Peace Park 1999

Hiroshima Surprise
(The Nazis Take Over, Summer 1999)

On Friday, August 6, 1999 ("Hiroshima Day"), Judge Kennedy of the U.S. District Court told Thomas, who was trying to stop the police from evicting him from his traditional vigil site so Nazis and anti-Nazis could face off with 1,500 police officers between, that he didn't want to "second-guess the security experts," thus approving a new phase of police encroachment on the First Amendment. So early Saturday morning, August 7th, Thomas loaded up his "Wanted Wisdom & Honesty" sign and, for the first time in the history of the vigil, removed it from the park because of another demonstration. This was a very disturbing precedent. See "Day of the Nazis."

As it turned out, Thomas was right when he told the judge there was no reason to worry; the only Nazi to show up was our old nemesis, "Zeus," who was swift to take over the site where Concepcion Picciotto's signs traditionally stand. Concepcion felt forced to obtain a permit to protect her from this "Europagan."

Things have a way of working themselves out, though, at least for a time. By December, "Zeus" had gone into hiding. One police officer asked the vigilers if they knew his whereabouts after he assaulted someone in an alley. "Bad karma," someone was heard to remark. "You don't have to do anything yourself; God and time'll do it for you." Unfortunately, he got away with the assault, and returned to harass and assault others in 2000 ... but that's another story.

NATO Spring

The last time the Park Service ordered the vigilers to move was during the NATO 50th Anniversary in Washington, D.C., which prompted an armed police camp the weekend of April 23-25, 1999.

In March, 1999, NATO had begun bombing Serbia. Immediately demonstrations began outside the White House on a daily basis, mostly opposing the bombing, but occasionally in favor of it. Those who favored the bombing sometimes were less than friendly.

On Friday, April 23, 1999, Thomas held the peace line in Lafayette Park and was arrested for not moving from his normal spot. He stood between signs that read Depleted Uranium Keeps On Killing and "Bill Clinton says: 'Solve differences with words, not guns' - Stop Bombing". Meanwhile, Albanians chanted "Bomb! NATO BOMB!" nearby in the park, and the Citizens Summit called for denuking NATO on the other side of the White House.

Later that afternoon police did nothing but order the victim out of the park when a nonviolent "Stop Bombing" advocate dressed up as Uncle Sam was beaten by some of the Albanian demonstrators, many of whom were wrapped in American and Kosovan Liberation Army flags. "They're lucky the flag amendment hasn't passed," Thomas says.

The Cost

The prosecutors refused to prosecute. So all that it cost was Thomas' sign and considerable time. When the Nazi un-event happened later in the summer, however, the police security exercise cost the city millions of dollars, and cost local businesses untold amounts. We're hoping this will wake people up to the need to put a halt to police and media over-reaction.

Other News

1999 was interesting, issues coming to a slow boil. Every weekend, except in rain or snow, "Impeach" enthusiasts appeared, with dog or donkey, to call for the impeachment of either Clinton or Starr. On Saturday, February 20, 1999, there was a first of sorts: SEVEN separate, swirling, chanting, singing, harmonious -- but SEPARATE -- demonstrations, simultaneously sharing Pennsylvania Avenue and its two sidewalks. Catholic Workers circled clockwise on the White House sidewalk and sang sorrowful prayers for Iraqi children suffering and dying under U.S.-enforced sanctions. Serbs, carrying striped flags and signs calling for "Peace Not Bombs," circled counter-clockwise to the east, in the center of Pennsylvania Avenue. Irish in green circled clockwise in the center of Pennsylvania Avenue, protesting U.S. funding and FBI training of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland. Nestled between these were two men with signs "Impeach Starr." At the edge of Lafayette Park a woman named Mary sat with a sign accusing the CIA; dead-center opposite the White House Concepcion Picciotto painted peace rocks at her "Live By the Bomb, Die By The Bomb" landmark peace and justice vigil; and Peace Park Antinuclear Vigilers circulated fliers and petitions at the "Stop Selling Weapons and War" and "Convert the War Machines" signs. Police cruisers parked to the west, Park Service jeeps and a street sweeping truck passed between the demonstrations, tourists snapped photos, two Catholic Workers were arrested within a small zone mapped out by cruisers and yellow police tape, while Serbs and Irish kept chanting their own messages, then the groups broke up and eventually all but the vigilers went home. This scenario has been repeated (with slight variations) every Saturday at noon ever since.

* October 6, 1999, the Columbus Dispatch featured the vigil, and October 8, 1999 the Washington Times published a letter to the editor from one of the vigilers.

* A March 14, 1999 Reuters print story about the vigil, while excellent, failed to include an important clip from the TV version filmed on March 9th by Teri Schultz. Her lead, omitted from the wire service article, noted that "President Clinton has more in common with the long-term vigilers in Lafayette Park than the address, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They too have been on the receiving end of Judge Kenneth Starr's attention." If you're interested in hearing that story, email Thomas.

Unfortunately, so far the video version of the story hasn't been shown. It was spiked by producers after Delegate Norton's office refused to give Teri an interview about the bill. At a meeting with Eleanor Holmes Norton on April 5, 1999, Ms. Norton expressed shock that a reporter had been refused an interview, and promised to re-introduce the "Nuclear Disarmament and Economic Conversion Act."

We're happy to announce that she did this, with great style, on July 16, 1999, giving a press conference on July 30th at which Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) announced she was and would continue to be a co-sponsor, and Marcus Raskin (Institute for Policy Studies), Mary Olson (Nuclear Information and Resource Service), Bob Tiller (Physicians for Social Responsibility), John Steinbach (Veterans for Peace), and Bruce Hall (Peace Action) all gave glowing speeches of support. On August 4th, Admiral Eugene Carroll of Center for Defense Information spoke at a Radiation Survivors press conference at the National Press Building, calling for the same abolition of nuclear weapons and conversion of the war machines that HR-2545 seeks to attain.

Notable Events:

* Vieques

We feel close solidarity with those citizens of Vieques, Puerto Rico, who have been holding a continuous vigil to stop the U.S. military from using their island as a bombing range. Their efforts began getting world attention thanks to the hard work of those holding down the tents, and the work of those in Washington DC who are arranging very effective, frequent demonstrations at the White House, and lobby days on Capitol Hill.

* Kosovo Bombing

An impartial assessment of the NATO/Serb/Kosovar conflict begins from the premises that all human beings are members of the human race, and concepts of ethnicity are merely shortsighted, ego-centric misperceptions of reality. Nearl daily two sides to the conflict have popped up during the NATO air strikes (sometimes at the same time). The Albanians were chanting "U.S.A.!!" and "Send the ground troops in!!" -- which led one bystander to shout back, "You want ground troops? You're Kosovan? Put on a uniform and fight your own war!" [Thomas provides an analysis of the two sides.]

Iraq Sanctions

Since the current Iraq crisis began in February 1998, the Catholic Workers, Pax Christi, and others have held weekly prayer vigils every Friday at noon. These vigils continue, they say until sanctions have been lifted from Iraqi civilians. During spring 1999, the vigils have expanded to Saturdays, as well as Fridays, and call for an end to bombing of Yugoslavia, as well.


We have been talking with many Chinese people recently, who are pouring out from behind their Iron Curtain to find out the truth of Western society much as the Russian tourists did in the 1980's. This seems a hopeful sign. It's also useful: one visitor was a nuclear engineer, in DC to prepare for the upcoming sale of nuclear power plants to China. When asked if he knew about all the nuclear accidents, the engineer looked surprised. "What accidents?" he asked, and was told where to find information on our website. In August, 1999, China promised to be the first to sign an Asian nuclear-weapons-free-zone treaty. We're also seeking confirmation of a report that they have halted production of nuclear power plants.

* Letter to Editor, Washington Post, August 8, 1999

Re: "Neo-Nazis Bow Out of March" By Sylvia Moreno, Spencer S. Hsu and Sewell Chan, August 8, 1999

I was disappointed that Mr. Chan's late-night phone interview Friday evening was not included in today's article about the Neo-Nazi no-show. I had called the Post earlier Friday to express concern about the forced removal of the 18-year anti-nuclear vigil from its traditional site outside the White House in Lafayette Park, the first time the vigilers have ever been forced to remove themselves and their signs for the sake of other demonstrations.

In fact, what happened (as we expected), was no Nazis, a few happy anti-Nazis, an enormous loss for businesses which rely on Saturday tourist trade, millions of tax dollars for the 1,500-police force, and a media with egg on its face. Lighten up, guys. The First Amendment implies freedom. What happened yesterday had nothing to do with freedom.

By the way, do you remember the crazy guy who was locked up during a snowstorm a few years ago for painting swastikas all over town? (See your May 11, 1996 and July 16, 1997 stories, "Man Guilty in Swastika Graffiti Incident" and "Swastika Painter Jailed by INS"). When the police ended their multi-million-dollar "security" exercise yesterday, this contentious fellow Esededeea Aesfyza ("Zeus") scuttled in with a little cardboard swastika and commandeered the traditional spot held for 18 years, 24 hours a day, by Concepcion Picciotto ("Live By The Bomb, Die By The Bomb"). Zeus had coveted that spot in the past; he once got a police permit to evict Concepcion. That time it only took two policemen to do the job. This year was a much more costly exercise in bad manners.

So the end result of this horribly expensive and chilling fiasco is that a single "Nazi," backed by 1,500 police officers, has ousted the antinuclear Vigil, and the swastika has shoved the dove away from the President's front door, at enormous cost to taxpayers, tourists, and the First Amendment. The irony is obvious. I hope the insanity of the entire unnecessary exercise is also obvious to others. If it's not ... if you don't raise your voice in outcry against the taking of our beautiful city by the voices of paranoia ... then I suppose you deserve what you get. Personally, I'm going to keep blowing the whistle and hope somebody hears. Maybe it's still not too late.

Ellen Thomas,, August 8, 1999

Afterword: The last two weeks in August, "Zeus" once again obtained a permit from the National Park Service to take over Concepcion's traditional spot, and for two weeks hovered close to her signs with a swastika and furious allegations on a cardboard sign. He attacked Rudy and broke the vigilers' video camera; he kicked Thomas in the groin. The police were polite to all concerned, but not much help. Ellen obtained a permit for September 3-9, and Concepcion moved back to her spot. Stay tuned.

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