Clinton Foes And Friends Rally on Mall
By Gabriel Escobar
The anti-Clinton forces, gathered on the grounds of the Washington Monument, drew a much larger following as several thousand people apparently heeded the call sent out on the Internet just three weeks ago. The showing delighted organizers, who estimated the turnout at 4,000 and said the cyberspace cry for political action set a new standard for grass-roots organizing.
"What a wonderful crowd. I can't believe it. Look at all these people!," said Jim Robinson, the founder of Free Republic, an anti-Clinton organization that has flourished on the Internet and that sponsored yesterday's event. In his brief remarks, Robinson touched on the central issue for those at the anti-Clinton rally, who for more than six hours loudly and emphatically demanded that the president be removed from office.
"We in America are not going to stand for this. Impeach him, indict him, try him and send him to Leavenworth," Robinson said. To the delight of the overwhelmingly white crowd, he paraphrased Clinton's now famous denial of an affair with Monica S. Lewinsky: "I want to point my ugly finger at him. Mr. President, I never believed you. Not once. I never did and I never will."
The pro-Clinton gathering drew only several hundred people, most of them black supporters who were bused in from New York and Chicago. Organized by the National Coalition of Concerned Clergy, it relied on the drawing power of black ministers and was led by the Rev. John J. Barfield of Philadelphia. The demonstrators marched from the Capitol to the Ellipse, where a late afternoon rally was held.
At an early-morning news conference in front of Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr's office on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Barfield praised Clinton for standing up "while they unfolded your life on TV, the newspaper, the Web site and the Internet.
"The president is a human being, just like we are. He made a mistake, but he did tell the nation he was sorry," Barfield said through a bullhorn. "But thank God you're still standing. And the last I heard, you're standing taller."
Among those at the pro-Clinton rally was Bob Weiner, chief of press in the White House Office for Drug Policy, who was called to testify before the grand jury. "I'm here as a private citizen to point out the outrages of the impeachment vendetta and Ken Starr's harassment of private citizens and his violations of civil liberties," Weiner said. "The rally is about stopping the . . . vendetta, which is based on violation of civil rights."
Tuesday's elections were on the minds of speakers at both events. The Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, former D.C. delegate to Congress, said at the news conference that voters should give "feet to our prayer" and choose representatives who will advance Democratic causes and also sit in judgment in any impeachment inquiry. "We can pick who is going to be on the grand jury, and we know who are those who want to continue this mess."
At the other rally, Rep. Robert L. Barr (R-Ga.) told protesters that something had to be done about what he called the "sorry corruption of this administration." Barr moved to impeach Clinton almost a year ago, before the Lewinsky saga, and yesterday he told the gathered that the midterm elections presented an opportunity to send a clear message.
"Make sure that not one person leaves your presence without hearing something directly from you about the importance, to this country, of this election," said Barr, one of 10 speakers at the rally. "Vote for the integrity of George Washington and not the corruption of William Jefferson Clinton."
There were several other targets at the anti-Clinton rally. Robinson dismissed polls showing that Clinton enjoys wide support, and others blamed the media for covering up for the president. "There is no way in this God's green earth that 70 percent of the people want to leave this man in office," Robinson said. "The media is a liar."
Alan Keyes, a former ambassador and presidential candidate, referred to the "degenerate propaganda media." Keyes spoke for almost an hour, longer than anyone else, at times captivating the crowd with his extemporaneous delivery. "We know what agenda they serve," he said of the media. "I don't know if they will say anything about this gathering -- or if they will even bother to report it."
The anti-Clinton rally also showed how the Lewinsky scandal has made some people celebrities, at least in these gatherings. Lucianne Goldberg and her son, Jonah, were sought out by autograph seekers, as was Matt Drudge, the Internet political gossip. Goldberg, one of many players in the Clinton-Lewinsky saga, urged the crowd to continue protesting: "Stay together because we are the core of a wave that I think is going to reach across the country."
With its roots in cyberspace, the anti-Clinton rally was also a window into how the new medium can move people to political action. The Free Republic Web site, which posts articles and serves as a forum for anti-Clinton forces, has been sued for copyright infringement by the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post -- but that has hardly tempered its activism. The turnout yesterday easily surpassed a similar Internet call a week ago by a pro-Clinton supporter. It drew only a handful of followers, most of whom said they showed up because a story on the rally ran in the newspaper.
"It's a remarkable thing," said Brian L. Buckley, counsel for the Web site and for its founder, Robinson. "I don't think anything like this has ever happened before, where thousands of people who didn't know each other get together in a place thousands of miles from home," he said of the Internet's ability to politically connect people.
Many people at the rally knew each other only by their online identities, and that lent the event an almost surreal air. "Captain Rick? Okay," one woman said to a man with whom she had spent a few minutes chatting. "I'm Spart. S-P-A-R-T." Buckley knew the press coordinator only by his online name, and the two had not even met until Friday night. The coordinator, for his part, preferred the anonymity. He said he worked in Hollywood and did not want his name publicized.
Staff writers Maria Glod and Jennifer Lenhart contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company