||Protests Turn Violent at GOP Convention
By Rob Margetta and Catharine Ritchart, CQ Staff
Published on Monday, September 1, 2008
||Police used tear gas to disperse rock-throwing protesters on the streets outside the Republican National Convention Monday
and arrested 286, as remnants of an antiwar march turned unruly.
The confrontations followed a parade by an estimated 10,000 protesters past the Xcel Energy Center earlier in the day and
frustrated weeks of efforts by city officials and antiwar activists to organize a peaceful demonstration.
“Unfortunately, today, a very small handful of people decided to break the law, damage property and endanger people,” said St.
Paul Police Chief John M. Harrington. Police said the trouble was caused by about 150 to 180 people, operating in groups of
The arrest tally includes at least 130 felonies, 51 gross misdemeanors and 103 misdemeanors, according to a joint command
center set up by the Secret Service, which is in charge of RNC security.
Self-described anarchists and groups of protesters slashed tires on police vehicles and buses transporting convention delegates,
and attempted to block others from reaching the convention hall. A group of 25 to 30 protesters blocking one bus chanted
“GOP, stay away — racist, sexist, antigay.”
In an early indication of what was in store Monday, protesters set fire to a dumpster a few blocks from the convention center
and pushed it until it collided with a police car.
Police said one officer was injured after being punched in the back.
Anarchist groups under the name RNC Welcoming Committee vowed on their Web site and various blogs to continue trying to
disrupt the convention. Police arrested more than 50 anarchists in raids last weekend.
Organizers of the Coalition to March on the RNC and End the War, an alliance of about 130 different groups that organized the
peaceful march, declined to condemn the anarchists’ tactics, but promised they would be staging a safe, family friendly event.
For at least part of the day Monday, they appeared to have succeeded.
Thousands of protesters of every stripe — anti-war, anti-poverty, anti-authority or just plain anti-Republican — passed
through a corridor made from heavy steel fencing just a few hundred yards from the Xcel center, site of the convention that will
nominate Sen. John McCain of Arizona later this week as the Republican presidential nominee.
The parade started with a morning rally on the lawn of the Minnesota Capitol Building, at a portable stage set up for the
occasion below the Capitol dome.
“This march and rally is about ending the war and bringing the troops home,” said activist David Anderson of Duluth, Minn.,
who held a large banner calling for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. “This is about the war, not necessarily the RNC. We
should be doing this every day, not just when the RNC is here.”
At the other end of the banner was Larry Skwarczynski, a Vietnam veteran with Veterans for Piece, who looked every inch the
activist with a black T-shirt, sandals and gray ponytail. “The old farts didn’t do it 40 years ago,” he said. “I was there. We’ve
got to do it now.”
The parade followed a route lined with police wearing riot gear and gas masks and holding wooden batons and tear gas guns.
Demonstrators were greeted at the Xcel center by about 300 counter demonstrators holding signs that read “Victory Over
Terrorism, Let Our Soliders Win,” which resulted in a few tense moments, with anti-war marchers either stopping for intense
conversations or shouting “Bring them home” more loudly.
Joe Repya, a veteran of Vietnam and Desert Storm, who re-enlisted at age 58 to serve as a liaison in Iraq, said he disagreed with
demonstrators but respected their right to march. “They have all the right in the world to protest,” he said. “My brothers and
sisters in the military shed their blood and sacrificed their lived to for freedom, so that people in America can protest.”
St. Paul officials said they had tried to accommodate protesters, giving them a parade route close to the convention center and
the state Capitol and a demonstration area three times the size one provided during the Democratic convention in Denver.
“We’re doing this in an unprecedented way,” said City Attorney John Choi. “The mayor, the city — from their perspective,
they wanted to do what they could to give the people with something to say the opportunity to say it, no matter what it is.”
Even some protest organizers acknowledged the cooperation.
“They actually reached out to the groups of protesters and worked with us,” said Michael Schaffner with the American Driver,
a group of truckers protesting high gas prices, who will have its own parade of vehicles Tuesday.
Robert W. Merry contributed to this story.
(source: CQ Politics)