Note: This story was last updated at 8:30 a.m. August 9.
The three protesters who broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex and vandalized a uranium storage building three years ago returned to the nuclear weapons plant during a march in Oak Ridge on Saturday.
The march and rally were organized by the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance as part of a series of events that commemorate the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, near the end of World War II. Uranium for the first bomb, the Little Boy atomic bomb that was dropped over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, was enriched at Y-12.
The three protesters—Greg Boertje-Obed, Megan Rice, and Michael Walli—were convicted on two felony charges on May 8, 2013, in U.S. District Court in Knoxville. But their conviction on the more serious felony sabotage charge was overturned two years later, on May 8, 2015, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati. Boertje-Obed, Rice, and Walli were released on May 16 and have a re-sentencing hearing on September 15 in Knoxville.
They had their first public reunion since being released from prison in Knoxville on Friday. They made their first trip back to Oak Ridge on Saturday.
Boertje-Obed, Rice, and Walli joined about 125 other anti-nuclear weapons activists who rallied at the Oak Ridge Civic Center on Saturday and marched, drumming and chanting, almost two miles to Y-12. There, activists who object to the nuclear weapons work conducted at Y-12 tied peace cranes to a fence in front of the New Hope Center.
“What happens in that bomb plant is the preparation for the death of the planet,” OREPA coordinator Ralph Hutchison said.
Boertje-Obed, Rice, and Walli sneaked into Y-12 before dawn on July 28, 2012; cut through three fences in a high-security Protected Area; and vandalized the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, where most of the nation’s bomb-grade uranium is stored. They splashed human blood, spray-painted slogans, and hammered on a side of the HEUMF. In May 2013, the trio, who are longtime anti-nuclear weapons activists, were found guilty on charges of property depredation of more than $1,000 and willfully injuring national defense premises. It was that second more serious charge that was overturned in May of this year.
Boertje-Obed, Rice, and Walli admitted what they did at Y-12, but they said their unprecedented intrusion was peaceful, religiously motivated, and nonviolent, a symbolic disarming. They allege that the work at Y-12 is unlawful and immoral.
Hutchison said those at Saturday’s rally, which included music and a skit, oppose the proposed Uranium Processing Facility, which could cost up to $6.5 billion, and other nuclear weapons work. By the end of Fiscal Year 2016, the United States will have appropriated more than $2 billion for the UPF and still not have spent one dollar on construction of the actual building itself, Hutchison said.
He said those attending Saturday’s rally and march would like the federal government to focus instead on dismantlement work.
The protesters came from cities as far away as Las Vegas; Detroit; Duluth, Minnesota; and Washington, D.C. Members of Veterans for Peace were there. Some protesters wore shirts that said “Stop the Bombs” or “Build Peace, Not Bombs.” Walli wore a shirt that said “Vietnam Veterans Against the War.”
Boertje-Obed and Rice wore shirts that said “The Fruit of Justice is Peace,” which is one of the sayings that they spray-painted on the side of the HEUMF three years ago. Opposition to the UPF was part of the reason that they and Walli went into Y-12 in July 2012.
Rice, a Catholic nun who is now 85 and lives in Washington, D.C., was sentenced to 35 months after the break-in. She has the least extensive criminal history, U.S. District Court Judge Amul R. Thapar said during a sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Knoxville in February 2014. On Friday, Rice said she ended up spending 25 months in prison.
Boertje-Obed and Walli also ended up serving less time than expected because of the overturning of the sabotage conviction. Boertje-Obed and Walli had both been sentenced to 62 months, or a little more than five years. Boertje-Obed, who is now 60, is a house painter from Duluth, and Walli is a 66-year-old Catholic worker and Vietnam veteran from Washington, D.C.
Walli hadn’t been out of prison long before the July 2012 break-in. He was released on January 5, 2012—about seven months earlier—after an eight-month federal sentence for a July 2010 trespassing incident at the nuclear weapons plant.
Although they’re out now, it’s not clear yet exactly what restrictions will be placed on the trio during the September 15 re-sentencing hearing. In the meantime, they don’t feel free.
“We’re still in prison,” Boertje-Obed said. “We’re imprisoned by the bomb.”
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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