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Posted at 06:27 PM ET, 10/08/2011

Air and Space Museum closes after guards clash with protesters

The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on the Mall was abruptly closed Saturday afternoon after a “large group of protesters” tried to push past security guards and enter the museum, a spokeswoman said.


A demonstrator lies on the ground at an entrance to the National Air and Space Museum after police pepper-sprayed a group of protesters trying to get into the museum Saturday. (Jose Luis Magana - AP)

At least one demonstrator was pepper-sprayed by a museum guard in the confrontation, said Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas. Several witnesses said that more than a dozen people were affected by the spray.

The museum was closed at about 3:15 p.m., St. Thomas said.

Some of the protesters were affiliated with the Occupy DC demonstration that had sprung up at McPherson Square last week as an offshoot of the larger Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City, said Cody Steele, 21, an American University senior who participated in the march to the museum.

Steele said the march was planned, however, by a different but like-minded group of protesters — known as the October 2011 group — who have been camped out in Freedom Plaza since Oct. 6.

“It’s a shifting movement,” said Steele, who has spent time with both protest groups this past week. “They are separate, but it’s a common set of goals.”

The two groups’ grievances span a range of issues, including corporate power, environmental destruction and American militarism. On Saturday, they were demonstrating at the museum against the U.S. military’s use of drones in overseas wars, witnesses said.

An exhibit of military unmanned aerial vehicles is currently on view at the museum.

As many as 200 people attempted to enter the museum through doors facing the National Mall, said St. Thomas, while others gathered at the museum’s Independence Avenue entrance. The demonstrators carried large signs and other items not allowed inside the museum, she said.

When a security guard told them they could not enter, demonstrators pushed the guard outside and up against a wall, St. Thomas said. Another guard approached and pepper-sprayed one protester before D.C. police and U.S. Park Police were called, she said, and one person was arrested.

No one was seriously hurt by the pepper spray, said Pete Piringer, a spokesman for D.C. Fire and EMS. Medics treated several people at the scene, Piringer said, but everyone affected by the pepper spray refused to be taken to hospitals for further evaluation.

The museum is to reopen Sunday at 10 a.m., St. Thomas said.

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GALLERY: Click to see more photos from the protest

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By and  |  06:27 PM ET, 10/08/2011

 
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