By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
On a Friday afternoon in late August they've come to this street corner to raise their signs and voices to protest the venal forces that would bring down the United States. They brandish placards and peace signs, and passing motorists wave back in agreement, offer their own gestures consisting of a single middle finger or ignore them. The demonstrators are mostly white men, ranging in age from 16 to mid-40s, and among their signs is one that reads, in part, "War never solved anything!"
For months this protest has been taking place in front of the Dallas offices of a company many Americans believe to be evil. With their signs and slogans the protesters stand on the front lawn of the corporation once run by Vice President Dick Cheney, Houston-based Halliburton Co., damned by Democrats for receiving billions in no-bid contracts for reconstructing Iraq.
But look closely at the signs. The one that says, "War never solved anything"? It says something just above that: "Except for ending slavery, fascism, Nazism & Communism..." And wait, what about those other signs they're holding? There's one with Osama bin Laden dressed as Uncle Sam. It reads, "Uncle Osama wants you to vote for John Kerry." There's another one with bin Laden on it: "Vote Kerry 2004 so I can kill your family." One says, "9/11 was just freedom of speech!" And another placard pleads, "Help! I'm surrounded by America-hating idiots!" And... waitaminute. That guy over there's wearing a T-shirt that reads--can this be right?--"I Halliburton."
What the hell?
Welcome to another Friday afternoon in the ongoing Operation Halliburton Defense Force being carried out by members of the Dallas chapter of a group of right-wingers called Protest Warrior. Their mission is to protest the protesters from the Dallas Peace Center who have been here since April to demonstrate againstHalliburton. The Warriors' ideology is a bit more labyrinthine, a smorgasbord of conservative and libertarian ideas sprinkled with activism more commonly associated with lefties. Their motto is crystal-clear: "Fighting the left...doing it right."
On this day they are at the corner of Webb Chapel and Belt Line roads to defend their president, his policies, his beliefs, his war. They are here to defend Halliburton and to confront the peaceniks, to tell them that bashing George W. Bush and the war hurts the morale of the troops serving in Iraq--that it's downright unpatriotic.
"My strongest thing is the defense of this country and our way of life," says 32-year-old Jason Taylor, the head of the Warriors' Dallas chapter, which claims to have 210 members. Taylor, a computer programmer, says his father served on Navy ships present during the testing of nuclear weapons in the 1950s, and that he had five uncles who fought during World War II. Like many of the Protest Warriors, Taylor bleeds red, white, blue and olive drab.
"One thing you'll find is they [the anti-war protesters] hold the American way of life, the freedoms we believe in that come out of the Judeo-Christian value system, to be on a morally equivalent plain with almost every other belief system in the world, like Communism," Taylor says. "I don't. I think the American way of life and our political system and the capitalism that drives it all is a beacon of hope for humanity."
Since April the Peace Center has been on the Halliburton lawn waving its own signs, bearing the familiar slogans that have echoed throughout the anti-Iraq War movement for two years: "No blood for oil," "War is not the answer," "Hoggiburton makes $$$$$ from the blood of our troops." Theirs is not a large group, some 20 people, most looking like color versions of black-and-white pictures lifted from 1960s textbooks. The 30 Protest Warriors mingled among their crowd don't look much different--maybe more pairs of cargo pants, certainly more "Terrorists for John Kerry" T-shirts.
Protest Warrior crashed the Peace Center's protest four months ago. At first, the Peace Center people believed they were on their side; the Warriors kept their signs hidden till the last possible moment. When they flipped them up, the anti-war demonstrators were confused; just what do those signs mean, anyway? Then it dawned on them that theywere being protested, and they became irate. Early on, there were allegations from both sides of threatening behavior. The Peace Center people say one of the Warriors jumped a curb in a pickup truck and tried to hit one of their demonstrators. The Warriors claim one of the Peace Center protesters pushed one of theirs into traffic. They agree on nothing.
"It's good Americans get so passionate about their beliefs and come out in the streets," says Hadi Jawad, who chairs the End the Occupation of Iraq Committee of the Dallas Peace Center. "We've been doing this for a long, long time in the peace movement, and it's just recently these folks have taken to the streets, so we welcome the opportunity to dialogue with them. But they're difficult people to talk to. Their ideas are very rigid. They're very narrow-minded, and we figured out very soon the reason why they're here is not to exercise their own First Amendment right to freedom of expression, but to somehow deny us ours."