Dueling Iraq protests

20,000, from 2 sides of war debate, mark 4th anniversary

March 18, 2007|By Faye Fiore and Adam Schreck | Faye Fiore and Adam Schreck,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- They started turning out before daybreak in the bitter cold. The anti-war demonstrators massed on the north side of the Lincoln Memorial chanting demands for peace now. The counter-protesters, fewer in number but no less vocal, gathered on the east side of the Vietnam Wall and shouted political taunts - many laced with obscenities.

"I got called a commie. A lot of middle fingers are going up. I try to respond with a peace sign," said Bethany Louisos, 19, who had driven from the University of Massachusetts with 10 friends in three cars through a snowstorm to join yesterday's march on the Pentagon.

"The last thing our troops need to see is the silliness going on here," Bob Chaney, 57, said, emotion in his voice. He is a former Marine who served one tour in Vietnam. He had flown in from Indianapolis to join the counter-protest because he believed the national monuments needed protection from vandals.

On the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as many as 20,000 people spilled into the heart of the nation's capital in a sometimes-tense demonstration that reflected a deepening anger on both sides of the war debate.

The most dramatic moment came when about 200 protesters tried to make their way up to the Pentagon, where security has been fortified since the Sept. 11 attacks.

They pushed past the boundaries of where they were legally permitted to assemble and were held back by a human barricade of police officers in gas masks and riot gear. Many of the protesters, most college age, seemed prepared for a confrontation. Some carried homemade plastic shields, and others wore gas masks or bandanas to protect their faces.

Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Joe Carpenter said five protesters were arrested, given citations and released.

The mile-and-a-half-long march from the Lincoln Memorial to the Pentagon was organized by a coalition of civil rights and peace groups called ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). It was patterned after a similar demonstration 40 years ago that marked a turning point in the anti-Vietnam war movement, with scenes of hippies stuffing flowers into soldiers' rifles and protesters clashing with police.

With recent polls showing that about three in five Americans believe the war was a mistake and do not support President Bush's push for increasing troop levels, protests have become more frequent.

Yesterday's was the second in Washington in six weeks. It drew fewer than the 100,000 who turned out in late January and lacked that one's celebrity-studded speakers' roster.

This one was notable for its angrier tone as protesters and counter-protesters faced off amid an odd mix of chants for peace and shouts of profanity.

The anti-war demonstrators started off across the Memorial Bridge toward Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon. They were greeted at the far end with a homemade banner: "Go to hell traitors."

While some of the rhetoric was radical, many of the participants were students and working people who traveled long distances to make their views known.

Some counter-protesters showed up because they were concerned by rumors that vandals planned to deface the Vietnam Wall with spray paint and urine-filled balloons.

Sgt. Robert Lachance of the U.S. Park Police said no memorials were defaced. His department made no arrests.

Angie Frederick, 43, drove from Angola, Ind., with her husband and future daughter-in-law in their nine-year-old Dodge. Her two sons are soldiers; one's just back from Iraq, and the other is still there. "There was a lot of cussing," she said, acknowledging somewhat sheepishly that she had joined in a little, then adding, "but we also sang the national anthem."

Lisa Olson, 37, a researcher at Columbia University in New York, shared a bus ride with a bunch of college students. She had never participated in a peace march before. "I always feel a little silly about these sorts of things, but it seems it really is a way to show we need a different course."

Some, like Maggie Johnson, a 35-year-old homemaker, gave up vacation days and paid the cost of staying in high-priced Washington to take part.

"It's worth it. We've been in Iraq longer than we were in World War II, and we've accomplished a heck of a lot less. It's time we wrap it up," she said.

Faye Fiore and Adam Schreck write for the Los Angeles Times.

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