An 82-year-old nun and two fellow nuclear weapons protestors who managed to penetrate several gates at the Y-12 National Security Complex early Saturday morning were arraigned Monday on charges of federal trespassing.
The trio consists of 63-year-old Michael R. Walli, 57-year-old Greg Boertje-Obed, and 82-year-old Sister Megan Rice. The three defendants were visibly upbeat when they were brought into the courtroom Monday wearing shackles and striped prison jumpsuits.
"You heard all three say, 'Yes, I understand the charge against
me and there should also be a charge against the U.S. Government here,'" said Ellen Barfield, a friend of the three defendants and supporter of the Transform Now Plowshares movement.
"Plowshares is not an organization with membership. It is a movement. Individuals who are part of this movement to oppose the manufacturing of nuclear weapons took it upon themselves to make a statement peacefully," said Barfield. "People who are part of the Plowshares movement are extremely religious and spiritual people who are completely against violence."
While peaceful protests against nuclear weapons in Oak Ridge is nothing new, this weekend's caper is unprecedented in terms of how deep the trio penetrated an extremely secure area that houses highly enriched uranium.
"We are told those areas are super high security and no one can enter," said Barfield. "They managed to do this and hold a ritual with flowers, candles, and bread."
The ritual also involved spray painting messages on a building and pouring human blood. Barfield said the blood is withdrawn from volunteers devoted to the movement.
"There are people devoted to the cause who want to give their blood. It is taken the standard way in standard blood bags," said Barfield. "Pouring human blood is a symbol the beauty of life, but also a symbol of the horrific spilling of human and other blood that nuclear weapons represent."
Barfield says divine intervention helped her friends avoid potentially lethal security and safely get all the way to the highly enriched uranium facility.
"God or the universe or the spirit of peacemaking, who knows what it is," said Barfield. "We know that the proliferation of nuclear weapons is against the law and it is certainly against God's law."
Ralph Hutchison with the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance said the organization was unaware of any plans by the three defendants. However, he supports their message.
"The unfortunate part of this is because the breach of security was so severe, that's what people want to talk about," said Hutchison. "The real story is the federal facility at Y-12 with impunity continues to manufacture thermonuclear weapons of mass destruction."
While protestors draw public attention to what they consider the illegal acts of the U.S. government, the legal focus in court remains on the protestors' actions. Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office requested the defendants remain in jail, calling the defendants repeat-offenders who are a "danger to the community."
"I'm happy the defendants decided to waive their detainment hearing," said Bill Killian, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee. "They have long records with a number of previous acts by some of them throughout the country at different federal facilities."
The court appointed defense attorneys for Walli and Rice. Boertje-Obed was allowed to represent himself; although Magistrate Bruce Guyton made it known that he believes Boertje-Obed would be better served by allowing the court to appoint him professional legal defense. The court has appointed him "elbow counsel" to assist with court procedures.
A preliminary hearing is now scheduled for Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in order to establish probable cause and send the case to a grand jury.
While the three defendants endure the legal process, Barfield said others who believe in the Plowshares movement will continue the fight against nuclear weapons with only one limit to how far they will go.
"The limit is violence. We are all deeply non-violent people," said Barfield.
The U.S. attorney did not rule out the possibility of more charges against the protestors. The current trespassing charges carry up to a $100,000 fine, no more than one year in prison, and no more than one year of court supervision.
Saturday, July 28
Three Plowshares protesters say they broke through four fences at the Y-12 National Security Complex, where they hung banners, spray-painted and splashed human blood on the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility early Saturday morning, according to Ellen Barfield, a friend and supporter of the movement.
The trio, 63-year-old Michael R. Walli, 57-year-old Greg Boertje-Obed and 82-year-old Sister Megan Rice, are being held in the Blount County Detention Center. According to the Blount Count Sheriff's office, the suspects have no bond or court date.
Y-12 spokesman Steven Wyatt said the three were caught around 4:30 a.m. Saturday in a "high-security area" but would not confirm further details. A release stated they would face federal trespassing charges.
Barfield said the three protesters are calling themselves "Transform Now Plowshares" and associate with the national Plowshares movement, a longtime Christian anti-nuclear weapon effort.
"Many of us, including the plowshares activists want total nuclear disarmant for the whole world," Barfield said.
They were there to protest the construction of a new Uranium Processing Facility and to deliver an "indictment" to Y-12 for "war crimes."
Barfield said the protesters created two banners which they hung from three pillars at the HEUMF building. They also used red spray paint to write four messages on the building, "Woe to the empire of blood," "The fruit of justice is peace," Work for peace, not war," and "Plowshares pleases Isaiah."
They also splashed human blood on the building and, when confronted by a guard after several hours, offered a loaf of bread bearing the sign of the cross.
"They are basically putting Y-12 on trial," Barfield said.
The also read a statement, which reads, in part:
We begin together by preparing our minds and hearts for this transformation. And so we bring gifts to symbolize this transformation, instruments that serve life, peace and harmony, truth and healing to this nuclear weapons plant and everywhere.
We bring our life-symbols: blood, for healing and pouring out our lives in service and love. Our very humanity depends on lives given, not taken. But blood also reminds us of the horrific spilling of blood by nuclear weapons.
-our hammers, to begin the transforming work of deconstructing war machines, creating new jobs which address real problems, eliminate poverty, heal and foster the fullness of life for all.
We bring our truth-symbols: candles, for light transforms fear and secrecy into authentic security;
-flowers, the White Rose of forgiveness, acceptance of friendship and genuine reconciliation.
-the crime tape and an Indictment, which point out truth and end lies which have blinded and dulled the very conscience of nations, and serve the interests of justice for healing global relationships.
-a Bible, to remind ourselves to become sources of wisdom and to inspire our acts of conscience as we carry on.
Lastly we bring food, symbolized by this bread, strengthening us as we build this new world where people do not feel compelled to build nuclear weapons in order to feed their families. So may we break and share this bread together in joy and genuine friendship as we work together, empowered by our Creating God
TO TRANSFORM NOW!