing guidelines.

Yet, at no time during the days leading up to the trial or during the trial did any of the defendants appear concerned about their plights, smiling and sharing lots of intimate time with their more than 100 friends who came from throughout the nation to attend the trial.

“I was born in 1930 in the depths of the Depression,” Rice said told jurors during her testimony. She told the story of a neighbor — who she later found out was a scientist working on the Manhattan Project — who went to work each day, but never revealed to his family what he did at work, a story similar to the last 70 years in Oak Ridge, which claims as a moniker: “The Secret City.”

“He was doing something there that he could not that tell his wife or family about,” Rice said. “That was stunning to us.”

Rice said the three “prayed together many months” as they prepared for their Y-12 action. “We were filled with love for and compassion for the people who had to work at this very dangerous facility.”

In his testimony, Steven Erhart, a senior Y-12 official, ate some crow for the security beach and other failures, but he also gave his personal opinion regarding Y-12’s role in the world, saying it was the atom bombs dropped on Japan that ended World War II, and that the U.S. nuclear arsenal deterred “rogue states” from aggression. “Without Y-12 we don’t have a nuclear weapon,” Erhart said, noting that Y-12 workers were responsible for what’s known as the “secondary function” in production that is vital for the detonation of a nuclear weapon.

When asked by Quigley if the July 28, 2012 “event” — a reference to the surprise visit Rice, Walli and Boertje-Obed paid to Y-12 — represented what one report called “a security culture of complacency,” Erhart, who is an electrical engineer, replied: “A better term would be a normalization of the deviation from the optimum.”

Still, Erhart boldly stated that the new and improved “Y-12 plant is well-equipted  to deter any threat thrown its way.”

Walli, who at various times referred to himself as homeless, a mystic, a missionary and a “garlic farmer” in the garden he toils in at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House in Washington D.C., offered the most colorful testimony of the trial.

When he took the witness stand to testify on the Wednesday, Walli was asked to do a mic-check: “Testing, testing, testing, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John,” he said.

“I’m Catholic and I know that Jesus Christ and the Blessed Mother do not have an arsenal of any kind,” said Walli, who is a Vietnam-era Army combat veteran. “I was employed as a terrorist for the United States Government,” he said. “Since Dorothy Day, the great prophet” and Martin Luther KIng Jr. both “condemned nuclear weapons,” Wallli said he was merely following in their footsteps by acting at “the criminal site Y-12.”

On the witness stand, Boertje-Obed, who also served in the U.S. Army, said the fact that the trio made it to the HEUMF building “was very clearly a miracle. There’s no other way that I could explain it.”

Boertje-Obed said he, Walli and Rice “worked real hard at attempting to be nonviolent,” and that the Y-12 workers “are acting in blindness, and our role is to help them come out of the way of death.”

The three, who call themselves the “Transform Now Plowshares,” have followed in a long line of “Plowshare actions,” which usually involve some form of symbolic-yet-real damage to weapons systems. The first Plowshare action was carried out on Sept 8, 1980 at a General Electric nuclear weapons facility in King of Prussia, PA. The late Philip Berrigan, and his brother, Fr. Daniel Berrigan SJ, were among the 8 defendants in that inaugural action. More than 100 actions have happened since, many of them conducted throughout Europe, but with far less-severe prison sentences.

While the defendants’ deeply spiritual testimony was moving to their supporters, few others in the courtroom seemed to grasp it. Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Kirby, who identified herself to Rice as Catholic, asked the nun during cross examination why, as a courtesy, she had not notified the local bishop of her plans to engage in the Y-12 protest. Kirby also asked Rice if the late Columbia University economist Seymore Melman, whom Rice had mentioned in her testimony, was a socialist.

On the other side, Fr. Bill Bechsel, SJ, who came to the trial from Tacoma, WA, said he was inspired by the actions of the three. The 85-year-old priest, who was involved in a Plowshare action of his own in 2009, said he has spent close to three years in jail, prison or under house arrest for civil disobedience.

“We are the ones we have been waiting for,” Bechsel said, quoting author Alice Walker. “I believe that, and so the kingdom begins to happen by our actions, by what we’re doing. I have the utmost hope that – I don’t know when that’s going to happen — but that it will happen.”


DAILY UPDATES written by Chrissy Nesbit on the Transform Now Plowshares blog

Disarm and rejoin the global community!

Weekly vigil at Y-12

May 6, 2013

Dear friends,

“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.

Charlie King at the Festival of Hope. photo by Ralph Hutchison

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.”


Court, Day 1: Bright then boring

May 7, 2013

“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!”

photo by Felice Cohen-Joppa

“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.

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 9:00 am due to the late finish tonight.

Below you will find links to a sampling of the media coverage so far this week.


CNN — pre-trial interview with Greg, Megan, and Michael

Associated Press — Introduction and background to trial

Oak Ridge Today — Monday jury selection

Knoxville News Sentinel photo gallery — Monday puppet street theater

WATE — Monday puppet street theater

National Catholic Reporter — Sunday Festival of Hope

WBIR — Sunday Y12 vigil

If Today We Hear God’s Voice

May 8, 2013

Dear friends,

photo by Felice Cohen-Joppa

“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:

Bill Quigley cross-examines government witness Steven Erhart

Steven Erhart, NNSA manager at Y-12

Erhart tried to differentiate nuclear deterrent (good) from nuclear use (bad).  As he explained the U.S. policy of deterrence, his face wore a look of slightly apologetic concern, as if to say he hoped the jury would understand the critical, if unfortunate, nature of Y-12′s mission.

Court drawing by Chrissy Nesbit

Bill Quigley read passage after passage from the DOE report concluding that security at Y-12 was “deeply flawed.”  Is it true, he asked, that there was a culture of complacency regarding Y-12 security? Erhart equivocated. “It may be better to say, ‘normalization of deviation from the optimum.’ “

Erhart stated outright, “We [at Y-12] deploy nuclear weapons.”  He mentioned both Hiroshima and Nagasaki even before the defense cross-examined him, and Bill Quigley’s cross-examination brought forth damning facts regarding U.S. nuclear war crimes in Japan.  Erhart admitted, “The use of a nuclear weapon would be a devastating event.”

Erhart asserted that nuclear weapons brought about the end of WWII.  The government prosecutor asked him to estimate how many lives were saved by the nuclear weapons, but the judge sustained the defense’s objection to that question.

Francis Lloyd built on Bill Quigley’s exposition of the consequences of nuclear weapons, in order to enlarge the scope of what was being discussed as “security” and make it clear that nuclear weapons are fundamentally insecure.  Under Lloyd’s questioning, Erhart admitted that the U.S. has made several mistakes in handling nuclear weapons, and also admitted that such mistakes could cause extensive harm, though that would be “extremely improbable.”  However, he was forced to admit that he had also considered a senior citizen break-in at Y-12 “highly improbable” before July 28, 2012.

Sgt. Chad Riggs, second security responder to the Transform Now Plowshares

Told the jury, “I felt endangered.”  To be specific, he felt Michael was the most dangerous of the bunch.  From his training, he knew that such individuals as these were likely to have a sniper with them somewhere.

The government presented surveillance camera footage for Sgt. Riggs to comment on.  In this footage, Michael, Megan, and Greg are seen coming through the hole they cut in the inmost fence, and they are then seen standing in front of the HEUMF as Kirk Garland, the first security responder, drives up.  Megan bows to him deeply at the waist, her arms outstretched in greeting.  The three light candles.  They stand facing Garland at a distance of ten feet.  We learn later that they are singing and offering him bread.

Officer Kirk Garland, first security responder to the Transform Now Plowshares

Lost his job in August 2012 because his employers were not satisfied with how he handled the situation on July 28th.

He said of Michael, Megan, and Greg, “They told me they were sent from God and they wanted to read me a statement.  They also read from the Bible, in Isaiah.”

He was quite confident in identifying the three as peace activists.  “I’ve arrested… quite a few of them.  I recognize a peace activist when I see one.  Not that they have a particular way they dress or anything.”  His experience with peace activists included nuns, banners, and blood at Rocky Flats.

Gen. Rodney Johnson, in charge of security operations at Y-12

Offered numbers mostly, of the cost of repairing the damage to fences and buildings.

Greg’s cross-examination of Gen. Johnson came out of his expertise as a house painter.  There were 100 gallons of paint purchased?!  Greg suggested that, given it only takes about a gallon of paint to paint a standard room in a house, 100 gallons was a gross over-purchase.

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’ 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.

Who is my neighbor?

May 9, 2013

Dear friends,

OREPA members Mary Dennis, Betty and Ralph outside the courthouse after the Transform Now Plowshares were taken to jail. Photo by Felice Cohen-Joppa

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.

“Absolutely no remorse”

May 10, 2013

Dear friends,

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?”

court drawing by Chrissy Nesbit

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.

May 9 vigil in front of the Knox County jail where Megan, Michael and Greg were being held. Photo by Felice Cohen-Joppa

Judge rules: In jail until sentencing

May 10, 2013

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.

Reflection, Prayer and Blessing for Transform Now Plowshares (TNP) Offered by Art Laffin
Outside the U.S. District Court in Knoxville Before Commencement of Trial — May 7, 2013

Come let us go up to the mountain of God to the house where God lives. That God may teach us God’s ways, that we may walk in God’s paths…For God will bring justice among the nations and bring peace between many peoples. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nations. No longer will they learn to make war. Come, let us walk in the light of the God.” (Is. 2:1-4)

Brothers and sisters, powers that be, we come to you today as friends, in love. We, like many of you, are people of faith, inspired by many who have gone before us, people like the prophets, Isaiah and Micah, Jesus as well as Gandhi, and the countless who call us ‘to beat swords into plowshares.’ May we now transform weapons into real, life-giving alternatives, to build true peace.

These are the words that Sr. Megan, Greg and Mike carried into Y-12 on July 28 as they began their witness.

We thank God for the miracle of this day, the miracle of life and for the precious gift of community. Mindful of the long tradition of faith and resistance that we are part of, we call into our presence today the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and who are now advocating for us. We thank God for their spirit present among us.

We also pray today in repentance for the nuclear sin and remember all victims past and present of the nuclear age.

As this trial begins, let us not be under any illusions: the law has been, and continues to be, used by the powers to sanction the bomb and the nuclear empire we live in. But it does not have to be that way. We believe and act in accordance to God’s law of love, and those international laws which call us to nonviolently resist weapons of mass murder. We believe that God’s law, not human law, is sovereign.

We pray for the day when, as St. Paul writes, love will be the true fulfillment of the law.  And that the courts, judges, prosecutors and the entire legal system recognize that they are ultimately accountable to God’s law which commands us to love and not to kill.

We pray for the judge, the prosecutors, the jury and the U.S. Marshalls, and for all who will participate in and witness this trial. Our prayer is that this trial can truly be an occasion to continue the transformation process that took place at Y-12 on July 28. We pray for open hearts and open minds and for the ongoing conversion of everyone involved to the way of love, nonviolence and justice.

Let’s be clear: Sr. Megan, Greg and Mike committed no crime. Rather, it was their intent to prevent a crime and uphold God’s law and international law. We pray in gratitude for their courageous faith-filled action of life and hope. We ask God’s blessing on them (invite everyone present to raise holy hands and bless them) as they continue to witness in court to the same spirit of truth and love that compelled them to act at Y-12. No matter what the outcome of these legal proceedings, their action stands as a timeless testimony to making God’s dream for the human family a reality–a world where people love one another–a world without exploitation, violence, weapons or war.

Post TNP Trial Reflections

by Art Laffin

To begin, I am compelled to express heartfelt gratitude to the OREPA Community for the incredible loving hospitality extended to all who came to the trial. From arranging where people would sleep, to preparing evening meals, to organizing transportation, drop-offs and pick-ups, the OREPA Community pulled out the stops to accommodate EVERYONE. Thanks be to God for the OREPA Community and for their steadfast peace witness at Y-12 spanning many years. This witness has been, and continues to be, a great beacon of life and hope for our human family.

The community of faith and resistance that gathered from around the U.S. and from Tennessee to stand with the TNP was a remarkable gift beyond measure. Each day the main courtroom used for the trial and a nearby overflow courtroom were filled to capacity. This outpouring of support demonstrated to the court, the jury, the media, the city of Knoxville and the nation that Sr. Megan, Mike and Greg were not alone in their desire to see the swords of our time hammered into plowshares.

Unsurprisingly, what emerged during the government’s case and throughout the trial was the repeated claim by the prosecutors Mr. Theodore and Ms. Kirby  that to merely go onto the Y-12 site was obstructing the national defense. Further, because the TNP were able to cut through fences and get to the Highly Enriched Uranium Facility (HEUF), this action had negatively affected the credibility of Y-12 and the U.S. nuclear deterrent, according to government witness, Steve Erhart, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration manager at Y-12. During his testimony Erhart described how Y-12 developed and processed uranium for the first atomic bomb and has been involved in the production of nuclear weapons ever since. Y-12 makes uranium parts for nuclear warheads, dismantles old weapons and is the primary storehouse for bomb-grade uranium in the U.S., he said. Under cross-examination, Erhart admitted that the use of U.S. nuclear weapons would be “devastating,” similar to the death and destruction caused by U.S. nuclear weapons used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Erhart also acknowledged that the TNP action exposed the numerous security failures of Y-12. A  report by the DOE’s inspector general said Y-12 security failures included broken detection equipment, poor response from security guards and insufficient federal oversight of private contractors running the facility.

The testimony of Kirk Garland, the first security guard on the scene was illuminating. Upon seeing the early morning witness and encountering Sr. Megan, Greg and Mike, he stated “I knew what I had.” Despite the fact that the TNP were in a deadly force zone, he knew from his experience of working at Rocky Flats and Pantex nuclear weapons facilities that they were peace activists and did not feel compelled to use deadly force. He was faulted for this by his superiors and was subsequently fired. It was pointed out several times during the trial that Garland was really the scapegoat for this embarrassing security breach.

Sr. Megan, Mike and Greg spoke movingly about why they acted and what they did, taking full responsibility for their actions. Sr. Megan conveyed that she went to Y-12 because all life is imperiled by nuclear weapons and that she sought to bring healing, forgiveness and transformation there. “My regret was I waited 70 years,” she said. “Y-12 is manufacturing that which can only cause death.” She also spoke of how her uncle, who had visited Nagasaki six weeks after the bombing, had a great impact on her. And she was able to offer a powerful reading of the TNP action statement. Mike shared that he was complicit in committing war crimes as a soldier during the U.S. war in Vietnam and Cambodia. He said he was compelled to emulate the example given by Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dorothy Day and that it was his “intent to do God’s will.” Greg, who gave both opening and closing statements, shared that he, too, was a veteran who was trained to fight and win a nuclear war. He said that nuclear weapons provide an illusion of security and that the U.S. was in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that it signed. He also characterized their action as a “miracle,”  when explaining how they were able to get to the HEUF. In his closing statement he illustrated what the good Samaritan parable really means for us today and that like the emperor of the fairy tale, the DOE is naked and does not have real security. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, Greg declared that real security comes “when we have justice for all the nations.”

Ann Wright, a former career military officer and diplomat who is now a peace activist,  testified as an expert witness in national security. Referring to her experience in once helping to oversee the transfer of enriched uranium from Kazakistan to the Oak Ridge Y-12 facility she underscored how dangerous nuclear material is and expressed her shock at the flawed internal security at Y-12.

One moment of tragic irony in the trial for me occurred when the prosecution was questioning Retired General Rodney Johnson, who is now in charge of maintenance at Y-12.  As he was itemizing the expenses for “decontaminating” the exterior of the HEUF building due to blood being poured and messages being spray-painted on it, nothing was ever said about the highly enriched uranium contained inside the building and how this substance could destroy life and cause irreversible contamination of the environment. It was as if this lethal material was invisible and that this was simply a storage buildinglike any other. This was the kind of psychic numbing–the utter failure to come to terms with the truth– that was operative throughout the trial.

Two other special moments that occurred during the trial involved the acknowledgment of two deceased friends and peacemakers. Tom Lewis, a member of the Catonsville Nine and plowshares activist was mentioned because his blood, which had been frozen for use in a future plowshares action, was used in this action. And Fr. Dick McSorley, SJ was mentioned in the testimony since a quote from him, “It’s A Sin To Build A Nuclear Weapon,” was left at the Y-12 site. It was a beautiful occasion to see the joy on the face of Sr. Rosemary McSorley, Dick’s sister, who was present at the trial, when her brother’s name was invoked.

In Greg’s opening statement he recited from one of Mike’s favorite scripture passages: If today you hear God’s voice harden not your hearts.(Psalm 95) Despite the irrefutable truths that were spoken in court by Sr. Megan, Greg and Mike, and their outstanding legal team of Bill Quigley, Frank Lloyd, Chris Irwin, Bobbie Hudson and Anabel Dwyer, about the immorality and illegality of nuclear weapons, and the urgent need to bring about a disarmed world, the jury could not bring itself to accept their defense. Psychic numbing prevailed. God’s law was not heeded. And international law and elements of the necessity defense, which had been previously ruled by Judge Thapar as inadmissible evidence, was not deemed relevant. Thus, the TNP were really convicted for rejecting the sinful policy of deterrence and for exposing and nonviolently resisting an empire which has as its centerpiece the nuclear idol.

On May 9,  the morning after Sr. Megan, Mike and Greg were convicted and jailed, our community gathered outside the court before attending a special hearing to see if our now imprisoned friends would be eligible for release. I offered a selection from Dan Berrigan (whose 92nd birthday was the same day) to help put into perspective and gain some deeper insight into what we experienced in court and how that is a reflection of daily life in a nuclear empire. In Testimony: The Word Made Fresh,  Dan writes the following in the chapter titled ‘An Ethic of Resurrection’:

…The ethic of the body given, the blood outpoured! The act led straight to the scaffold and to that “beyond” we name for want of a better word, resurrection. We have not, in this century or any other, improved on this. More, being equally fearful of living and dying, we have yet to experience resurrection, which I translate, “the hope that hopes on.”

A blasphemy against this hope is named deterrence, or Trident submarine, or star wars, or preemptive strike, or simply, any nuclear weapon. These are in direct violation of the commandment of Jesus: “Your ancestors said: ‘An eyes for an eyes,’ but I say to you, offer no violent resistance to evil. Love your enemies.” That is why we speak again and again of 1980 and all the Plowshares actions since, how some of us continue to break the demonic clutch on our souls of the ethic of Mars, of wars and rumors of wars, inevitable wars, just wars, necessary wars, victorious wars, and say our no in acts of despair. For us, all these repeated arrest, the interminable jailings, the life of our small communities, the discipline of nonviolence, these have embodied and ethic of resurrection.

Simply put, we long to taste that event, its thunders and quakes, its great yes. We want to test the resurrection in our bones. To see if we might live in hope, instead of the silva oscura, the thicket of cultural despair, nuclear despair, a world of perpetual war. We want to taste the resurrection.

May I say we have not been disappointed.

Filled with a spirit of resurrection hope, we all sang together: “We Shall Not Be Moved” before entering the court.

When Sr. Megan, Mike and Greg were brought into the courtroom in shackles we sang: “Sacred the Land.” What we then witnessed during this detention hearing  was a legal squabble about whether Sr. Megan, Mike and Greg can now be treated under the violent crimes act and deemed ineligible for pre-sentencing release. Judge Thapar said he felt “boxed in” by Congress because no differentiation was made between peace activists and terrorists in applying this new statute concerning the destruction of national defense materials. Has the judge become so enslaved by the law that he can’t exercise his own discretion and make a distinction between peacemakers and violent terrorists?  The judge still has an opportunity to act in the interest of justice at sentencing and in his final ruling on whether the sabotage charge should, in fact, be dismissed. Still, the prosecution continues to act vindictively against the TNP and insists that the national defense was injured and obstructed by our three friends.  And so Sr. Megan, Mike and Greg were initially ordered jailed and to be brought back for another hearing in two weeks. However, on May 10 Judge Thapar issued a new ruling saying that the TNP will be detained through their September 23 sentencing. This is because the offense that they are convicted of carries a  maximum prison term of ten years or more and thus falls under the “federal crime of terrorism.” This ludicrous assertion is a blatant misuse of the law and an attempt to mischaracterize and distort thenonviolent  intent of the Transform Now Plowshares. The truth of their action stands on its own.

An Act of Hope

May 12, 2013

Sue leads a joyful group of citizen disarmer puppets

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.

To read the May 19 article about the trial in the Duluth News Tribune, click here.