Highly organized, even orchestrated, they poured into Washington by the thousands from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Texas - in a massive show of support for the shah of Iran.
There was an air of mystery about it all, too, as some unknown force - which the demonstrators refused to identify, or called only "the Iranian government" or "rich Iranian businessmen" - supplied the free airline tickets that got them here, fed and housed them in some of the city's more popular tourist hotels, and even supplied each demonstrator in some groups with a $100 bill for spending money.
Much of the formidable organization effort was in the hands of travel agencies whose officers refused to disclose who had prepaid the enormous costs, and of the agencies' tour guides who claimed they knew nothing about what was happening politicially. They depicted themselves as babysitters, efficiently settling their charges in the Sheraton Park, the Gramercy Inn, the Pick-Lee House and other hotels.
Buses showed up on time to get people to yesterday's planned show of support for the shah. There were placards loudspeakers were in place, box lunches were on hand to feed the thousands, and - when reporters seemed to press too hard to learn who had put all this together - the word seemed to go around all at once for silence.People who had been talking with reporters stopped, some of them in mid-sentence.
Mostly the pro-shah forces were young, wearing jeans or sports coats, many with their families in tow. And clearly they were not expecting the violence that erupted yesterday morning when anti-shah forces crossed a low picket fence and waded into their midst beating them with clubs and sticks.
"They knew those people had sticks and stones and they didn't even tell us to bring sticks, too," said an 18-year-old woman at the Sheraton Park as she talked angrily with other pro-shah demonstrators. The people denied being paid to come here, and they were angry at police for not protecting them.
One 19-year-old Iranian student who would only identify himself with his initials, E.I., said he flew from Chicago on Sunday with a group of 200 persons. He said each member of the group received a free airline ticket, hotel accommodations and eating expenses, plus a $100 bill - all from the Iranians government.
He did not say who in the Iranian government.
"There are an awful lot of fat-cat Iranians in this country, and I gather they just passed the hat," said Jack I. Heller, a Washington lawyer who said he is the lawyer for the Iranian-American Friendship Society, and ad hoe group created to coordinate the pro-shah demonstration for between 15 and 20 Iranian organizations across the country.
Heller joked that he has been accused during the past week of being and agent for SAVAK, the much feared Iranian secret police force. He said "I just don't know" if SAVAK or some other arm of the Iranian government is formally sponsoring any of the pro-shah demonstrators here - as the young student from Chicago suggested.
Heller also said he does not know the names of any of the "fat cats" to whom he referred.
"People came to Washington for a peaceful demonstration," said Heller. "They came with their small children and their elderly parents. They came dressed in their finest clothes. Then these hoods came along and started the fight that caused the cops to gas us all."
The student from Chicago said he came on the trip primarily for the $100, which he took from his pocket and showed to a reporter.
"I was out of work and needed the money," he said. "I heard about this thing through word of mouth and decided to come along." He added that the money was given to the group members after arrival here because the organizers "feared that some people would take the money and spliter know I would have."
This student did not identify these organizers. He said his father and mother both came on the trip and also received $100 each.
Others, however, did identify themselves and said they paid their own way here.
Javae Shehrestani, 24, a junior, [WORD ILLEIGIBLE] Rhode Island University, said he drove to Washington yesterday morning with a couple of friends because "I love the shah. He's my leader. Shehrestani said no one paid for his trip.
Jimmy Hosen, a student at the University of Texas, said he flew to Washington with nine other people and his paid his own way.
John Yohanan, a police officer from Chicago, said that he came by plane with 40 others and had paid his own way. Yohanan's eyes were red and swollen from the effects of tear gas. "I ran and tried to get some of the small children out of the way when the anti-people broke the line," he said.
David Zanjdi, a student at Farrleigh Dicinson University in Jersey City N.J., said he came here with his wife and cousins, driving down on Sunday. He said he paid his own expenses but knows of other instances where students who could not afford to pay their own way were sponsored by wealthy Iranians.
Often when the pro-shah forces declined to talk or give their names they said it was because thye feared retaliation from the anti-shah forces.
One student was asked if he had been told not to talk to reporters, and he said 'yes.' He said "our leaders" told the pro-shah demonstrators not to talk with reporters.
"If I tell you why, then you will know it all," he said.