Thousands demonstrate against Iraq war in D.C.

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Times Staff Writers

In the first major antiwar demonstration in the nation’s capital since January, several thousand protesters marched from the White House to the Capitol on Saturday, carrying signs and chanting slogans demanding an end to the Iraq war and the impeachment of President Bush.

A smaller group conducted a counter-demonstration to support the president and the war, leading to some heated confrontations. But the event was mostly peaceful -- until more than 100 protesters jumped barriers around the Capitol and were arrested on the building’s steps late in the day.

The rally was organized by the ANSWER Coalition, which stands for Act Now to Stop War & End Racism. It was timed to follow congressional testimony earlier in the week by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and President Bush’s address to the nation Thursday about the war.


“We wanted to have as much impact on the congressional debate as possible,” said coalition volunteer Anne Wilson.

The day’s events began in front of the White House with a morning rally that included a man dressed as Santa Claus holding a sign that read “Coal for Bush and Cheney”; a mock coffin for a fallen Marine; and speakers including former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan and former Atty. Gen. Ramsey Clark.

“Nothing is going to stop this machine but to impeach Bush and his gang and bring the troops back home,” Clark said.

A group called Iraq Veterans Against the War organized the mass “die-in” in front of the Capitol to memorialize the Iraqis and American troops who have died since the invasion.

“The Iraqi people do not see us as peacemakers. They see us as occupiers and murderers,” said Garett Reppenhagen, a member of the Iraq Veterans Against the War. The 32-year-old from Colorado, who said he served as a sniper in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, was among those arrested at the Capitol.

About 1,000 volunteers who signed up for the die-in were warned that they might be arrested while lying in front of the Capitol. On the forearm of each volunteer, organizers wrote a phone number to call if they were incarcerated.


“We want to keep track of everyone,” said Ian Thompson of Los Angeles, one of the protest organizers.

About 5,000 people lay down for the die-in, Thompson said, and none was arrested. But when the crowd became rowdier, officers pepper-sprayed many of the protesters and started making arrests, he said.

The marchers “were met with a huge police presence. Obviously, they’re very scared of an antiwar movement,” said Thompson, 32. Into the early evening, protesters continued to chant, “What do we want? Peace!” in front of the Capitol.

Among them was Jessica Ramirez of San Gabriel, a UCLA student who spent $500 on her trip to Washington because, she said, she wants to see more students mobilize against the war.

“It’s about doing something that you believe in,” Ramirez, 22, said as she sat on a ledge near the Capitol, chanting antiwar slogans.

In the morning, about a mile away, more than 1,000 people rallied on the National Mall in support of the war.


The counter-demonstration -- organized by the Gathering of Eagles, a group of Vietnam War veterans, and by the Washington chapter of the conservative group Free Republic -- lasted for more than three hours.

“Those who protest our troops, they no longer own the streets,” said retired Army Col. Henry J. Cook III, a former Special Forces national commander.

Kristinn Taylor, spokesman for Gathering of Eagles, said he refused to think of the consequences if the troops were to be taken out of Iraq. “Even though the parents have paid the price, they know the price of losing this war would be too much for any of us to bear,” he said.

Some counter-protesters said they were disgusted by the war protesters. Merrilee Carlson, chairwoman of Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission, called the protesters “despicable.”

“It dishonors our sons and daughters and goes against everything we live and die for,” said Carlson. Sgt. Michael C. Carlson, her son, died in Iraq on Jan. 24, 2005.