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Permanent Protest

Undeterred by peace, ANSWER stages its first postwar, antiwar rally: "Free Mumia-U.S. Out of Iraq!"

11:43 AM, Apr 18, 2003 • By DAVID HACKETT
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LAST SATURDAY the antiwar group ANSWER was scheduled to hold their first postwar protest in Washington at noon, but by 1:30 p.m. there was still little indication of any organized assembly in front of the White House at Lafayette Park.

In fact, two of the most prominent protesters were a pair of college-age kids holding signs in favor of expanding the war to Syria. A small crowd gathered to shout them down. A pair of middle-aged Arab men launched into a tirade against, Israel, Zionism, and Sharon. "Ariel Sharon created Hamas!" shouted one, who gave his name as "Jafar." He grew more heated: Sharon, he insisted, was a "world famous international killing man."

As Jafar grew louder and more frustrated, another group of elderly protesters passed by. Among them was Mairead Corrigan Maguire, winner of the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her involvement with the Northern Ireland conflict.

Why was she protesting? "To oppose the war which has been an invasion and occupation of Iraq," she responded with a lilting Irish brogue. "Wars don't work." When asked if the Iraqi people were suffering more today than they had been under Saddam's regime, she replied, uneasily, "They're . . . suffering."

A man calling himself "Randy" proudly waved a large U.N. flag nearby. How did he feel about the war, now that Baghdad had been liberated? "I still don't think it's a good idea. I cannot support being the aggressor," he said. Yet he admitted that he "would have supported" U.S. aggression had it been backed by the United Nations. His take on the destruction of Saddam's statue in Saddam City? "Staged. The tearing-down-statues story is a little bit too pat. The statue was across from the international press building. There were different [camera] angles in the international press, and actually a very small group of Iraqis was involved, " he explained.

By the time Randy had finished his treatise on press manipulation, the park was almost empty. The big ANSWER march would be passing by soon, and the police were preparing to close off the park. Organizers had no doubt hoped to direct the crowds into the park itself, but the police were one step ahead of them. They had erected high metal fencing around Lafayette square and quickly secured the perimeter before the march arrived.

The anti-Syria duo, Adam Phillips and Elliot Zweig, relocated to the corner of Sixteenth and H streets, which gave them a better vantage point for the march (their signs: "End Baath Rule in Syria" and "Let's Get Syria-s About War"). There was tension in the air as they waited. "Watch out," a passing DC policeman shouted to them, "it's a violent crowd!" A few police cars drove by, giving them yells of support and thumbs-up signals. Then, with thudding bongo drums as their herald, the ANSWER marchers arrived.

The peaceniks proved not violent so much as ill-mannered. An old woman spat at Phillips and Zweig. "Bunch of racist f---ers!" yelled an overgrown hippie. "Fascism will go nowhere!" said another. A man wearing a Not in Our Name shirt barked, "Sieg heil!" A large group marched by chanting, "What do we want? PEACE! When do we want it? NOW!"

The antiwar placards were silly, too. "ABC sucks, CBS sucks, CNN sucks, NBC sucks, Fox News really sucks," proclaimed one. "Who would Jesus bomb?" asked another. "Dream of Peace" commanded another. And there was the obligatory "Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, US Out of Iraq."

A few feet away, a crowd of protesters gathered for a mass clap-and-chant circle. "Somebody! Please, elect George Bush!" they repeated ad nauseam, slowly changing "elect" to "arrest" and finally to "impeach." Which is when the police arrived and things began to get a little touchy.

"The whole world is watching!" screamed a dozen grubby protesters as they formed a human chain to block police motorcycles. The police sighed and revved their engines. Ten minutes of prodding and pushing ensued, with one burly officer literally throwing them out of the way to clear a path. (It was unclear exactly why they decided to obstruct the police, whose chief concern was to contain the march and funnel it along the designated route.)

Regardless, it wasn't really the Kent State some of the peaceniks seemed to be trying to provoke. Behind the line of police motorcycles stood a vendor with an ice cream and soda cart, selling refreshments to protesters in need of a pick-me-up.

David Hackett is an intern at The Weekly Standard.