Anti-war demonstrators ain't like they used to be.
Anti-war demonstrators ain't like they used to be.
Emily Piraino

Not the Usual Suspects

Charlie Collins wouldn't shut up about how much he hates Mexicans. A crowd within the crowd at Patriots Square Park downtown was gathering around and jeering him, despite the fact that he held a placard telling George W. Bush to: "Go Straight to Hell Instead of Iraq."

The 59-year-old Tucson developer told a TV reporter, "I'm here to tell you that the fucking INS is the cause of a lot of our problems in this country. They're letting these fucking people come over the border and overcrowd all our hospitals and schools, take jobs away from good Americans. I nearly killed a whole family of 'em as I was driving over to this peace rally. Ran right out in front of my car on Seventh Avenue."

The reporter gave up on trying to get the lifelong Republican (he cast his first presidential vote for Barry Goldwater in 1964) to talk about why he opposed a war in Iraq. He just scowled when she asked him if he thought the president should "give peace a chance before he resorts to armed intervention." The camera guy had stopped shooting film, but Charlie continued: "I mean, here's Bush doing absolutely nothing about these beaners turning us into a Third World country, and he wants to invade a Third World country. It'd make more sense to invade Mexico."

A couple of young anarchists standing nearby started yelling menacingly at Collins, and it looked for a minute like one of them might take his head off. You know how it is when you're a 21-year-old guy; you may be part of an organized anti-war group at a peace rally, but you'd like nothing better than to work off some testosterone by bashing in the skull of somebody who reminds you of your father. But just as the kid was about to make his move, Bill Mathers, a retired steel company executive who moved to Paradise Valley from Pittsburgh nine years ago, yelled from the back of the pack.

"That's right, you tell it like it is!"

The anarchists' attention was suddenly focused on Mathers, but the hotheaded one didn't see any point in punching out a geezer. Off to the side, Mathers, 74 (who was wearing a sandwich board with the president's head on a donkey's body on one side and the slogan "Somebody Should Whip Bush's Ass" on the other), said, "While Bush's busy planning his little war, he's letting our country go under economically. This war's going to play hell with the stock market. I can't tell you how much money I've lost already. I haven't voted for a Democrat since Harry Truman, but if I had it to do over, I'd vote for old what's his name [Al Gore]."

Charlie and Bill, who were sporting golf caps from exclusive Arizona country clubs, definitely ain't the usual suspects.

The likes of them were nowhere to be seen when rallies were held after all the votes were certified in Florida and Bush was finally declared president in 2001. The demonstrators at a rally in Los Angeles were mostly old hippies with granny glasses and gray pony tails, Communist party members and college kids. Guys like Collins and Mathers were giving the protesters the finger as they rode by in their cars. Until about a year ago, the peace rallies sprouting up in response to Duh!bya's war rhetoric also tended to attract that kind of crowd. But then, after 9/11, anti-war groups changed their strategy and started trying to attract ordinary Americans to their cause. Nuclear devastation/World War III scare tactics were back-seated by Peace Action and other anti-war groups, in favor of urging a cautious response to the terrorist attacks. A main theme was that counterattacking would spark more terrorism against America. It was even stressed that war is bad for the economy. The strategy seems to be paying off. Organizers of a protest last September 27 outside a fund raiser for Arizona gubernatorial candidate Matt Salmon that was attended by President Bush say demonstrators were a mix of college students, organized lefties, middle-class parents, homeowners and even hawkish conservatives uncomfortable with the idea that the United States might strike first against Iraq.

The Saturday morning crowd at Patriots Square Park, estimated by police at between 1,500 and 2,500, resembled the rabble at the recent Rolling Stones concert at America West Arena. Sure, there were a lot of young people there, but the majority were middle-aged-plus. Some of the gray-heads were university professors and grown-up hippies who protested the Vietnam War back in the day, but a surprising number were the very people who helped put poor, dumb Duh!bya in the White House.

Like Mathers, Richard Coleburn is rethinking that GOP vote nowadays. "When I read the administration's claims that people who don't support going into Iraq are a bunch of freeloading cowards, I get really pissed off," said Coleburn, 47, a roofing contractor from Prescott. "We should never do a first strike. There's no evidence that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with September 11. We're not supposed to start fights. I always supported [the war in] Vietnam, and we didn't do that then. That was a fight against Communists. This isn't the same kind of thing. If Bush goes into Iraq without [United Nations] approval, he should be impeached."

That he was standing next to a cadre of Communist party members who'd come over from L.A. really pissed him off. "They should be shot," he spat. "They're giving this [war protest] a bad name."

The Arizona Republic bannered an Associated Press story in its Sunday edition quoting U.N. sources saying that the U.S. and Britain might water down a draft resolution authorizing force against Iraq because of worldwide anti-war demonstrations. The day before the AP story appeared, on the same day as the downtown rally here, an estimated 400,000 people protested in New York and 750,000 protested in London. Could these unnamed sources be manipulating the public by leaking such a story to the mainstream press? Coleburn pretty much predicted such a propaganda move.

When asked if he thought anti-war demonstrations across the planet might get the administration's ear, he said, "Sure, they will come out with some bullshit that they're considering what American citizens think before they stick it up our asses."

According to recent polls, half of Americans favor a war with U.N. Security Council approval. The Republic reported in the Sunday paper that a poll it had conducted showed that almost half of Arizonans think we should attack Saddam even without sanction by the U.N.

If that happens, Phoenix rocket engineer Allan Ostling, 61, thinks Bush should be charged with crimes against humanity. "If you can impeach Bill Clinton for a peccadillo," he said at the downtown demonstration, "you can impeach Bush for war crimes."

Retired Scottsdale science teacher Bob Mier, who admitted sheepishly that he's traditionally voted Republican, carried a sign that read: "Inspections Work, War Won't." He and his wife, Sandy, a Paradise Valley special-education teacher, were among many at the rally who suggested that waging war on Iraq would have the opposite effect to what the president has suggested. "If Bush does what he wants to do," he said, "it will create more terrorist attacks." Sandy added, "What kind of legacy will [starting a war] be for our kids?"

Ann Timmer, 78, who attended the rally with six fellow Sun City residents ranging in age from 67 to 86, doubted that many women, no matter what their political persuasion, support invading Iraq. "This is an issue decided by men that affects women and children profoundly," she said. "Not only could this result in more terrorism, but women are the ones left behind to pick up the pieces when there's a war."

Vietnam veteran Bill Lord, 58, a maintenance supervisor for a Catholic church in Lake Havasu, said he doesn't discuss his belief that a war with Iraq is unconscionable with his Navy Seabee son. He complained that Bush, an evangelical Christian, is pursuing war with a religious fervor. "Bush's using [God] to justify the actions he wants to take."

It was a sentiment expressed by several at the rally. Said retired real estate agent Burt Kiecker of Scottsdale, "The fact that Bush is a born-again Christian is why he's so hell-bent. The Israel connection has been verboten in the news. [Bush] believes that the holy land is threatened, and it must be protected."

In last week's New Times, Tony Ortega wrote about a Phoenix religious group that's challenging pro-life evangelical churches to take a stand against the war. Ortega noted that evangelicals tend to support invading Iraq because they believe that wars in the Middle East are harbingers that Jesus Christ will soon return to Earth. A popular notion among such fans of biblical prophecy is that Saddam is the antichrist, and that he will build a one-world government from Babylon, the ruins of which are only 50 miles from Baghdad. It may seem far-fetched to think that the president, a Yale-educated Methodist, believes waging war against Saddam is the first step toward helping God bring about the end of the world, but Bush has enjoyed the support of millions of American evangelicals who like to think he does.

By any stretch, Saddam is no Great Satan, said Pete Slover, 71, a retired Scottsdale dentist. "He doesn't have weapons of mass destruction. How could he? We've been [isolating] him for 10 years. Starving his country." Slover was another demonstrator who said, "Israel's the real problem. [Israelis] think they are the favored people, but God doesn't have a favored people. The U.S. has been letting Israel murder Arabs and take their property for decades. If I were an Arab, I'd hate the United States, too. The guys who flew those planes [into the World Trade Center towers] were heroes. It was our backing of Israel that caused that."

Continuing in a religious vein, the Korean War vet said, "The problem is that George W. Bush thinks he's Jesus Christ and [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon thinks he's God when they're really more like Hitler."

Too bad for Bush that he can't load the war dissenters into boxcars bound for the camps, or imprison them in designated areas as the Israelis have done to their Arabs. He's been left with trying to persuade the mainstream press that there's no real protest movement in the United States, that the demonstrators are only an amusing gaggle of '60s retreads and naive kids. It was working for a while. Then along came Collins and Mathers and Coleburn and Slover which should get Duh!bya's attention, if he wants to get reelected next year.


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