Whatever happened to?... Anti-nuclear weapons protester from Duluth waits for trialDuluthian Greg Boertje-Obed and two other anti-nuclear weapons protesters face even stiffer charges after breaking into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Knoxville, Tenn., in July.
By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune
Duluthians Greg Boertje-Obed and Michele Naar-Obed plan to renew their wedding vows in March.
It’s a matter of practicality and a response to the felony charges Boertje-Obed faces for standing up for what he believes in.
“It’s about the possibilities in the future,” Boertje-Obed said this month.
He and two other anti-nuclear weapons protesters face even stiffer charges after breaking into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Knoxville, Tenn., in July.
He is part of the national Transform Now Plowshares movement. Boertje-Obed, Megan Gillespie Rice and Michael Walli walked into the Y-12 facility on July 28, cutting through fences and eventually reaching a building that houses one of the largest stores of bomb-grade uranium in the world. They spray-painted messages, poured blood and ceremonially chipped away at the building’s foundation.
They were eventually spotted on camera and jailed.
Walli lived in Duluth for a time, and Rice, of Nevada, is a nun. All are members of the Catholic Worker community who protest nuclear weapons under the Plowshares banner.
The fallout from the incident has led to talk of major security changes at Y-12 and dropping the contract with the security firm there. In Washington, legislators decried the lax security the trio found that day and vowed strong measures to fix the problems at Y-12 and nuclear facilities across the country. Some praised the Plowshares group for highlighting the deficiencies.
But federal prosecutors are moving ahead with serious charges.
A grand jury in early December set the final charges: felony sabotage of a national defense facility and felony charges for property destruction and depredation. The maximum prison time, should the three be convicted, is 35 years.
So Boertje-Obed is getting his life in order should the worst come from a trial that begins May 7.
He and his wife had a small ceremony when they were first married 19 years ago and have always wanted to host a celebration with all the people in their lives.
Prosecutors are trying to get the trio to plead guilty to avoid the uncertainty of a trial, he said, but the three defendants plan to bring their case to a jury. The government is also ratcheting up the pressure, saying the trio’s trespassing through security fences and the defacing of a storage facility cost more than $50,000 in repairs and security upgrades.
Boertje-Obed said all of the pretrial action has been expected. The worst-case scenario he’s seen in other protest cases is nine years in prison.
On Feb. 7, the trio will be in court with a motion to dismiss the monetary charges in the case. The federal government’s bill includes 65 hours of work with K-9-type dogs at $193 an hour, photographs of the crime scene costing $4,000 and 247 hours in extra security costing more than $26,000.
Fines in the case could be as high as $750,000.
The group will argue it should be able to use as a defense its firmly held opposition to nuclear weapons. The government is arguing against any talk about nuclear weapons in the case. Should a judge rule against the trio, an appeal could be filed.
Last week, a protest group in Knoxville pointed out that the fences cut during the intrusion haven’t been fixed, a sign that security is not being taken seriously at Y-12.
Ralph Hutchinson, in a news release issued from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, said: “It says to me that with all the post-July 28 security activity, and despite the assurances given to Congress and others, no one has taken the simple step of walking the entire perimeter fence to verify its integrity.”
But Y-12 officials said the fence in question is a simple boundary fence not considered a barrier to intruders.
Boertje-Obed originally refused to leave jail in Oak Ridge after the trio was caught. He eventually relented and returned to Duluth to get things in order for the trial, including talking with his wife and daughter about the cold reality of the case.
The judge who let him out said he’d probably do more good in Duluth as part of the Loaves & Fishes community.
Boertje-Obed has done presentations on his case and the movement in general. He’s gone to Washington, D.C., for presentations and to meet with Rice and Walli for the first time in months.
“It’s about building community and rebuilding ties,” Boertje-Obed said.
And it’s about quality time with the family, like the ceremony and celebration with his wife in March.
“I wanted to communicate the action to Michelle and our daughter,” he said. “I’ve had time to talk with them at length.”