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Military's Presence at Antiwar Rally Is Called a Coincidence

Los Angeles

November 12, 2004|Wendy Thermos | Times Staff Writer

Photos and a video posted on the Internet this week depicting tanks at an antiwar demonstration in front of the Federal Building in Westwood provoked hundreds of outraged postings.

But police and witnesses said the armored vehicles were on their way to a Veterans Day event at the nearby Veterans Affairs grounds on Wilshire Boulevard, stopping only for a red light near the Federal Building.

"It's a whole lot of nothing," said Officer Kathy Simpson, a Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman. "The 'tanks' were there for Veterans Day. They ride in the parade and wave."

The antiwar protest, sponsored by the group Act Now to Stop War & End Racism, was held Tuesday evening near the VA grounds, where a parade and exhibit were staged Wednesday.

Blurred photos posted on the Internet showed military personnel in battle gear standing at their hatches, behind gun turrets mounted on two tank-like vehicles rolling through traffic. Closer inspection showed the vehicles were not tanks but light-armored vehicles, which are smaller than tanks and ride on rubber tires instead of treads.

Several websites denounced the vehicles' presence and accused the military of trying to intimidate peaceful protesters. "There was absolutely no excuse to deploy tanks against a law-abiding crowd," said one site.

A statement posted Wednesday by Answer said, "It is an outrage to see tanks rolling through the streets of Los Angeles."

By Thursday, however, a representative fielding phone calls for the nonprofit group was considerably calmer. "I can't speak for everybody, but I think people are overreacting a little bit," said Darrin Downey, who saw the vehicles driving by. "It didn't seem hostile. I believe they were just going around the corner."

The demonstration was already over, he added.

It's not clear which branch of the military the vehicles belonged to. A Camp Pendleton spokesman said he believed his base sent one or two armored vehicles to the exhibit and parade, which celebrated Veterans Day and the Marine Corps' 229th birthday Wednesday. "I can guarantee you we didn't send them over there to scare a bunch of protesters," Sgt. Mark Ledesma said.

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