Live, From Golden, Colo., It's Al-Jazeera

By Dana Milbank
Thursday, August 28, 2008

GOLDEN, Colo., Aug. 27 Deep divisions, bad feelings. Tensions that threaten to boil over during this week's gathering in Colorado.

The Obama-Clinton feud at the Democratic National Convention? Well, yes, but that's happening 13 miles to the east of here, in Denver. The fight in Golden is between the townsfolk of this quaint Western hamlet and al-Jazeera English, which is trying to broadcast from here during the convention.

It started innocently enough: Qatar-based al-Jazeera decided it would film the locals in Golden, the home of Coors beer, as they watched the convention from a biker bar Wednesday night. This would allow al-Jazeera's viewers to see Bill Clinton and Joe Biden through the eyes of those in a small American town that could pass as a set for a Hollywood Western.

City leaders at first offered to host a pork-free barbecue for the Jazeera crew, then abandoned that plan when angry residents protested. But the Buffalo Rose, a 150-year-old saloon here catering to bikers, offered to let al-Jazeera broadcast from its bar.

The result: a sort of 21st-century shootout at the O.K. Corral on Wednesday night under the shadow of Lookout Mountain, where Buffalo Bill is buried.

Word spread that three rival biker gangs -- the Sons of Silence, the Banditos and the Hell's Angels -- declared a truce for the night so they could meet at the Buffalo Rose in a united protest against al-Jazeera. But the network stood its ground and set up its cameras.

Across the street from the bar, two dozen protesters under the watchful eye of a statue of Adolph Coors waved American flags, blew air horns and revved motorcycle engines. "Al Jazeera is terrorism," announced one sign. "Go home, Al Jazeera -- Voices for al Qaeda and bin Laden," proclaimed another. The protesters had shirts printed up for the occasion, saying "Buffalo Rose/Tokyo Rose" in English and Arabic, although they botched the Arabic translation.

One biker covered his T-shirt in thoughtful, handwritten messages, such as "Islam Sucks" and "Al-Jazeera: Anti-American Pond Scum."

"Al-Jazeera is the No. 1 propaganda machine for the enemies we fight," growled Mick Woodworth, a Navy veteran of the Iraq war. "They support terrorism," he said, and the mostly American al-Jazeera crew in Golden "are traitors to the United States of America."

Across the street, a smaller group of Golden residents lined up in a counterprotest. A bunch of right-wing fanatics, grumbled one. Buffalo Rose owner Murray Martinez, a biker himself with long hair and a chin beard, folded his arms across his chest. "They think I'm bringing in terrorists to launch a jihad in the little town of Golden," he scoffed.

The Golden police manned the rooftops around the bar. Inside the bar, the al-Jazeera crew sat idly while the overhead television flashed scenes of the Democratic convention, where Barack Obama was being nominated for president by acclamation. Nobody was watching.

The regulars at Buffalo Rose took the Qatari invasion, and the demonstration, in stride. "Al-Jazeera? Is he here? Where is he?" inquired Travis Henry, sipping a Bud Light.

Golden, a gold-rush town of 18,000, was a too-good-to-be-true locale for al-Jazeera. Across the main drag in town is an arch announcing: "Howdy Folks!" The smell of brewing beer is in the air, and a large sculpture of a buffalo stands outside the Buffalo Rose.

The leader of this would-be terrorist cell: al-Jazeera's Josh Rushing, a Texas-born Marine veteran who wears blue jeans and cowboy boots. "I guess you could call it a mild jihad for the truth," said Rushing, sipping a latte. Wearily, he added, "This isn't the first time this kind of thing has happened."

Al-Jazeera, like Fox News, bills itself as a straight-news outlet, but others, including the Bush administration, accuse it of an anti-American bias; it also seems to have first dibs on all of Osama bin Laden's videotapes when al-Qaeda chooses to release them.

City Manager Mike Bestor, before he rescinded his barbecue offer, called the al-Jazeera visit a way to "show Arab viewers what Americans are like." For better or worse, Golden seems to be doing just that.

Townsfolk raised such objections at last week's city council meeting that the city manager rescinded the barbecue offer, but others rushed to the network's defense, including Steve Stevens, who wrote to a local e-mail list offering to host the al-Jazeera barbecue: "My home is (1) a zero carbon home; (2) a Museum of Net Zero Carbon Transportation; (3) a Victorian Bicycle Museum . . . I will cook the Bar-B-Que in the 2 Solar Ovens."

"I'm welcoming to any international visitors coming to visit us in peace," explained Stevens, wearing Uncle Sam attire and riding one of his Victorian bicycles outside of Buffalo Rose.

But that wasn't the majority view Wednesday night in downtown Golden.

Inside the Buffalo Rose, the Al-Jazeera crew was filming the locals watching Bill Clinton's convention speech. Outside, Woodworth, the Navy veteran, circled the block in a pickup truck, honking the horn and trailing an American flag.

A man with dark skin drove by and looked curiously at the fracas. "Go back to your own country," a biker shouted at him.

Buffalo Rose owner Martinez, who said he received death threats for hosting Al-Jazeera, responded by tacking the First Amendment to a pillar outside the bar and directing his staff to wear the "Buffalo Rose/Tokyo Rose" T-shirts the protesters made.

"They're doing it strictly on emotion," he said as he watched the flag-wavers across the street. "They only support the First Amendment for people who see things their way." Martinez said something else, but a protester's air horn drowned out the words.

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