In U.S., justice truly is blind


In a country that can’t find many prison cells for Wall Street swindlers, rapacious bankers, and corporate hoodlums, this past week we learned there was just enough federal penitentiary space for a dove of peace.

Sister Megan Rice, the 84-year-old part-time Las Vegan who has devoted her life to such nuisances as helping the poor and taking a stand against nuclear war, received a 35-month prison sentence Tuesday for her part in breaking into and defacing with spray paint and blood the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., a highly enriched uranium materials facility.

The incident, which The New York Times has called “the biggest security breach in the history of the atomic complex,” occurred on July 28, 2012, when Rice was 82.

Just imagine how stealthy she was back in her 70s.

Although she’s lived a healthy life and tries to eat right, she’s not exactly a Ninja warrior. She looks more like your grandma than an Angelina Jolie action hero.

For the record, the Oak Ridge facility is supposedly highly secure and heavily guarded. It’s not too wild a notion to imagine it features some pretty fair security technology.

And it was penetrated by an octogenarian nun and her two nonviolent cohorts, all three of whom are associated with the plowshares movement, which imagines a world in which the biblical swords of war are hammered into the plowshares of peace.

Talk about a daffy group. The woman is actually trying to remind us to give peace a chance.

In the process she also reminded everyone how easy it was to get close enough to an atomic facility to spray paint anti-war slogans on it.

Good thing she wasn’t an actual terrorist, don’t you think?

She shouldn’t have been arrested. She should have been awarded a security consulting contract.

To no surprise, federal authorities weren’t amused. Now she’s been hit with hard time.

It’s far from Sister Megan’s first arrest for trespassing on federal military and nuclear reservations. Her rap sheet lists nearly 40 such acts. An active member of the Nevada Desert Experience group of nonviolent peaceniks, she has been outside the gates of the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., and the former Nevada Test Site at Mercury so many times that the guards surely know her by sight.

I first met her two decades ago. She was associated with another infamous unrepentant peace-lover with local connections, Franciscan priest Louis Vitale.

They weren’t spotted at a monthly meeting of the anti-America Club, but in the Franciscans’ humble living quarters on Bartlett Avenue in a poor West Las Vegas neighborhood. From that hideout, open to all, for years the Franciscans and their friends have taken to the Las Vegas mean streets to minister to the homeless and mentally ill. In their spare hours, members of the group sojourn to Creech Air Force Base near Indian Springs or the gates of Mercury, sometimes on foot, to express their belief in a better world free of war and nuclear weapons.

What a terribly clever disguise.

They’ve been working undercover as fasting, give-peace-a-chance saboteurs for decades in the name of some Mr. Big whose true identity I’ll let you guess.

In years past, Sister Megan was charged with trespassing. Although she’d served several months behind bars more than once for her nonviolent protest, this time she and her co-defendants were also charged with damaging a defense facility, a felony associated with the sabotage act.

It’s unclear if most of us would equate spray paint and blood graffiti to sabotage, but whoever was in charge of security at the Oak Ridge facility ought to serve time for sleeping while on duty.

The trio set off alarms, but weren’t met by security for nearly two hours. By then, they’d hung banners and started singing songs and reading the Bible.

The sentencing of the sister might seem an injustice unworthy of the American legal system, but I suppose it takes a lot to peg the outrage meter in 2014.

You’d think a judge would be a little more creative than to slap an 84-year-old in sensible shoes with nearly three years in the slammer, but Sister Rice doesn’t run a polluting oil company, international hedge fund, or keep a Swiss bank account.

At this point I could start lecturing about the quality of mercy in a nation that sees fit to jail nuns and let mobsters with MBAs go free, but that just begs the obvious.

If the court is looking for an apology from Sister Megan at this point, it figures to wait a long time.

Asked her view of the incident, she replied, “I regret I didn’t do this 70 years ago.”

Sister Megan Rice found her calling long ago.

If officials can’t discern civil disobedience from sabotage, then they’re in the wrong racket.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.