It was late-'60s political street theater transplanted smack into the Reagan era.
"Everyone who's going on the abduction, come over here!" shouted Ralph Reed, a recent University of Georgia graduate in charge of a mock Sandinista prison camp set up by 50 anticommunist college students on the west lawn of the Capitol yesterday.
This bit of political theater came on a warm spring day during a week of emotional debate on whether the United States should aid Nicaraguan rebels, the "contras." Inside the Capitol, Congress was debating the question; outside, students dressed in olive-drab military uniforms shouted Marxist-Leninist slogans and wielded clubs to enact beatings of other students posing as freedom-loving political prisoners.
"It is our God-given duty to support freedom," said George Hancock, 19, a sophomore at the University of Kentucky. Rene Diaz, 22, a senior at the University of Virginia, was dressed up as the commandant in the movie "Red Dawn."
The event was sponsored by Students for America, which Reed described as part of Citizens for America, "President Reagan's official lobby organization."
Rep. William W. Cobey Jr. (R-N.C.) walked down to the camp site and told the students that if America does not aid the contras, communism will spread in Central America. "The regime in Nicaragua are admitted Marxist-Leninists," Cobey said. "Now, folks, that translates to the fact that they're Communists."
Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) appeared and said that on a recent visit to Nicaragua he learned that there are more than 100 human rights violations a month by the Sandinistas.
During the street theater performance, guards dragged new "prisoners" into the compound from time to time, beating them. The prisoners screamed. Each wore a placard with what Reed said was the name of an antigovernment political prisoner printed on it. When prisoners tried to escape, the guards "killed" them.
For the abduction by "Sandinista storm troopers," Reed said, two Hill aides agreed to be "abducted" while eating lunch and taken to the "prison camp." But by the time the mission began, the congressmen and most of the press had gone and the prison camp was being dismantled.