By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
UPJ organizers expect some 250,000 participants. The Protest Warriors will be there, too, hoping to confront the marching masses with 200 of their own sign-swingers.
"The left has a monopoly on protesting," Harrold says. "They're the only ones in the news, and it's portrayed like it's the view of the majority. It's not. It's just that the right tends to be silent and not get too loud about what they believe in."
The next day, Harrold and Garrett and the rest of the Protest Warriors will fight their own battle in the streets of Manhattan.
"I wanna be there," Garrett says. "I think it's just gonna be crazy."
As people file in, from Houston and Fort Worth and New Jersey and California, they head toward the donated buffet of sandwiches and cookies and soft drinks and water bottles.
The out-of-towners have come because they're converts to the cause of conservatism, because they believe the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq is just whether or not Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction; because they support Bush's tax cuts; because they believe in small government, even though Bush has grown the government more than any president since Lyndon Johnson; and because they have family who served in the military or are still on active duty. The Protest Warriors believe they're keeping the United States safe from anarchist infiltrators who would turn the country into "the Soviet Union, where we would be shipped off to the gulag instead of having our signs torn down," says 27-year-old New York chapter leader Tom Paladino.
"The fact we are outnumbered 1,000-to-one really works to our advantage in a lot of ways," Paladino says. "We can highlight how threatened they are by such a small group of people...They hacked our Web site this week, and they tear down our signs...and us having a small number really brings that to the forefront how oppressive these people are, how prone to tyranny they are and how threatened they are by any dissenting opinion."
Some have come here because "it's our summer-camp trip," says Sergio Kadinsky, a 20-year-old Russian sporting a yarmulke. Kadinsky came to the States in 1992 "for freedom," he explains. "America's a lot better than that other country where I used to live, and that's what many people of the leftist hooligan crowd don't realize. My family lived under 50 years of that stuff, and we've seen it fail." Kadinsky became involved with the Warriors after being a pro-Zionist protester on the campus of City College of New York-Harlem. "They got Jews on the other side, too, of course," he says. "Very divided group of people. But we're a very divided country."
At 6 p.m., Alfia, Lipton and Paladino gather about 80 Warriors around a map of the protest route.
"Tomorrow, 200,000 freedom-haters are coming to spit on the Statue of Liberty," Lipton shouts. He is the firebrand of the organization, the one who sounds like a street-corner evangelist. Alfia runs the Web site and the store, where they sell T-shirts and posters and mugs--enough, he insists, to keep the Warriors afloat. There have been rumors on the Web that right-wing businessmen fund them. They insist those are lies promulgated by the same anarchist groups that hacked their site and posted the personal information of the Warriors' membership, including the address of this very meeting.
Paladino explains to the group that the New York Police Department is "sympathetic to what we're doing" but warns there will be arrests if things turn violent. He and Alfia caution against throwing a punch, even if provoked.
The Protest Warriors do not consider themselves agitators, insisting they are nonviolent unless met by violence. They claim they are not looking for a fight, only to engage in debate. Their critics insist they're blowing smoke and fanning the flames.
"Right to left, left to right, when you intrude upon someone else's event you are asking for a confrontation, not a debate," says Columbia journalism professor Todd Gitlin, who, as former president of Students for a Democratic Society, organized the first Vietnam War protest in March 1965. "When you enter into an emotionally charged arena in a pugnacious spirit you get a fight, not a debate. They will be martyrs and heroes. That sounds like pure political combat. The slogan 'Protest Warrior' is an interesting one. Is it that they are warriors or protesters?...It's another gimmick for belligerent right-wingers."
On the rooftop, Paladino points out where the Warriors will crash the United for Peace and Justice march. He also points out the emergency fallback position, should they get separated if there's an incident.
"There will be 200,000 of them and 200 of us," Alfia says. "Sounds like a fair fight." He smiles.