Megan Rice

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Megan Rice
Megan Rice (cropped).jpg
Megan Gillespie Rice

(1930-01-31)January 31, 1930
DiedOctober 10, 2021(2021-10-10) (aged 91)
EducationFordham University
Villanova University (BS)
Boston College (MS)
Occupation(s)Nun, activist
Known forIllegally entering in 2012 at Y-12 National Nuclear Weapons Complex Y-12 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Vitale, Rice and Haber at Ft. Huachuca Arizona protest
Fr. Louis Vitale, Sister Megan Rice and Jim Haber protest US policy on torture at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona where interrogation methods are taught to US military forces

Megan Gillespie Rice S.H.C.J. (Society of the Holy Child Jesus) (January 31, 1930 – October 10, 2021)[1] was an American nuclear disarmament activist, Catholic nun, and former missionary.[2] She was notable for illegally entering the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, at the age of 82, with two fellow activists of the Transform Now Plowshares group.[3] The action was a nuclear disarmament protest referred to as "the biggest security breach in the history of the nation's atomic complex."[2][4]

Megan Rice, Ann Wright (Col ret.) Candace Ross 2008 Las Vegas book release for Wright's book; Dissent Voices of Conscience

Rice was sentenced to almost three years in prison. In May 2015, the conviction for sabotage was vacated by a federal appeals court. The appeals court ruled that the prosecution failed to prove that Rice and the two others had the intention of causing injury to the national defense system.[5][6] The lesser charge of injuring government property was upheld by the court but Rice was released within a week as the two years she had already served would be more than the re-sentencing for the upheld conviction.[6][4][7]

Early life and education[edit]

Rice, born January 31, 1930, was the youngest of three girls in a Catholic family of Irish descent, born and raised in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York City.[8]

Her father, Frederick W. Rice, was an obstetrician-gynecologist who taught at New York University and treated patients at several New York City hospitals. Her mother, Madeleine Newman Hooke Rice, was a Barnard College graduate who undertook graduate studies at Columbia University[7] while her children were growing up, obtaining a doctorate in history and writing a dissertation on Catholic views about slavery.[2][9] Frederick and Madeleine Rice were active participants in the Catholic Worker movement and considered Dorothy Day a good friend.[9]

Rice was educated in Catholic schools and joined the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus at age 18.[2][9] She was trained as an elementary school teacher and taught in the early grades in Mount Vernon, New York. Through part-time study at Fordham and Villanova Universities, she earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Villanova in 1957, then studied cellular biology at Boston College, where she received a master's degree.[2][9][10] She then served various stints as a teacher in Nigeria and Ghana from 1962 to 2004.[2]

Anti-war, anti-nuclear weapons activism before 1980 - 2012[edit]

In the 1980s Rice became engaged in the anti-war movement.[11][12] She participated in protests against a variety of American military actions, military sites, and nuclear weapons installations.[2][3] Rice was arrested more than three dozen times in acts of civil disobedience,[7][9] including her anti-nuclear weapons activism.[2][7]

Nevada Test Site and Creech Air Force Base[edit]

While serving as a staff member of Nevada Desert Experience[13] in Las Vegas at the Nevada Test Site now known as the Nevada National Security Site, Rice participated in numerous antinuclear actions, and also participated in anti-drone warfare protests. On January 27, 2011, Rice was convicted of trespassing as the result of a protest against weaponized drones at Creech Air Force Base.[14]

School of the Americas (SOA)[edit]

Rice was arrested in the 1990s at protests against torture at the US Army School of the Americas[15][12] (now named Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) at Fort Benning, Georgia.[16] She served two six-month prison sentences resulting from trespasses during protests against the US Army School of the Americas in 1997–99.[10]

Ft. Huachuca 2008[edit]

Vandenberg Air Force Base protest of ICBM test launch.[edit]

August 2009, Megan Rice and Louie Vitale were arrested at Vandenberg Air Force Base protesting a test Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic missile (ICBM) launched approximately 4,000 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.[17][18]

Members of Desert Lenten Experience hold a prayer vigil during the Easter period of 1982 at the entrance to the Nevada Test Site.

Y-12 Oak Ridge National Security Complex Oak Ridge Tennessee[edit]

On July 28, 2012, Rice (age 82), and two fellow activists (Michael R. Walli (age 63) and Gregory I. Boertje-Obed (age 57)), entered the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, spray-painted antiwar slogans, and splashed blood on the outside of the heavily guarded Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.[19][7] The three were members of "Transform Now Plowshares",[7] a part of the Plowshares Movement,[20] which references the Book of Isaiah and Book of Micah's calls to "hammer their swords into plowshares",[21] i.e., convert weapons into peaceful tools.[20] Justifying their infiltration of the Oak Ridge facility, the trio cited both Biblical verses calling for world peace and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as justifications.[22][21]The New York Times reported that nuclear weapons experts called this action "the biggest security breach in the history of the nation's atomic complex."[2]


Rice, Walli, and Boertje-Obed were initially charged with misdemeanor trespass and "destruction and depredation" of government property (a felony)[2] which faced up to a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison.[23] When they refused to plead guilty to those charges they were instead charged with violating the peacetime provision of the Sabotage Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2155(a),[24] which Congress enacted during World War II, The Sabotage Act applies only if they acted "with intent to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense," and authorizes a sentence of up to 20 years.[25] They were also charged with causing more than $1,000 damage to government property, carrying up to 10 years in prison.[26]

On May 9, 2013, the three were convicted. In her testimony Sister Rice said "I regret I didn't do this 70 years ago."[27] Her sentencing was originally scheduled for January 28, 2014,[28] but was postponed to February 18, 2014, due to a snow storm.[29]

Although many news organizations called it a break-in, the team, including their lawyers, are clear that they walked in. Security failures and contractor ineptitude, not criminal know-how, put them next to the nation's uranium for its nuclear warheads.[30]


On May 8, 2015, a 2–1 decision in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that the trio lacked the necessary intent for the sabotage conviction and overturned it for all three of them.[25][31] Part of the court ruling read "But vague platitudes about a facility's 'crucial role in the national defense' are not enough to convict a defendant of sabotage."[6] The lesser charge of injuring government property was upheld however, and the court ordered re-sentencing based on that conviction.[7] They were released from prison on May 16 under an emergency release petition (unopposed by the prosecution), on the grounds that the normal period for re-sentencing would take several weeks and the new sentences for the upheld conviction would probably be shorter than the two years they had already served.[32][33]

Megan Rice was released from prison May 2015.[31]

Rice became so known for her activism that the United States Department of Energy funded an oral history, to help understand her nuclear disarmament views.[2]



  • Good Thinking, Those Who've Tried to Halt Nuclear Weapons (2015). Directed by Anthony Donovan. Sr. Megan Rice was interviewed for this award-winning work in early 2013.
  • The Nuns, The Priests, and The Bombs (2017). This film by Emmy award-winning producer Helen Young opens with the Oak Ridge action and then covers earlier Plowshares activists who entered Trident nuclear submarine Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, near Seattle, Washington. The actions of Bill "Bix" Bichsel, Susan Crane, Steve Kelly, Lynne Greenwald and Anne Montgomery inspired Rice.[34][9]


  • Transform Now Plowshares: Megan Rice, Gregory Boertje-Obed, and Michael Walli (2022). In early 2017 Carole Sargent, a Georgetown University scholar focusing on Catholic sisters who are peace activists and serve prison time, took on a project that was already underway.[35][36] She knew Sister Rice personally through the Catholic Worker circle when she helped the RSCJ open Anne Montgomery House. At Sister Rice's request she expanded the book to include Gregory Boertje-Obed, Michael Walli, and Plowshares more fully. It will be available by advance order in late 2021, with a copyright date of early 2022.[37] (To clarify any confusion, this book was originally announced in 2014 with a different author and title, focusing on Sister Rice only.)
  • Activist: Portraits of Courage (2019).[38][39] This book by KK Ottesen contains profiles of over forty activists from Sister Megan Rice to Senator Bernie Sanders and Grover Norquist to Dolores Huerta, and recounts the experiences that began their journeys.[38]
  • Almighty: Courage, Resistance, and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age (2016). Dan Zak was assigned by The Washington Post to cover the 2012 break-in of the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge. In 2016 Zak published his account of the events and the trial in Almighty.[7][40]


  1. ^ Risen, Clay (October 17, 2021). "Sister Megan Rice, Fierce Critic of U.S. Nuclear Arsenal, Dies at 91". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k William J. Broad, "Behind Nuclear Breach, a Nun's Bold Fervor" Archived March 15, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times, August 11, 2012.
  3. ^ a b Wittner, Lawrence S. (May 12, 2009). Confronting the bomb : a short history of the world nuclear disarmament movement. Stanford, Calif. ISBN 9780804771245. OCLC 469186910.
  4. ^ a b "Megan Rice: How Did An 82-Year-Old Nun Get Past A Nuclear Facility's Security?". September 12, 2012. Archived from the original on October 16, 2019. Retrieved October 15, 2019.
  5. ^ "Democracy Now!". Democracy Now!. Archived from the original on March 10, 2016. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  6. ^ a b c "Sabotage conviction overturned for nun, activists". The Tennessean. May 8, 2015. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Zak, Dan (2016). Almighty : courage, resistance, and existential peril in the nuclear age. New York. ISBN 9780399173752. OCLC 945549934.
  8. ^ Tom Deignan, "Are the Irish liberal or conservative? GOP's Paul Ryan meet Sister Megan Gillespie Rice" Archived November 27, 2013, at the Wayback Machine,, August 17, 2012.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Suzanne Becker (2007). "Interview with Megan Rice, June 22, 2005". Nevada Test Site Oral History Project, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Archived from the original on October 31, 2012. Retrieved August 11, 2012.
  10. ^ a b "November 1997" Archived April 13, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, "Chronology of SOA Prisoners of Conscience", US Army School of the Americas Watch,; last visited August 8, 2012.
  11. ^ Sargent, Carole (2022). Transform Now Plowshares : Megan Rice, Gregory Boertje-Obed, and Michael Walli. Liturgical Press. ISBN 9780814637227. OCLC 894609796.
  12. ^ a b Dear, John, 1959- (September 15, 2013). The nonviolent life. Pace e Bene Franciscan Nonviolence Center (Las Vegas, Nev.). Long Beach, CA. ISBN 978-0966978322. OCLC 868026801.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ "Nevada Desert Experience: About NDE". Archived from the original on August 29, 2010. Retrieved August 23, 2012.
  14. ^ Toplikar, Dave (January 27, 2011). "'Creech 14' found guilty of trespassing, judge says 'go in peace'". Las Vegas Sun. Retrieved October 29, 2019.
  15. ^ Nieves, Evelyn (March 22, 1998). "Our Towns; Marching Peacefully To Prison". New York Times. Archived from the original on March 11, 2016. Retrieved October 15, 2019.
  16. ^ "This Week in Georgia", Atlanta Journal and Constitution, November 17, 1996.
  17. ^ Cohen-Joppa, Jack and Felice (November 18, 2008). "Three barred from Ft. Huachuca as 200 protest torture and cruel treatment of terror war prisoners". BS Norell Censored News. Archived from the original on February 22, 2018. Retrieved October 21, 2019.
  18. ^ Walter, Nicolas (August 25, 2009). "Two arrested at base protest arrests mark another successful missile launch at Vandenberg". Santa Maria Sun. Santa Maria California. Retrieved October 18, 2019.
  19. ^ Sargent, Carole. "Sister Megan Rice: A Catholic Activist Who Saw Nuclear Weapons as a Social Injustice". POLITICO. Retrieved December 29, 2021.
  20. ^ a b Strabala, William. (2006). WMD, Nukes and Nuns. New York: Algora Pub. ISBN 9780875864471. OCLC 79477924.
  21. ^ a b Nepstad, Sharon Erickson. (2008). Religion and War Resistance in the Plowshares Movement. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780511619854. OCLC 817930733.
  22. ^ Ellsberg, Daniel (December 5, 2017). The Doomsday Machine : Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. New York. ISBN 9781608196708. OCLC 1012402660.
  23. ^ Nick Allen, "G4S Under Fire After Nun Breaks into US Nuclear Facility" Archived February 24, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, The Telegraph, August 3, 2012.
  24. ^ U.S. Criminal Code Title 18. Part I. Chapter 105. SABOTAGE Section 2155. Destruction of national-defense materials, national-defense premises, or national-defense utilities Cornell Law website
  26. ^ Leader, Jessica (May 9, 2013). "Sister Megan Rice, 82-Year-Old Nun, Will Receive Sentencing With Other Activists For Damaging Nuclear Site". Huffington Post. Archived from the original on May 11, 2013. Retrieved May 9, 2013.
  27. ^ Koplowitz, Howard (May 9, 2013). "Nun, 83, Convicted of Breaking Into Tennessee Nuclear Site: 'My Regret Was I Waited 70 Years,' Sister Megan Rice Says". International Business Times. Archived from the original on February 22, 2014. Retrieved January 17, 2014.
  28. ^ Harkinson, Josh (January 15, 2014). "Nun Faces up to 30 Years for Breaking Into Weapons Complex, Embarrassing the Feds". Mother Jones. Archived from the original on January 17, 2014. Retrieved January 17, 2014.
  29. ^ Erdogan, Melodi (January 28, 2014). "Snow delays sentencing for Tennessee nuclear facility break-in". Reuters. Archived from the original on February 2, 2014. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  30. ^ "Security Failures at U.S. Nuclear Weapons Site Persist, Courtesy of Spending Cuts and Mismanagement". September 6, 2015.
  31. ^ a b Broad, William J (May 26, 2015). "Sister Megan Rice, Freed From Prison, Looks Ahead to More Anti-Nuclear Activism". New York Times. Retrieved October 16, 2019.
  32. ^ "Nun, 85, in nuclear protest set to remain free after sabotage charge dropped". The Guardian. June 22, 2015. Archived from the original on February 5, 2016. Retrieved January 30, 2016.
  33. ^ "Activist Nun Sister Megan Rice And Two Fellow Anti-Nuclear Advocates Released From Prison". The Huffington Post. January 15, 2014. Archived from the original on May 22, 2015. Retrieved May 18, 2015.
  34. ^ Sargent, Carole (December 20, 2017). "Plowshares' Megan Rice, Michael Walli discuss nuclear weapons, civil disobedience:Activists documented in 'The Nuns, The Priests, and The Bombs' by Helen Young". National Catholic Reporter. Archived from the original on October 15, 2019. Retrieved October 15, 2019.
  35. ^ "Georgetown University Faculty Directory". Retrieved October 21, 2021.
  36. ^ Sargent, Carole (2022). Transform Now Plowshares : Megan Rice, Gregory Boertje-Obed, and Michael Walli . Liturgical Press. ISBN 978-0814637227.
  37. ^ "Transform Now Plowshares". Liturgical Press. Retrieved October 21, 2021.
  38. ^ a b OTTESEN, KK (2019). ACTIVIST. [S.l.]: CHRONICLE. ISBN 978-1452182773. OCLC 1085981503.
  39. ^ Cutler, Jaqueline (October 10, 2019). "How activists are made and why they go against the grain". New York Daily News. Archived from the original on October 18, 2019. Retrieved October 17, 2019.
  40. ^ Greene, Dana (May 24, 2017). "Reviving the nuclear arms consciousness". National Catholic Reporter. Archived from the original on October 18, 2019. Retrieved October 17, 2019.