By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
This morning, the Protest Warriors have received what they believe to be good news. Captain Woody Selover, part of the NYPD's task force created to deal with security for the convention, has informed the group it will have a police escort and be "inserted" into the parade. Selover explains that it's in the Protest Warriors' "best interest we protect 'em," and he will accompany the 30 officers assigned to the job.
"We jus' don't want you guys getting hurt by them or them getting hurt by you," he tells Paladino. "I'm not accusin' you of anything happening, but tempers flare."
"All we wanna do is flank them on the side," Lipton says. "We're just makin' a film of this whole thing."
"It's for a documentary," Paladino says. "This is what we do."
"Get my name spelled right," Selover says, grinning.
Selover says he expects no problems: Pro-choice activists confronted an anti-abortion rally the day before, and they were "received well; nobody bothered 'em," he says. "I expect that'll be the case today."
In about two hours, he will be proven wrong.
By 10:30, the cops have already arrived at the Warriors' headquarters, some on their sharp new Italian scooters purchased just for the convention. Two lieutenants stare at the Warriors' signs, among them placards that read, "End racism and sexism now! Kill all the white males!" and "Hey, criticizing Islamic slavery of Christian blacks is ethnocentric" and "Leftists for free speech! Now shut up you fascist conservatives!" and "Black children belong in black schools. Say no to school vouchers!" The latter features a Jim Crow-era photo of a black man drinking from a water fountain labeled "coloreds only." One cop looks to the other and asks, "What the hell do those signs mean? Whose side are they on, anyway?"
The officer isn't the first person to ask that.
Two days earlier, on Friday, Alfia and Lipton appeared on Unfiltered, one of the programs that air on the liberal talk radio network Air America. They thought the interview, with hosts Lizz Winstead and Rachel Maddow, had gone well. Winstead, who co-created The Daily Show, begs to differ. She says she found their message utterly confusing and dated, "silly and misguided nonsense" concocted by "angry young white men."
"I didn't really understand what their purpose was," she says. "Their signs are like they stepped in a time machine. 'Communism has killed a million people'? Honey, who here is advocating Communism? They weren't relevant to me on any of the issues...It's like being in a march and people holding up signs that said, 'Go home, women's libbers.' One of them said, 'We're about ironic sentiments.' I said, 'I created The Daily Show. Don't talk to me about ironic sentiment; I fucking invented it. There's nothing ironic about what you're doing. You're dressed as a hipster, but your message is a McCarthy holdover.' They really stumped us."
Shortly before 11, a Warrior dressed as Che Guevara strides down the sidewalk, surrounded by a handful of folks dressed in red "Communists for Kerry" T-shirts that are hard to make out from a distance. Joining them is a dead ringer for Vladimir Lenin and a stocky blond gentleman slipping into a Fidel Castro costume.
The man in the Castro outfit is 30-year-old Brian McCarthy, who moved from Ireland six years ago. Back then he was homeless, broke and apolitical. "And I ended up makin' it," says McCarthy, who now works in construction. "This country's been extremely good to me, and all I see from the left is they point out the bad things about America." He got involved with Protest Warrior last spring, when it crashed a March 20 anti-war rally in Manhattan.
"I thought their signs were very witty, and then I saw this group called Billionaires for Bush," McCarthy says, referring to anti-Bush pranksters and protesters who take to the streets in tuxedos and tiaras, brandishing signs that read, "Widen the Income Gap" and "Taxes are Not for Everyone."
"Well, they wanna malign the right and stereotype the right, and I thought I'd do the same thing to them, so we came up with Communists for Kerry," McCarthy says. "We're not actually saying John Kerry's a Communist. We're just trying to expose the link between extreme liberalism and the extreme left, which is Communism. A lot of them don't get the irony, and a lot of them don't like the fact that we're conservatives out there havin' a bit of fun and a bit of street theater. They get extremely angry. One gentleman told us, 'Get your Commie crap out of here. You're gonna make Kerry look bad, and they'll vote for Bush,' which is exactly what we want."
The group's been outside for two hours, and they're getting itchy to go; the protest's already snaking through Manhattan.
Alfia and Lipton decide it's time to move. They huddle their group and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, shouting the phrase "under God," before launching into chants of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" Someone shouts, "Let Operation Red Dawn commence!" and they begin their march. The Warriors who aren't holding signs carry video and still cameras to document the event for the film they will post to the Warriors' Web site.