Sister Megan Rice is no stranger to activism. She’s been arrested 40-50 times in her life for civil disobedience, including once kneeling down to block a truck driving through a Nevada nuclear test site. Most recently, Rice is facing grave criminal charges for breaking into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in July 2012, along with two fellow activists. The trio reportedly got through four security fences before detection, and face trial on May 7 for multiple charges.
This is not a simple story of risk-taking, peace-proclaiming activists getting their hands dirty for a cause. Rice was 82-years-old at the time of the incident, and a nun, at that. Her accomplices were the 64-year-old Michael Robin Walli, a self-proclaimed drifter; and 57-year-old Gregory Irwin Boertje-Obed, a house painter. Not your average criminal outfit.
To understand their motives for taking such momentous action, it is first crucial to understand the United States’ long nuclear history. Since 1940 and the thick of WWII, the U.S. has spent at least $9.8 trillion (in 2013 dollars) and in 2011, alone, spent close to $711 billion. Rice lived through WWII, the Vietnam and Cold Wars, and now contemporary controversy over global possession of nuclear weapons. Walli, too, lived through much of this troubled past. He served two tours with the Army, fighting in Vietnam and earning a Bronze Star (though he considers himself a war criminal for participating.) All three of the activists feel they had a moral responsibility to protest such weaponry, and they selected a new, half-billion-dollar plant as the site of reckoning.
Inside the facility, they cut through chain link fences, spray painted and splashed real blood (from the late activist Tom Lewis) on the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility building, and hung banners all around. Once detected, they gave themselves up peacefully, trusting in the higher power and moral authority that had guided their entire mission. Now, with the trial one week away, the three face penalties of up to 16 years in prison and $600,000 in fines, though all plead not guilty.
The incident raised many questions and red flags in the minds of government authorities, activists, and others alike, including:
– The alarming lack of security for such a dangerous and important facility
– The ongoing violence and hostility perpetuated by these facilities, and by the overall attachment to nuclear armament
– The legacy of war our elders carry with them, the burden and pain of which should never cease to inspire activism and political engagement – as Rice, Walli, and Boertje-Obed so bravely demonstrated.
Watch Sister Megan discuss the Y-12 break in with the Washington Post:
What do you think of this incident? Should the activists receive full penalties, or are they morally in the right? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Photo credit: Unknown
Photo credit: US Government