The standoff between President Bush and antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan escalated Thursday with emotional appeals from both sides, each invoking sacrifices made by Americans after Sept. 11, 2001, to bolster their case.
With six days remaining until Sheehan's self-imposed deadline to leave Crawford, Tex., there seems little sign of her antiwar efforts ending with her departure. In a briefing for reporters, Sheehan said she is planning an antiwar bus tour of the country next month, ending Sept. 24 in Washington, where she plans to set up a permanent vigil until Bush agrees to meet with her, as she has sought in Texas.
"There's the people standing behind me here, but there's thousands of military families . . . who want the same answers to the same questions," she said.
Both the president and Sheehan returned to Crawford on Wednesday to find the protests larger and more organized than when they left.
The focus of antiwar activity has moved to "Camp Casey 2," named after Sheehan's 24-year-old son, Army Spec. Casey Sheehan, who was killed last year in Iraq. It is a large tent complex erected in Sheehan's absence on private land, with several portable toilets, a stage, a hot buffet and parking attendants.
Meanwhile, dozens of Bush supporters are camping along the perimeter of the president's ranch, opposite the tent Sheehan used when she first arrived. More supporters of the "You Don't Speak for Me, Cindy" tour are expected to arrive in the next few days.
The activities of both protests have occupied the narrow, winding country roads for three weeks. They are expected to come to a head Saturday, with each side planning a major rally.
Antiwar protesters said their demonstration will be themed "How Many More?" -- as in "How many more will die?" Conservative activists with Move America Forward plan a rally in Crawford's town center.
Questioned about the Sheehan protest, White House officials invoked words Bush used after Sept. 11 to stress the importance of current overseas operations.
"On September 14, 2001, [the president] stood at the National Cathedral and told all of America that this was going to be a very long and difficult war, and that there were going to be some very trying moments, but that because of what happened on 9/11, that we had to view the world in a different way," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said.
He added that the Sept. 11 commission had concluded that the nation cannot take any steps backward in its anti-terrorism efforts without risking the terrorists coming "50 steps closer to our own shores." This echoes Bush's words earlier this week, in which he said any withdrawal from Iraq would "embolden" terrorists.
The president stepped up the strategy to divert attention from Sheehan on Wednesday, with a speech to the Idaho National Guard in which he praised Tammy Pruett, whose husband and five sons have served or are serving in Iraq. Providing an unmistakable counterpoint to Sheehan, Bush declared: "America lives in freedom because of families like the Pruetts."
The antiwar protesters responded Thursday with an emotional ceremony, carried live on national television, in which Sheehan was presented with the boots worn by her son before he was killed. She tearfully laid them before a small cross bearing her son's name, surrounded by dozens of supporters. There were sobs from other women whose sons were killed in Iraq.
Sheehan said that she realizes Bush has no intention of meeting with the protesters, but that her vigil has accomplished other things. "We've started people talking about the war again," she said.