Downtown Knoxville was buzzing Monday with some unusual sights, all in advance of a federal trial for three people charged with vandalizing the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge.
Last July Michael Walli, 64, Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, and Sister Megan Rice, an 82-year-old nun, cut through fences at Y-12 and vandalized the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.
Jury selection for their federal trial began Monday afternoon. Seventy five potential jurors were vetted extensively by a special judge who came in from Kentucky.
The court expanded the jury pool to compensate for the fact that many potential jurors could have ties to Oak Ridge which might impact their impartiality.
If convicted, each defendant could face more than 20 years in prison.
Protesters rallied around the three defendants before court began. They rallied in Market Square just before noon, complete with drums and people in masks, against what they call a nuclear threat.
Shortly after the prayer and protest, they paraded through downtown Knoxville to the federal courthouse where jury selection began for the three defendants.
So many supporters stayed on for jury selection that the judge had to open an overflow courtroom where people could watch the proceedings via closed circuit television.
The activists have argued in court filings that their refusal to plead guilty to trespassing led prosecutors to enhance charges that could lead to 20-year sentences if they are found guilty.
"With all the charges against them, Megan could be in jail for the rest of her life," said Shelley Wascom of Knoxville. "So people just want to say, we know that what you've done is a sacrifice, and we want to be here to support you."
Some supporters know what it's like to be the one on trial. Carl Kabat of St. Louis has served time for similar offenses.
"We were found guilty of sabotage too," he said, before rattling off the list of his fellow protestors. "Helen got 18 years, I got 18 years, Paul got 10, and White-feather got eight years."
Like the others, he has traveled to numerous trials around the country.
With the large crowd in town, many local supports have opened their doors to host the visitors during their stay. The group has posted a loose schedule online, which includes daily walk to court and nightly dinners together.
"There [are]... people that just believe just believe in what Michael and Megan and Greg are doing, and just want to be here to support them," Wascom said.