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Dueling Rallies Fill the Streets

September 03, 2004|Josh Getlin and David Zucchino | Times Staff Writers

NEW YORK — The political tensions dividing America boiled over in the streets Thursday as antiwar demonstrators squared off against pro-Bush administration activists near Madison Square Garden, site of the Republican National Convention.

Both sides hurled insults at each other, and a line of New York police officers stood rigidly between them, preventing the dueling rallies from getting violent in a residential and commercial neighborhood just south of the Garden.

The confrontation began shortly before President Bush spoke, when a crowd of anti-Bush protesters were startled to hear a smaller group of people shouting, "Four More Years!"

They were members of Protest Warriors, a nationwide conservative group that has begun making appearances at political demonstrations across the nation. Tempers flared as the two groups moved closer in the street, screaming at each other.

"Bush is a terrorist!" yelled the antiwar protesters, shaking their fists.

The conservative activists waved placards that mocked one antiwar argument. One read: "Saddam Only Killed His Own People. It Was None of Our Business!"

At first, members of the two groups were mixed together within a barricaded-area created by police to control demonstrations. But as hostilities increased, officers separated the smaller group of about three dozen conservative activists and put them in their own enclosure. Hundreds of antiwar protesters surrounded them, and the war of words escalated.

"You liberals are working on Uncle Sam's plantation," shouted an African American protester wearing pro-Bush buttons. A black demonstrator holding an antiwar sign screamed back: "Why do you hate yourself? Why are you such a disgrace?"

The invective was unflagging, the volume unchecked.

"These people are pathetic," said Butch Tiner, an anti-Bush protester who had come from Philadelphia. "They look like poorly trained puppets who don't know what to say, except maybe to provoke people."

The feeling was mutual on the other side, where Jean Hart, a Brooklyn resident, stood beneath a hand-lettered sign that mocked Palestinian sympathizers.

"We have a right to be here, even if those people on the other side don't like it," she said. "There's another point of view tonight, and we're the right point of view."

At times, the two sides taunted each other. The Protest Warriors shouted "U.S.A., U.S.A.," and the other side echoed the chants. The conservatives yelled, "Four More Years," and their opponents said, "Four More Months."

"I don't know how much longer these guys can keep it up," said an officer in the dividing line. "When does it end?"

Both sides were finally done in by the clock. The rallies ended at 10 p.m., by prior agreement, and both sides -- separated by police -- drifted south on Eighth Avenue.

"We'll be back!" said a pro-Bush activist, waving his sign.

"I can't wait," muttered an antiwar protester, shaking his head.

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