About a dozen antiwar protesters, including Daniel Ellsberg and the sister of Cindy Sheehan, were arrested Wednesday morning while camping on a roadside near President Bush's ranch in violation of a new county ordinance.
The group returned this week as Bush arrived at his Texas home to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family. They came in hopes of reigniting the international attention they attracted in August, when hundreds came to join Sheehan as she camped outside Bush's ranch for 26 days. Her son was killed in Iraq.
Since then, however, the antiwar movement has expanded beyond Sheehan and her protesters, focusing in recent weeks on Washington and the rising discontent in Congress. Protests in Crawford, so far, have been smaller than in August, when demonstrators from around the country came to the tiny Texas town where Bush spends his vacations.
At that time, Sheehan and her supporters represented the most pointed voices of the antiwar movement. They have been joined in recent weeks by leading Democratic politicians, including Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who on Tuesday called on Bush to admit errors in how he has waged the war, and Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), a former Marine who has called for an immediate withdrawal of troops.
If Sheehan's supporters do not attract the same level of interest this time around, it will not be for lack of trying. Protesters have events planned for each day this week, including serving an Iraqi meal on Thanksgiving. Sheehan herself, who has not yet arrived in Crawford, is scheduled to lead a rally on Saturday.
After the August protests, McLennan County commissioners passed a new ordinance that prohibits parking and camping in the ditches along the winding two-lane roads leading to Bush's ranch.
The protesters have been invited by a local rancher to camp on his land, where they have erected a large white tent and hung a banner that says "No Pardon for Crawford's Turkey." But they have also challenged the constitutionality of the county's new rules. On Wednesday, a small group set up tents in the early morning hours on the small patch of public land that had been dubbed Camp Casey in August, after Sheehan's 24-year-old son, a soldier.
McLennan County sheriff's deputies gave the protesters two warnings before arresting the group, including Ellsberg. A former Defense Department official, Ellsberg became well-known for leaking the "Pentagon Papers" to the news media in 1971. The documents showed that the United States was expanding its involvement in the Vietnam War.
Dave Jensen, 54, a former Marine and a protester who witnessed the arrests, said the crowd cheered as Ellsberg was taken away.
"The ordinance was very plainly meant to prevent people from protesting in front of Bush's ranch," he said. "We feel that's a First Amendment issue. It's intentionally designed to curtail freedom of speech and freedom of assembly."
Jensen, who said he had camped in Crawford in August as well, said the protesters believe that their efforts have helped trigger a serious reevaluation of the war effort.
The White House declined to comment on the arrests, though in response to Obama's remarks, communications director Nicolle Wallace said: "Elected leaders in Washington who do not support our policies in Iraq have every right to voice their dissent. They also have a responsibility to provide a credible alternative. The stakes are too high, and the national interest too important, for anything otherwise."
Bush arrived in Crawford on Tuesday and is scheduled to remain at the ranch with his family until Monday. The White House said their Thanksgiving meal will include roasted free-range turkey with herbed stuffing, chipotle-maple whipped sweet potatoes and Texas pecan pie.