Hundreds of demonstrators crowded in front of the White House on Saturday, braving the sweltering midday heat to protest impending military strikes on Syria.
Antiwar protesters, many bearing yellow signs reading “War on Syria: Built on a Lie,” marched in front of the wrought-iron fence bordering the White House’s northern lawn, while inside President Obama prepared to make a statement on military intervention.
“They say more war, we say no more!” activists chanted, along with “Hey! Obama! Hands off Syria!”
A police officer estimated that at least 300 to 350 people had gathered, although the demonstrators were rather diverse and not all were opposed to military action.
Eighty-two-year-old Jennifer Ellingston, who helped found the left-wing D.C. Statehood Green Party in 1996, told TheDCNF that she was there to protest “the imminent intervention in another country by the empire, the policeman of the world.”
“In 2008, listening to Obama’s speeches, I said to a friend ‘You know, that man is sedated.’ It’s like the Manchurian Candidate,” she said.
“It’s not coming out of his head, it’s coming out of his script,” she continued. “Can’t you come up with some new adjectives? His vocabulary amounts to 500 words.”
Ellingston carried a sign quoting Martin Luther King: “The United States is the largest purveyor of violence in the world.” She said she used the identical quotation over forty years previously while protesting the Vietnam War.
About twenty minutes after the rally’s midday start, a contingent of about 75 pro-intervention protesters, most apparently of Syrian origin, came up alongside the anti-intervention demonstrators.
With chants of “Down with Bashar Assad,” “Free Syria” and “Long Live the Revolution,” they sought to drown out the antiwar slogans.
“We are standing with the Syrian people, with the Syrian children who were killed with the chemical weapons,” said Samir Nasher, a Syrian doctor from Aleppo who has lived in the United States for the last 12 years.
“We support the president,” he told TheDCNF. “We think the United States, as the leader of the free world, they should take action to make sure people do not use internationally-outlawed chemical weapons.”
“We are not asking for American people to go die in Syria, the Syrian people don’t want a foreign army to come on their land or bombard their land,” he said. “But they have no choice.”
A smaller group of antiwar protesters sought to distance themselves from other, largely left-wing, demonstrators. They carried signs like “Anti-war Republican” and “Only Congress Has the Authority.”
“I’m here as an antiwar Republican,” said Kaelee Pines, “who didn’t vote for Obama, but at least had hope that we would end all of our presence overseas, as promised by him.”
“The international community has recognized that this is not an action that would benefit their countries or their people,” she told The DCNF, referencing the British parliament’s refusal to back military strikes. “We should maybe follow suit and maybe think about what we’re doing and have the discussion with Congress, have House leadership call them back to discuss the actions.”
J.B. Brown, an Iraq war veteran who saw action in downtown Baghdad in 2009 and 2010, agreed.
“I believe that this proposed war is a horrible idea, both for the Syrian people and the American people,” he said. “I think that Obama should live up to his campaign promises from the first time around — when he actually believed in something maybe — and realize that he doesn’t get to be king. He has to go to Congress in order to go to war.”
“If he does commit the United States military to another war without going to the Congress,” he told TheDCNF, “I believe that would be an impeachable act, and I would hope that House leadership from a Republican, liberty side would move in that direction.”
The demonstration turned violent at one point, with an antiwar protester allegedly assaulting a Syrian supporter of military action. The police arrested the assailant and briefly questioned the victim.
Worried about further bloodshed, park police rode horses between the competing demonstrations in order to prevent the two sides from clashing. They also cordoned off both sides of the protest with iron police barricades.
Speaking in the Rose Garden while the protests raged outside, President Obama confirmed his decision to respond militarily to the Syrian government’s recent chemical attack, which he called “an assault on human dignity.”
He also indicated that he would seek Congressional approval for any strikes, a move that was met with praise by House Republican leadership.
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