By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 9, 2005
Organizers of the Pentagon's 9/11 memorial Freedom Walk on Sunday are taking extraordinary measures to control participation in the march and concert, with the route fenced off and lined with police and the event closed to anyone who does not register online by 4:30 p.m. today.
The march, sponsored by the Department of Defense, will wend its way from the Pentagon to the Mall along a route that has not been specified but will be lined with four-foot-high snow fencing to keep it closed and "sterile," said Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense.
The U.S. Park Police will have its entire Washington force of several hundred on duty and along the route, on foot, horseback and motorcycles and monitoring from above by helicopter. Officers are prepared to arrest anyone who joins the march or concert without a credential and refuses to leave, said Park Police Chief Dwight E. Pettiford.
The event, the America Supports You Freedom Walk, is billed as a memorial to victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks and a show of support for those serving in the military, topped off with a concert by country singer Clint Black, known for his pro-troops anthem, "Iraq and Roll." Organizers said they expect 3,000 to 10,000 participants.
Barber said that organizers would rather not have such stringent measures on their event but that police had requested them.
Pettiford said officers would patrol to keep interlopers out because the Pentagon restricted the event in its permit application. "That is what their permit called for, so we have those fences to keep the public out."
Once the National Park Service approves the permit, it is normal for police to do what they can to adhere to the organizers' requests. "It's a permitted event. That means [organizers] are allowed to say who is in and who's out," said Sgt. Scott Fear, a Park Police spokesman. He declined to say how many officers were in the Park Police, which had a Washington detail of about 400 two years ago.
What's unusual for an event on the Mall is the combination of fences, required preregistration and the threat of arrest.
Park Police officials said security and safety were concerns, especially because Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld will participate in some of the day's events. They said they have approved a permit for a small group of protesters that plans to stand along Independence Avenue.
Barber at first said this week that event organizers would rather not be so strict but that they were complying with police orders. But yesterday she said Park Police offered two options: Screen participants at the Mall, as police did for the Fourth of July fireworks and concert, where bags would be searched and restricted items such as alcohol, weapons, animals or glass bottles would be seized; or screen them at the Pentagon and, by restricting access throughout the march, "make sure the same people who were screened at the Pentagon are the same people going to the concert," she said.
Barber added: "We didn't want a bottleneck at the concert. We didn't want people to miss the concert while waiting to be screened. So we decided to do the screening at the Pentagon. That means the entire route has to be kept closed."
Some military supporters have welcomed the event as a way to counter the antiwar movement and back the troops abroad. Antiwar groups say they are convinced that the event was orchestrated to boost the war effort and link the war to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- and to undercut an antiwar protest planned for Sept. 24.
One restricted group will be the media, whose members will not be allowed to walk along the march route. Reporters and cameras are restricted to three enclosed areas along the route but are not permitted to walk alongside participants walking from the Pentagon, across the Memorial Bridge to the Mall.
The Washington Post and other corporate entities initially signed on as co-sponsors. But critics from within the newspaper and from the antiwar movement said partnering with the Pentagon raised questions about objectivity, and three weeks ago The Post pulled its co-sponsorship.
Other media co-sponsors -- WTOP radio, WJLA-TV and NewsChannel 8 -- support the effort with advertising.
Opponents of the Freedom Walk took issue with the way the Pentagon is staging the event. When the walk first was publicized, participants were required to submit their names, ages, e-mail addresses and home addresses. After some groups accused the Pentagon of using the registration as a recruiting tool for the military, the requirements were changed.
Barber said the government now asks for a full name, age group, T-shirt size and e-mail address (each registered walker will get a T-shirt). Walkers have until 4:30 p.m. today to register, which must be done online ( http://www.asyfreedomwalk.com/ ).
Officials at the Pentagon, where 184 people died in the attack, decided to open the attack site and memorial chapel to the public tomorrow for the first time.
Visitors will be welcome from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and can see the stone that marks the crash site of American Airlines Flight 77 and the memorial chapel built there.
There is no need to register to visit the memorial chapel tomorrow.