KNOXVILLE—Three anti-nuclear weapons activists accused of illegally crossing four fences to get into a high-security area at the Y-12 National Security Complex pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal misdemeanor trespassing charges.
An Oct. 9 trial date was set for the three defendants, and U.S. Magistrate Judge C. Clifford Shirley scheduled a Friday afternoon hearing to help determine whether they should continue to be detained.
The three defendants—Michael R. Walli, 63, of Washington, D.C.; Megan Rice, 82, of New York; and Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, of Duluth, Minn.—have been jailed at the Blount County Corrections Facility.
Arguing against their release in U.S. District Court in Knoxville on Thursday, Assistant Attorney Melissa Kirby said the activists created a risky situation on Saturday, when they allegedly splashed human blood and spray-painted slogans on a storage building known as the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility. That building, which has been described as ultra-secure, is used to store bomb-grade uranium, and it’s in the Protected Area on the west end of Y-12.
Kirby said the defendants have previously committed similar crimes and could flee.
“These defendants have absolutely no respect for the law,” she said.
Rice’s attorney, Francis Lloyd of Knoxville, disagreed.
“I do not believe she is a flight risk,” Lloyd said of Rice. He said the county jail is not the best place for someone of her age.
All three activists waived a detention hearing earlier this week, but Shirley said he was questioning whether the federal government has the right to continue holding the defendants.
He said Walli followed the court-imposed conditions in a earlier federal case.
The charges against Boertje-Obed, Rice, and Walli are contained in a one-page legal document called an information. It says the activists entered Y-12, the nation’s production facility for many nuclear weapons components, without permission.
Asked to enter pleas in response to the information, Walli and Rice both pleaded not guilty.
Boertje-Obed did not enter a plea, despite three separate requests from the judge.
“I plead justified,” Boertje-Obed he said, when first asked to enter a plea.
“I plead for the downtrodden,” he said the second time.
“I plead for the children,” he responded the third.
Shirley noted his refusal to enter a plea and entered a not guilty plea on Boertje-Obed’s behalf.
At one point, Boertje-Obed, who is representing himself in the case, said he would agree to be released on his own recognizance if Shirley agreed to state that the building of nuclear weapons at Y-12 is a war crime.
Shirley said he would not.
Shirley warned Obed of the dangers of representing himself. Obed has “elbow counsel,” an attorney who will be present at hearings and can answer questions.
Walli is represented by Knoxville attorney Chris Irwin.
Boertje-Obed, Rice, and Walli face potential fines of up to $100,000 and up to one year in prison, and they could also be responsible for property damage at Y-12.
Their intrusion into Y-12 on Saturday, as well as procedural violations found during a later internal review, have led to an unprecedented security “stand down” at the plant. During that stand down, expected to last through some time next week, all nuclear operations have been halted at Y-12, all special nuclear materials are being moved to vault-type facilities at Y-12, and contractor security staff members are undergoing training and refresher instruction.