A Weekly Battle Over War in Iraq
Sunday, October 30, 2005
Every Friday night, Gael Murphy and Kristinn Taylor meet in Northwest Washington, separated by a bustling four-lane road -- and a whole lot more.
Since spring, the two have stood firmly on opposite sides of Georgia Avenue NW in front of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Murphy leading a coalition of war protesters, Taylor marshaling supporters of the Iraq war.
Both sides say they are there to support the troops. Beyond that, there's little common ground.
"They start yelling, 'Murderer!' 'Traitor!' They call me by name," said Murphy, a co-founder of the women's antiwar group Code Pink. "It's aimed at disrupting our vigil."
To Taylor, a spokesman for the local chapter of FreeRepublic.com, a politically conservative Web site, disruption is an honorable goal.
"It's galling for us to see them across the street," he said. "They've endorsed the terrorists."
The Friday night gatherings near the District's northern tip, about six miles north of the White House, have become one of the most visible reminders in Washington of a war that has claimed the lives of more than 2,000 U.S. troops. That they are being staged outside a military hospital that treats the war's wounded makes the standoffs all the more pointed -- and controversial.
The war supporters, many of them known as "Freepers" because of their devotion to FreeRepublic.com, insist it is unpatriotic and demoralizing to protest the war in clear view of wounded soldiers. They started congregating along Georgia Avenue on Fridays after learning that the protesters were out there delivering a "despicable" message.
"We believe this is an obscene blood dance to exploit the war wounded for their twisted propaganda purposes," said Bill Floyd, 51, of Alexandria, a Freeper and Friday night regular. "It's indecent. Leave the wounded alone."
The antiwar forces say they chose Walter Reed as a backdrop when they started gathering in March to remind the public of the wounded troops and to point out inadequacies in their medical benefits.
"The administration sent these soldiers to war. Now that they're back and injured, they don't want to see them or hear about them," said Bruce Wolf, 58, of Takoma Park. "I don't want anyone to forget these guys are here."
Some Friday nights, up to three dozen people gather on each side of the street, although the groups can dwindle to about a dozen some weeks. Most are from the Washington area, but protesters -- and those who protest the protesters -- have come from as far away as California and Texas.