President Bush might have made his peace with the antiwar encampment outside his Texas ranch, but his next-door neighbor has taken up arms.
The incident occurred Sunday morning as activists gathered for a prayer service in the tent village set up by Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq and who is demanding a meeting with Bush to discuss the war.
On the other side of Prairie Chapel Road, Larry Mattlage hopped into his pickup, barreled across his pasture and pulled up to a fence within a few hundred feet of the protesters. He climbed out of the cab, retrieved a shotgun from the back and fired at least one blast into the air.
Mattlage insisted he was shooting at birds. But he said the activists had worn out their welcome, and he wanted them to go away.
“I done made my case. It’s over,” he said as he shooed away a reporter from the gated entrance to his ranch.
The McLennan County Sheriff’s Department said Mattlage had broken no laws. A man has a right to fire a gun on his own property, the authorities said, as long as he didn’t point it at anyone or issue any threats.
Sheehan said her supporters were respecting Mattlage’s rights and would continue to assemble peaceably about two miles from the ranch where Bush is vacationing for five weeks. Only a meeting with the president would get them to go, she said.
Other neighbors expressed admiration for Mattlage’s one-man stand. “I wish I had the nerve to do something like that,” said Army Sgt. Vernon “Dusty” Harrison, who spent a year in Iraq and owns an adjacent property. “I salute his bravery.”
The White House declined to comment on the incident.
The inhabitants of Camp Casey, the activists’ tent village, said they were a bit shaken by Mattlage’s blast, but considered it more a clash of cultures than a declaration of war.
“This is Texas,” said Bill Phillips, 48, a New Orleans social worker who spent the night at the site. “I kind of expect people to fire a gun off now and then.”