Bush passes protest site near ranch

No contact with mother of Iraq war casualty

August 13, 2005|By Warren Vieth | Warren Vieth,LOS ANGELES TIMES

CRAWFORD, Texas - President Bush passed within 100 feet today of the roadside encampment where the mother of an Iraq war casualty was inviting him to stop and talk, but his motorcade passed by the protest site without making contact.

The fleeting encounter between the president's entourage and the anti-war assembly organized by Cindy Sheehan occurred near Bush's Prairie Chapel Ranch, where he and first lady Laura Bush are spending a five-week summer vacation.

On their way to a Republican fundraising event at a neighbor's ranch about three miles away, the Bushes passed directly by Camp Casey - the tent camp named after Sheehan's son, a 24-year-old Army mechanic who was killed in action in Iraq.

Although she met briefly with Bush after her son's death in April 2004, Sheehan has said she wants to talk to the president again about her objections to the war. She began her vigil last Saturday and has said she'll stay in Crawford until Bush meets with her or returns to Washington in early September.

As the president and first lady rode by shortly after 11 a.m. in a black Suburban sports utility vehicle with dark tinted windows, Sheehan held up a sign asking, "Why do you make time for donors and not for me?" Sheehan, of Vacaville, Calif., was joined by several dozen activists who stood behind a cordon of yellow police tape inside the triangular grassy median at the intersection of three country roads several miles west of Crawford. Facing them were at least a dozen Texas state troopers and county sheriff's officers.

Other demonstrators carried signs saying "Iraq Is Arabic For Vietnam" and "Bring Them Home Now." Some activists flashed peace symbols with their hands or held small white wooden crosses bearing the names of Iraq war casualties.

Along the roadside were hundreds of similar crosses and a growing number of tents and banners erected in recent days by Sheehan supporters, including other families of war casualties. One sign said, cryptically, "Republican Headquarters."

Organizers said as many as 300 activists have arrived in Crawford, with more expected.

Participants said they were disappointed that the president had not stopped at the encampment. "It would have been nice if he had, but we didn't expect he would," said Lietta Rugar of Bay Center, Wash., as a security helicopter circled overhead.

After the motorcade passed by, the demonstrators attended a prayer service led by the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in New York.

On Thursday, Bush expressed sympathy for Sheehan and others like her but gave no indication that he planned to meet with her again. "She feels strongly about her position," Bush said. "And she has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America."

After yesterday's drive-by, the White House said Bush's views have not changed.

"The president made clear in his comments yesterday that he sympathizes with Ms. Sheehan," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. "He has met with Ms. Sheehan before, as he has with hundreds of military families. The pain of those who have lost loved ones is shared by the president and the American people."

The Bushes spent more than two hours at the fundraising event organized by the Republican National Committee and held at the Broken Spoke Ranch, owned by Stan and Kathy Hickey of Crawford. They were joined at the event by political adviser Karl Rove.

Inside a large air-conditioned tent decorated in a Western motif, the Bushes and about 200 RNC donors ate lunch. The event was expected to generate about $2 million in contributions.

On the way back to the president's ranch, the motorcade passed by Camp Casey a second time.

Gold Star Families for Peace, one of the groups sponsoring Sheehan's anti-war effort, said it had paid $15,000 for TV ads that would begin running on Crawford cable channels near Bush's ranch. It said the ads ask Bush, "How many more of our loved ones need to die in this senseless war?"

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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