Protestors Clash With Counter-Demonstrators Twice
By Jerry Garner
For most of the world, Saturday was St. Patrick’s Day, a day for wearing green, embracing Irish tradition, and perhaps sipping a few suds. For others, it was a day of protest against the war in Iraq and against President Bush in general. While demonstrations were staged around the world, the most notable was a group of 20,000 demonstrators that targeted the Pentagon in Washington, DC.
March 17 was not simply a day where the luck of the Irish touches us all. Saturday was also a day of anniversaries. It was the 4th year anniversary of the war in Iraq, a war that becomes increasingly unpopular as time wears on. Saturday also marked the 40th anniversary of an epic demonstration that protested the Vietnam war in 1967. The Vietnam protest is most memorable from images of hippies putting flowers into the barrels of soldiers’ rifles.
The two anniversaries, combined with escalating tensions about the war in Iraq, culminated in the large scale demonstration, which began at the National Cathedral and ended with a march to the Pentagon, headquarters of the US Military. The protest was noticeably smaller than January’s demonstration of 100,000 people, which included speeches by Congressmen and celebrities. Saturday’s war protest did muster 20,000 participants, however, making them a force that could have been difficult to control if tensions became too high.
As the anti-war protestors began their march from the cathedral to the Pentagon, they were initially confronted by a group of approximately 200 counter-demonstrators, who have been described as wearing “biker jackets” and shouting obscenities. The counter-protestors were Vietnam veterans who were merely protecting the Vietnam War Memorial, following rumors that protestors planned to vandalize the memorial with spray paint and water balloons filled with urine.
After passing the first group of counter-demonstrators with nothing other than harsh words exchanged, the anti-war protestors continued on to cross the Memorial Bridge, which would take the group past Arlington National Cemetery on the way to the Pentagon. At the cemetery a smaller group of around 50 counter-demonstrators greeted the protestors with a banner that read, “Go to hell, traitors. You dishonor our dead on hallowed ground."
The second group, although smaller in size, was certainly more aggressive than the group protecting the Vietnam War Memorial. Mounted police managed to keep the two groups separated, except for one girl who found herself in the midst of the counter-demonstrators and emerged in tears with her peace sign placard ripped to pieces.
Upon reaching the Pentagon, protestors were met by police wearing full riot gear and gas masks. It appeared that the protestors came prepared for action, as many gripped homemade plastic shields and some wearing gas masks of their own. As the two squared off, the police formed a shoulder to shoulder blockade across the street blocking the protestors from moving closer, and ordered the protestors to keep back.
Five of the protestors were arrested by the Pentagon Force Protection Agency for failure to obey a lawful order, after attempting to break through the police line. Across the city, an additional 200 protestors were arrested during a prayer vigil at the White House. No further arrests or injuries have been reported.
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