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16:18

Notable Narrative: “The Prophets of Oak Ridge”

Our latest Notable Narrative: “The Prophets of Oak Ridge,” Dan Zak’s 9,448-word Washington Post project—and, as of this morning, e-book—about a house painter, a drifter and an 82-year-old nun who breached the perimeter at the Y-12 National Security Complex, which produces nuclear weapons in East Tennessee. We’ll be hosting a live chat with Zak about the multimedia project this Thursday at 11 a.m., so please join us. David Beard, the Post‘s director of digital content, will also be with us, to talk about what the staff learned from producing two big digital projects back to back.

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Photo by Linda Davidson, courtesy Washington Post

The story: The activists wanted to make their point with fence cutters, graffiti, protest songs, and the thawed blood of a colleague who died in 2008 but hoped to “join” one last mission. Zak tells their story but also that of Oak Ridge, Tenn., built by the federal government as a bomb-making town. “Though you haven’t needed a badge to get into the town since 1949, Oak Ridge’s soul hasn’t changed,” he writes. “It’s still a company town, and the company is the government, and the business is bombs.” The facility housed “enough radioactive material to fuel over 10,000 nuclear bombs, which would end civilization many times over,” material used in warheads renovation programs that could take 25 years and cost $20 billion. The activists, who were convicted last week of injuring the national defense and damaging government property, each took different paths into custody. There’s riveting writing in Zak’s tale—

The lights of the Antichrist flickered through the trees.

The drifter prayed.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. For all the glory is yours, and on the last day Jesus will come like this, like a thief in the night, and the warmongering United States will fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy by beating its swords into plowshares.

He had duct-taped the head of his flashlight to reduce the beam to a sliver. On the downward slope of Pine Ridge, he moved in front of the nun, clearing branches and stones from her path. He was just a frail earthen vessel, he believed, but she was a daughter of God. He was her bodyguard.

On his head was a construction hat painted light blue, with “UN” marked on the front. On his breath was the stink of Top brand tobacco. In their backpacks, he and the nun carried twine, matches, candles, a Bible, three hammers, six cans of spray paint, three protest banners, copies of a letter they wished to deliver to Y-12 employees and two emblems of sustenance — a packet of cucumber seeds and a fresh-baked loaf of bread with a cross molded into the top.

And six baby bottles of human blood.

—and the presentation is beautiful, clean and striking. The Post ran the story on its website magazine style. Illustrations depicted the break-in, and still photos and a slideshow worked as secondary art. The 14 chapter titles alone tell a story: “Mission,” “‘…and the Earth Will Shake’” and “Sabotage.” Have a read, and join us back here on Thursday, to talk about how this project came together.

 

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