Ten seconds may not be much time, but to a ragtag group of anti-war activists standing in front of six buses full of soldiers being deployed to Iraq, it can seem an eternity.
In the early hours of Monday morning outside Fort Hood, that’s precisely what happened: Five black-clad protesters — four of them veterans and one a military spouse — took it upon themselves to blockade a public street used by the military for mass deployments.
The convoy was stopped for approximately 10 seconds while police and military personnel shoved them out of the road. Activists later declared their protest a “success” and vowed to return during every successive deployment from Fort Hood, in hopes of forcing the military to deploy soldiers under maximum security conditions.
It was the first happening of its kind since President George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Not since the Vietnam war has a group of activists attempted something so audacious. Not even Cindy Sheehan, who sat at the epicenter of the US peace movement for two years after her son Casey was killed in Iraq, ever attempted something so bold and provocative.
And not a single one of them was arrested.
The group took part in the action without any official organizational support, although one of the key members is a director with Iraq Veterans Against the War. They wore black shirts that read “DISOBEY” and carried banners that urged soldiers to “RESIST NOW”.
“Acting to protect Department of Defense personnel and equipment, Fort Hood Police physically moved the demonstrators away from the intersection to the sidewalk and were released without incident and the bus convoy continued [to the airport],” base officials said in a prepared statement.
The threat of arrest had been substantially hyped before the deployment. Everyone who’d planned to occupy the road was prepared to face up to six months in federal prison.
“You never do something like this solely to get arrested,” said Matthis Chireaux, one of the directors of Iraq Veterans Against the War, who participated in the action. “You risk arrest in hopes of making a bold statement.”
“Fort Hood Disobeys” (from L to R): Bobby Whittenberg-James, Crystal Colon, Jeff Grant, Cynthia Thomas and Matthis Chireaux. PHOTO: STEPHEN C. WEBSTER
“I feel like I’m doing the right thing,” said Crystal Colon, an Iraq veteran who deployed twice from Fort Hood only to be stop-lossed, effectively extending her service by more than a year.
“I’ve been here for two months just organizing around Fort Hood, doing all the protests that we’ve done … I just really want these soldiers to know, this is not something they have to do,” she continued. “If someone would have done this for me when I was in, I wouldn’t have gone back a second time.”
Jeff Grant, a veteran who did not actually deploy to a war zone, said he feels that relying on politicians to stop the war is futile, making direct action necessary.
“We need to show politicians that if they’re not going to end the wars, that the people are themselves going to start actively resisting,” he said.
“[The wars] affect our families, they affect our children,” added military spouse Cynthia Thomas, founder of Under the Hood, an anti-war cafe in Killeen, Texas. “My youngest is 8-years-old and all she’s ever known is the war and what her father is like now. My 18-year-old daughter remembers her dad before the war started and she feels that he is not her father. He is completely different.”
Timing is everything
The event had been planned for a day earlier, mid-afternoon, but all the activists’ best-laid plans seemed to continually fall through. Periodic live-streaming video was beamed from the Under the Hood cafe, and an afternoon rally outside the military base had been planned.
Under the Hood anti-war cafe in Killeen, Texas. PHOTO: MALACHI MUNCY
Then they learned that deployment would be sometime after 2 a.m. the next day. While the group initially tried to take credit for the time being “moved” to avoid exposure to their protest, other former military members at the cafe expressed skepticism at the claim.
After a full day of anxious waiting for word to arrive that soldiers were loading gear onto the buses, the frustration was palpable.
“I feel like I’m going on a mission or something,” said Bobby Whittenberg-James, a wounded Iraq veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. “In the military they always say hurry up and wait. Kinda feels like I’m back in that right now.”
Mid-afternoon, when they’d originally planned to carry out the protest, about a dozen people had shown up from Dallas and Austin to stand in solidarity. By the time soldiers were actually leaving Fort Hood, at approximately 3:30 a.m. on Monday, all but this reporter, a videographer and a handful of dedicated supporters had left.
Under cover of darkness, four vehicles slowed to a stop along Highway 190 near Fort Hood, and a crowd of people jumped out, bickering as to whether they should put blinkers on. The group of veterans, bullhorns and banners in hand, darted across the highway and behind a grassy knoll, obscuring them from the road where the convoy would pass.
Several others moved to the right of the road, in plain sight of the base, with media staging mere feet away. The crowd quickly attracted military attention and two officers darted up the hill, warning everyone against pointing anything at them.
Two women rolled out a banner that read, “Tell the brass to kiss my ass — your families need you more.” Though more or less invisible to anyone who was not standing nearby with a flashlight, the banner served a greater purpose: distracting police long enough for the “Disobey” activists to scurry down the hill and into the road as the convoy approached.
After several minutes of questions and unheeded orders to turn off all recording devices, something else caught officers’ attention: the echo of a bullhorn, rattling out from under the highway.
The real protest was under way…Ã‚Â But just as quickly as it began, it ended.
Activists and police scuffle as a troop convoy passes by. PHOTO: STEPHEN C. WEBSTER
Within seconds of the activists making their presence known, police and MP’s with dogs swarmed in. The activists initially resisted moving from the roadway, causing enough of a scene to stop the convoy for ten seconds. Whittenberg-James was quickly thrown to the ground and had his hands placed behind his back, while others were simply shoved out of the way.
“Fuck the buses — join us!” Chireaux jeered over his megaphone.
But they had already passed.
“Well … That’s one more regiment off to commit a war crime,” he said, turning his attention to police and MP’s still on the scene.
“We once fought with you down-range, but now we will stand against you because the people of Iraq and Afghanistan deserve nothing less,” Chireaux continued. “Our own soldiers deserve nothing less.”
Police seemed uninterested and began to walk away from the black-clad veterans, beaming intense expressions of disapproval over their shoulders.
Not knowing what else to do, the group delivered their protest’s coup de grÃƒÂ¢ce by breaking into song, pelting the chorus to Anti-Flag’s classic soldier rebellion riff “Die for Your Government” against the dark Texas morning, their faces illuminated in fading hues of blue and red.
Back at Under the Hood, some of the activists couldn’t help but wonder why nobody was arrested.
“I’m almost certain they were under orders to not arrest us,” Chireaux said. “They would have elevated our message by doing that. They must have been under orders. They didn’t want to give us the credibility of being arrested.”
“It is very strange,” Thomas replied. “I was totally expecting to be in jail right now.”
“I can’t believe we pulled that off and still made it back here,” Whittenberg-James added, laughing manically and pumping a fist in the air. “Fuck yes!”
This video is an exclusive to RAW STORY, shot on August 22-23 in Killeen and Fort Hood, Texas.
Video correction: Only two of the anti-war veterans were deployed to Iraq. A third was briefly in Afghanistan and a fourth did not deploy at all.