Sister Megan Rice and the Atomic Complex Security Breach
Sister Megan Rice, anti-nuclear activist and Roman Catholic nun of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, with co-defendants Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed.
After spending two years in prison for entering and defacing an
ultra-secret nuclear facility, 85-year-old Sister Megan Rice, a nun of the
Roman Catholic Society of the Holy Child, and her two co-defendants, Michael Walli, 66, and Greg Boertje-0bed, 59, were released in
May 2015 by order of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The
jurists ruled that the federal government had been overly-zealous in charging
them with sabotage. While free, they now have to wait until June 22nd
to learn if the Department of Justice will contest their release. Now free,
Sister Rice says she will never stop objecting to
I’m the co-author (with Jim O’Grady) of “Disarmed and Dangerous,” a 1997 biography of Daniel and Philip Berrigan, the rebellious anti-Vietnam War Roman Catholic priests of that stormy era. As a result, I came to know some of the extraordinarily courageous men and women who acted as Sister Rice, Walli and Boertje did. They were all Plowshares people, supporters of Phil’s quixotic Plowshares movement.
I’d been thinking about Sister Megan Rice and two army veterans,
Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed,
since their arrest and conviction for doing far less harm than the hardline ideologues who took us
So what was their crime? Cutting a hole in a barbed wire fence in one
You would think that the break-in at the highly secretive, presumably well-protected Y-12 National Security Complex at the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, nuclear facility, their subsequent federal trial in Knoxville, why they did it yet failed to convince the jury, let alone the American public, would merit some serious attention from the few remaining serious American newspapers, or network TV’s evening’s alleged “news” programs. (NPR/PBS excepted). But no one was murdered or even wounded by a hail of bullets from vigilant guards. No one was captured and beaten. No one resisted arrest. The trio did what they did, and surrendered, willing and eager to explain.
The NY Times’ William J. Broad did have a substantial piece, “The Nun
Who Broke into the Nuclear Sanctum” about Sister Megan Rice but that was back
In any event, the trio was tried and found guilty in federal court in
It’s as if Dan and Phil Berrigan suddenly returned for a second act. It was Phil’s brainstorm, which he called the Plowshares movement and which flatly rejected our never-ending unaccountable government-sponsored violence. Some one hundred men and women during the eighties and nineties hammered on and spray- painted MX missiles, Trident submarines, B-52 bombers and components of the strategic nuclear triad, sending some to prison but essentially unnoticed by a bored and distracted nation.
Phil Berrigan once spoke about how hard it was to get fellow Americans interested in what they were saying. “Even sympathizers thought Plowshares actions look ridiculous now, a sermon to the converted, ignored by the government and the media, the public no longer listening.” Of course he was right. All the same, he and his friends left a gift to anti-nuke radicals like Sister Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed who never lost their faith in the power and majesty of nonviolence, however unrealistic it may seem to people accustomed to passively accepting wars, casualty lists, and the inescapable threat of nuclear nations one day destroying one another.
But back to Oak Ridge If
obsolete cameras and barbed wire fences could not keep three older people out
of the Y-12 National Security Complex, should
any independent investigative journalists still left in the Obama Era
of Espionage Act Violations not ask
why all those pricey weapons? Against whom are they supposed to be used? At
the trial, the prosecuting
But what if we have a nuclear accident, or just another Petrov Incident? Remember that? When Soviet Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov in 1983 saw a missile heading for Moscow on his radar screen and soon after, four more U.S. missiles approaching, he didn’t report it because he was smart enough to suspect a computer glitch. Had he done so and his bosses retaliated with their nukes, most of us would no longer be among the living. There have been other near-hits, some reported, some not. You’ll need an FOI request to find out. Given the frightened and often bewildered reactions in our Nuclear/War on Terror Age anything can happen.
During the trial, the judge said he hadn’t found the defendants “contrite.” Kathy Boylan, a longtime peace worker, testified in their behalf, even alluding to the Holocaust. She quoted Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker, peace and nonviolence activist, opponent of conscription, all wars and a faithful Catholic who may yet wind up beatified by the Church, saying, “If we wouldn’t put people in gas chambers, why would we fling gas chambers at them?”
“Michael,” Boylan told the court, referring to Walli, “is trying to save lives. Your life,” she told the Judge, and then turning toward the prosecutor, “Your life. All our lives.”
Interviewed after her release from prison, Sister Rice told the New York Times that in the event the federal government should choose to appeal and win, and she is returned to prison, “It would be an honor. Good Lord, what would be better than to die in prison for the anti-nuclear cause?”