Before she became known as the nun who committed an audacious act of peaceful protest by cutting fences, evading motion detectors and dodging armed guards to reach the inner sanctum of the nation's nuclear materials stockpile, Sister Megan Rice was just your average, everyday, run-of-the-mill 82-year-old Catholic activist at the Nevada Test Site.
The long-time peace activist moved to Nevada in 2005 to help the Nevada Desert Experience, a group that opposes nuclear and military activity at the test site. While she was living in Nevada, she was arrested several times and did an oral history for UNLV about her activism.
About two weeks ago, she and two other protesters turned up the volume on their activism by commiting a Plowshares Action, a more confrontational style of non-violent protest that usually involves grafitti or property damage, at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn. They painted slogans and splashed red paint on the walls of the building that holds most of the nation's nuclear weapon parts.
Rice -- who potentially faces more than a dozen years in prison -- very graciously declined an interview on the advice of her lawyer.
But her friend and colleague Jim Haber of the Nevada Desert Experience was able to talk a little bit about what she did. Too much of the media coverage has focused on the security implications of the protest, he said. Rice and the other two activists weren't trying to expose problems with military security.
"They were protesting the insecurity of nuclear weapons, not the insecurity of this facility," he said. "People are missing the point."
Haber choked up when he started talking about Rice's medical problems and the potential consequences of a long prison stay.
"It is just really inpsiring that she did this," he said. "She spent 30 to 40 years in Africa as a Sister of the Holy Child Jesus. She spent many years in Nigeria. I think being in the desert here was second-best to being in Africa. But she loved the people here."
Rice said she hopes to return to Nevada next month to take part in NDE's upcoming interfaith celebration of non-violence. You can meet her in person, where you'll find that she's more like Mahatma Gandhi than James Bond.