Having spent a fair amount of time with Joan, my children, and members of the calling, I have tremendous respect for many who belong to the Catholic Workers Movement. On the other hand, I have sent several of them to jail including a very mouthy priest who was a first class asshole. See Crossing the line (May 25, 2013).
Over a well-reasoned dissent by Judge Boggs, and in a 2-1 decision last Friday, the Sixth Circuit reversed sabotage convictions against Megan Rice, 85, a nun, and U.S. Army veterans, Michael Walli, 66, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 59. See here for the opinion and dissent. The legal question at issue, and the one the jury answered in the affirmative, is this: Did one or more of these three specifically intend to interfere with or obstruct the national defense?
There is no doubt what these three did. Here is how the New York Times describes what they did:
Now, Sister Megan Rice . . . a Roman Catholic nun of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, and two male accomplices have carried out what nuclear experts call the biggest security breach in the history of the nation’s atomic complex, making their way to the inner sanctum of the site where the United States keeps crucial nuclear bomb parts and fuel.
“Deadly force is authorized,” signs there read. “Halt!” Images of skulls emphasize the lethal danger.
With flashlights and bolt cutters, the three pacifists defied barbed wire as well as armed guards, video cameras and motion sensors at the Oak Ridge nuclear reservation in Tennessee early on July 28, a Saturday. They splashed blood on the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility — a new windowless, half-billion-dollar plant encircled by enormous guard towers — and hung banners outside its walls.
After telling the judge“[p]lease have no leniency with me,” and “[t]o remain in prison for the rest of my life would be the greatest gift you could give me,” Rice was sentenced to three years in the slammer. She has a long history of being a pain in the ass.* Her buddies got five years.
The conviction and sentences should have been upheld for the reasons Judge Boggs sets out clearly and concisely. The panel majority wimped out. These three defendants obviously had the intent to bring Oak Ridge to a halt and they obviously knew that breaking into this facility would adversely impact the national defense if only for a short time. Even the panel majority makes that perfectly clear:
The facility stores highly enriched uranium at a building called the HEUMF (Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility). That was where the defendants hung banners, spraypainted slogans, and so on. They also struck the corner of the building with small hammers. The group’s activities delayed the arrival of a shipment scheduled to arrive that afternoon. The government also shut down the facility for 15 days while it investigated why its security systems had failed to prevent three unarmed citizens from penetrating four layers of fences and multiple “lethal force” zones to reach the HEUMF building.
Slip op. at 3 (emphasis by me).
The Sixth Circuit got it wrong and obviously so. Nuns, and priests and their followers don’t get to sabotage American nuclear facilities because they think they know best. The only good thing about this case is that this goofy gaggle of nuke nuts have already spent a fair amount of time in real prisons. In my experience, that tends to suck the boisterous bravado right out of such people. And that is a damn good thing for the rest of us.
*According to the New York Times, Rice has been arrested 40 or 50 times for acts of civil disobedience and once served six months in prison prior to the Oak Ridge matter.
H/t to the great resource that is How Appealing.