By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Unless you watch Fox News Channel, which has run a story on the Protest Warriors, or listen to Rush Limbaugh or KLIF-AM's resident right-winger Glenn Beck, you probably have never heard of Protest Warrior. Nationally, there are only 8,000 members, most of whom have signed up on the group's Web site but have not participated in an "operation," like the one at Halliburton or last week's counterprotest during the Republican National Convention in New York City.
Many work in the Internet and computer software business; some even work in government cubicles. They're married, have kids, grew up with family in the military. For many of them, Protest Warrior serves as an outlet for business and social networking. "It's kinda cool to meet other conservatives who are fired up about what they believe in and willing to defend it," Taylor says.
Their leaders are Alan Lipton and Kfir Alfia. The 30-year-old Alfia moved to Dallas from Israel when he was 2; his father is in the diamond business. He and 29-year-old Lipton grew up together, attending Hebrew school at Akiba Academy and then J.J. Pearce High School before going their separate ways--Alfia to the University of Texas at Austin, Lipton to Syracuse University and then to the University of Southern California to study film. When they were in their teens, both men now say, they read such libertarian writers as Friedrich Hayek and Ayn Rand, as well as conservative publications like The National Review. They gulped down talk radio.
They were reunited in February 2003 in San Francisco, where Alfia was working as a computer-chip designer. Lipton went to visit his old friend, and with two other buddies they crashed a February 16 anti-war protest. Alfia carried a sign featuring a woman in a burqa tied to a pole, a leash around her neck; the sign read, "Protest Islamic Property Against Western Imperialism. SAY NO TO WAR!" Lipton's said, "Saddam Only Kills His Own People. IT'S NONE OF OUR BUSINESS!"
On February 17, they were on Limbaugh's radio show describing how they'd been met with shouts and spit--"so much hate," Alfia says now. Limbaugh posted pictures they had taken at the protest on his Web site. They had Rush's blessings, and what began as a lark grew into a movement.
Last summer Alfia and Lipton moved to Austin, which is now Protest Warrior's headquarters. They like the city, Lipton says, for its "conservative economics and liberal culture." There are active chapters all across the state--the Houston chapter boasts 140 members; Austin claims 124--and across the country. The group's Web site, www.protestwarrior.com, shows tiny chapters in such faraway places as Jerusalem, London and Tokyo.
Lipton and Alfia acknowledge they are extremists confronting other extremists. They claim as their enemies not "moderate liberals," but such leftist "fringe" groups as International A.N.S.W.E.R., which organized the November 2002 anti-war march in Washington, D.C., and had a large presence in the New York protests last week. The group's initials stand for "Act Now to Stop War and End Racism," but according to reports in Salonand the L.A. Weekly, among others, A.N.S.W.E.R. is also a front for the Marxist Workers World Party, which supports Fidel Castro and the abolition of private property and has heaped praise upon the likes of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il.
"They're robots: 'Halliburton, corporations are bad. Bush lies,'" Lipton says. "They can't talk any idea, any philosophy, any ideology. I just continue to be amazed at how bankrupt they really are. And I know they're a fringe, but I would say, moderate Democrats, just remember, they are your base. They are what happens when you take the principle of the left all the way."
Typical of the Protest Warriors' membership are Dallas chapter member Bill Garrett, a 44-year-old computer software salesman, and 29-year-old Paul Harrold, an engineering and environmental consultant. Before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Garrett considered himself a "Lieberman liberal" and a CNN man. But after he found the Fox News Channel and Bill O'Reilly, Garrett realized he was becoming a conservative, especially if that meant supporting the war on terror and, especially, overthrowing Saddam Hussein.
"To be honest, what made me start doing this is the hate I see coming from the left," he says. "...Every time you turn on the TV, someone's bashing Bush. I almost considered myself a liberal till I heard all the hate coming from the left. I get on the Internet and research all these groups, and I found out their money's coming from the Workers World Party, and the more I learned about them, it made me mad. I decided to do something, and I stumbled across Protest Warrior, and I was like, 'Hey, this sounds like something I wanna do.'"
At this moment, Garrett and Harrold sit in the American Airlines terminal at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, waiting to board a flight for New York City. It's the day before the August 29 United for Peace and Justice march in Manhattan, an anti-war protest scheduled to take place the day before the Republican National Convention begins.