Veterans from all over the country gathered at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Sunday morning to protest the closure of the memorials during the partial government shutdown, throwing barricades placed in front of the memorials aside in heaps.
Organized by Brats for Veterans Advocacy, the Million Vet March on the Memorials drew in a crowd of vocal veterans fed up with the federal government’s shutdown decisions waving enormous American and “Don’t Tread On Me” flags and signs.
“I’m totally, thoroughly disgusted in our government’s decision to close these monuments,” said retired Army Green Beret Mike Freeman, who served in Vietnam.
Retired Master Sergeant Jim Hanson also expressed his anger with the closures, telling The Daily Caller that veterans have every right to visit memorials erected in their honor.
“It’s a disgrace to close this memorial,” Hanson said, indicating the World War II memorial. “It cost more to close it than to let the veterans pay their respects. The government is not in charge of keeping people out of monuments that were put here in their own honor.”
An African-American vet who asked to remain unnamed was dismayed that patriotic commemorations were caught in partisan crossfire and that more black veterans were not joining in the protest.
“I think that things are getting bad when they can find the money to fund academy football teams but can’t find the money to give to widows and dead soldiers’ families. That’s just wrong,” he said. “My only regret is that there’s not a lot more black veterans here today. It’s not a black or a white thing, it’s not a Republican or a Democrat thing — it’s a right or wrong thing. I’m here today because it’s the right thing to do.”
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee and Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz all made appearances to thank the vets for their service and rail against the Obama administration and the closure of the memorials.
Cruz later blamed Democrats for the ongoing impasse over the partial government shutdown, criticizing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for striking down legislation meant to fund normal functions of government but strip funding from Obamacare.
“I think the Democrats are trying very hard to change the subject, because they don’t want to discuss the fact that House Republicans have repeatedly voted to fund vital government priorities and President Obama and the Democrats refused to negotiate, refused to compromise for weeks,” Cruz told The Daily Caller. “Legislation that would open every memorial, every federal park has been sitting on Harry Reid’s desk. He refuses to allow the Senate to vote.”
Cruz quickly pivoted back to Obamacare.
“Democrats don’t want to talk about, much less defend Obamacare,” he told TheDC. “Because it isn’t working. Millions of Americans are hurting, so every other discussion the Democrats are trying to have is to try to change the subject from what the American people want, which is we want our government funded and we want to stop the enormous harm Obamacare is causing to millions of Americans.”
U.S. Park Police stood by at first as tractor trailers from the Ride for the Constitution drove around the National Mall, surveying the scene.
“We’ve all got to be smart,” one officer told TheDC. “I’m just glad people are here using their First Amendment rights.”
But police soon began to block the streets, drawing in an angry crowd of veterans and their supporters to chanting and shouts of “Unblock the road!” and “We pay your salary!” A man in a white Buick angrily got out of his car and began challenging one of the protestors, but police separated them before blows could be exchanged. No one was arrested or taken into custody.
A convoy of police trucks prevented the tractor trailers from circling the National Mall. The crowd’s reaction was mixed — some mocked the officers, while others amiably chatted with them. A portion of the crowd broke off from the rest and headed towards the White House, chanting “shame on you” once they reached it.
Veterans piled a heap barricades they carried from the war memorials in front of the White House. Another U.S. park police officer told TheDC the protestors were not permitted to gather in front of the White House and said the situation “would be addressed.”
This story is developing.
Jake Harris and Whitney Waters contributed to this report.