Sister Megan Rice and Michael Walli sit comfortably at a cluttered wooden table in the dining room of a South Knoxville home. In front of them is an open Bible with a well-worn spine and several loose leaf sheets of paper scattered about.
They share an easy conversation, touching upon religion, life and politics.
By all appearances, there is nothing out of the ordinary about these two — but appearances can be deceiving.
Rice, 82, and Walli, 63, are two recently released prisoners from the Blount County Jail, where they were being held in connection to their alleged break-in at the Y-12 National Security Complex on the night of Saturday, July 28.
Rice, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus since the age of 17, along with Walli and another man, Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, according to facility officials, cut through perimeter fences using only a set of bolt cutters and reached the outer wall of a building where bomb-grade uranium is kept.
Once they reached the outer wall of the building, the activists are said to have thrown human blood on the wall, painted slogans, lit candles and prayed.
"We brought candles to show the light and we brought the Bible as a symbol of people's inspiration," Rice said. "...The blood (which was gathered from people they "knew," who were unable to be at the complex as well) is a special sign of people giving their lives in service of others. To pour out our lives to help. As well as the symbol of the monstrous waste of life that has happened due to the buildings of these bombs."
All three suspects are members of the religiously-influenced activist group "Transform Now Plowshares," which base their philosophy off of the prophetic visions of the Book of Isaiah. The group cites the verse in which Isaiah called for an era of world peace when people "will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks." In this vein, the group, citing also the Treaty of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, view the Y-12 complex as not only a physical manifestation of immorality, but also of illegality.
"The crime, in the first place, is the violence of the nuclear industry," Rice said. "There's the violence that is going on. 24/7."
Walli also shared Rice's views on the complex, and stated their reasoning behind pleading not guilty to the charges.
"The government is saying that we are committing violence by destroying property," Walli said emphatically, all the while gesturing his hands above his head with a clear sense of urgency. "That's what they say according to their statutes. But if I destroy something that has no legal right to exist, say a nuclear weapon, what does that mean?...That nuclear weapons cannot be considered property. The presence of these illegal terroristic nuclear weapons at the Y-12 site make the whole complex a global state terrorist site, which is chronically and systemically used for criminal activities."
The pair were released Friday by U.S. magistrate Judge C. Clifford Shirley on conditions, while Boertje-Obed, who is representing himself and using only "elbow council," waved his right to a detention hearing, and therefore remains in custody.
At the detention hearing, assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Kirby argued for their continued stay in custody because the actions of this trio were a "crime of violence," and that their release would pose a dangerous threat to the community.
Kirby categorized the group's actions as a "schemed, planned, and coordinated event." She also said that their release would be a "catalyst for violence," in that it would encourage not only themselves but others to try and do what they did.
The fallout of this group's actions will be hard to measure, however, says local activist Ralph Hutchison, a cooridnator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, as they have effectively shattered many Americans' "illusions of security."
"When I say 'our illusion of our security,' it exists in the immediate small sense and in the larger sense," Hutchison said. "The idea that the nuclear weapon's plant was secured by a couple of fences and the high-tech equipment that they have, that was obviously demonstrated to be an illusion by what these people did and what they were able to accomplish. But in the larger sense, their message was that the nuclear weapons themselves, which we say protect us from our enemies, is similarly an illusion, a very expensive and dangerous one that we can no longer afford."
Regardless of the long-term outcome of their actions, the trio's immediate future is clouded by these legal proceedings; but according to Rice their guilt is based upon perspective.
"We are not guilty of what they say," she said. "We entered the base, but for a purpose. It is everybody's responsibility to stop crime."