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Sentencing set for today for nuclear facility protesters -- including Duluth man

Andy Anderson held a dying man's head in his lap in 1945 after his destroyer ship was struck by a Japanese kamikaze plane. It's a memory seared into his psyche, especially since the area where the plane struck, where magazines and gun powder were...

Andy Anderson
Andy Anderson of Duluth is in Tennessee this week to support his friend, Greg Boertje-Obed, who is scheduled to be sentenced today in Knoxville for a July 2012 break-in at the Y-12 nuclear facility in nearby Oak Ridge. Both men are military veterans who protest for peace and against the stockpiling of nuclear weapons. Anderson, seen here at his home off Kenwood Avenue, also wrote a letter to the judge who will be sentencing Boertje-Obed and two others. (Mike Creger / mcreger@duluthnews.com)

Andy Anderson held a dying man's head in his lap in 1945 after his destroyer ship was struck by a Japanese kamikaze plane. It's a memory seared into his psyche, especially since the area where the plane struck, where magazines and gun powder were stored, had been his station before being reassigned.

The experience of World War II set Anderson on a course of protest "in the street" for peace.

"My war experiences led me into a civilian life dedicated to social justice, equality, ending war as an instrument of foreign policy and the elimination of nuclear weapons."

That's what Anderson wrote to U.S. District Court Judge Amul Thapar in a letter supporting his friend, and fellow Duluthian, Greg Boertje-Obed.

Boertje-Obed, Megan Rice and Michale Walli are scheduled to be sentenced today in Knoxville, Tenn., for breaking into a nuclear facility in nearby Oak Ridge in July 2012. The Transform Now Plowshares group members were convicted in May of sabotaging the plant and damaging federal property at the Y-12 National Security Complex.

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Anderson is one of thousands of letter writers urging a light sentence for the three, saying they are peace-seekers and not terrorists. He is a founding member of Duluth's Vets for Peace group. Boertje-Obed is also a military veteran.

Anderson left this past weekend for Knoxville with Boertje-Obed's wife, Michele Naar-Obed, and two members of Wisconsin's NukeWatch group, John LaForge and Bonnie Urfer.

The three defendants are being sentenced separately, and Judge Thapar is allowing testimony from supporters. That decision this month was coupled with filings from the government attorneys and the defense attorneys. The government wants the judge to abide by the sentencing guidelines, about six to 10 years for all three. The defendants countered, saying the sabotage charge was tacked on only after the three demanded a jury trial and refused to plea bargain.

The judge is not bound by the guidelines.

With his letter sent, Anderson intends to speak from the heart at Boertje-Obed's sentencing that is set to begin at 11 a.m. CST.

"I'm thinking about what you say," Anderson said. "I'll be there not to influence but inform the judge."

Anderson worked as a mediator, which he has found inspiring with his abhorrence of armed conflict.

"There's always a middle way," he said. "He did what he did, but are you sure he belongs in prison?"

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He said he respects Boertje-Obed for his convictions and his willingness to do anything to end the threat of nuclear weapons.

"What do you do when you don't believe in war?" Anderson said. He took to the streets with his late wife, Kathy, but was arrested only once and for a brief time.

"He's willing to do things I'm not willing to do," Anderson said.

Naar-Obed has carried on her mission to her community without her husband, who, along with Walli and Rice, had been jailed in a remote prison in Georgia the past nine months. She volunteers at the Damiano Center, feeding the hungry, and is setting up support for victims of sex trafficking.

"We came to terms with it," she said of the possibility of years of prison time for Boertje-Obed. "We're together on a different level."

And support from people like Anderson is helping, Naar-Obed said.

"You feel like you can go on, no matter the consequences," she said.

She has been able to call her husband, at a cost of about a $1 per minute.

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There has been plenty of support from the protest community across the country. The three protesters were visited each month by the group called Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance. There will be plenty of street theater outside the courthouse in Knoxville along with food and housing support for those like the Duluth group coming down.

There was a solidarity potluck at a local church to be held Monday night.

"There is no mystery behind this action -- the government simply knows its nuclear policy and practices cannot bear scrutiny," Paul Magno, a spokesman for the Transform Now Plowshares support team, said. "They are, on their face, violations of our treaty obligations. They present a stunning double-standard -- we refuse to allow Iran even to enrich uranium while we ourselves continue with full-scale bomb production and are spending billions on a new bomb plant."

Anderson said he can only marvel at a couple who stands firm with their principles.

"They are good people," he said. "They believe it and act on it."

No matter the sentence today, Naar-Obed said she will keep serving the community.

"It's my life," she said. "I will be on the margins, and I will be with the people on the margins."

She said she hopes the support team can help Judge Thapar see their point of view.

"He has a chance to put justice back into the system," she said.

Michele Naar-Obed
Michele Naar-Obed (left with plate) serves food as a volunteer to Cecil Little Eagle Jr. (right) during an open house celebrating the Damiano Center's new kitchen earlier this month. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)

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