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Easter in Crawford - FINAL

Alright. This is the final version of Easter in Crawford. I hope you like it.
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Welcome to Camp Casey in Crawford, Texas.
Photo by Stephen Webster

Easter in Crawford
By Stephen Webster
Investigative Reporter
For: The Lone Star Iconoclast

On April 4, 1968, one of America’s greatest national heroes was shot down in cold blood. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the most recognized personality of the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements. He was a man whose impact on our society simply cannot be measured. He shook the halls of power by highlighting injustice in all its forms, be it a war waged on a currency of lies, or a group of innocent people being savaged by dogs and fire hoses in the South.

On April 4, 2004, Spc. Casey Sheehan was shot in the back of his head while defending his brothers in Iraq. He joined the Army before the war, hoping to earn an education and make his life and world a better place. After his death, his mother Cindy began camping in a ditch down the street from President George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas. She had one simple question to ask – “For what noble cause did my son die?” She has since become one of the key prime movers for the nation’s anti-war activists. During the president’s 2006 State of the Union speech, she had the distinction of being arrested for wearing a t-shirt. Today she is known as the mother of the new peace movement.

From 1952 through 1961, Reverend Dr. Joseph E. Lowery was the minister of Warren Street United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama. He was one of the principal organizers of the Montgomery bus boycott that sprung up after the arrest of Rosa Parks. He was subject to seizure of his property when the State of Alabama sued him for libel. Decades later, at the funeral of Dr. King’s wife Coretta Scott, Lowery openly challenged President Bush in his presence, calling down a firestorm of criticism from America’s right wing. “[T]here are weapons of misdirection right down here!” he said. “Millions without health insurance. Poverty abounds. For war billions more but no more for the poor!” His words must have struck a cord, especially coming from the man who co-founded with Dr. King the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Today Reverend Lowery is retired, having served as President Emeritus of the conference for over two decades.

Dr. King and Spc. Sheehan were two men of different color, creed and alliance. But both fought for what they believed was right, and died in that process. Their passing shares the same date in two different years, in two different eras, in two different wars. Considering this, one might agree with Lowery’s sentiment that the Crawford Peace House’s Easter -slash- third anniversary celebration was an act of divine providence.

During the second week of April 2006, about 200 anti-war protesters gathered in George W. Bush’s adopted hometown of Crawford, Texas to revive the past summer’s Camp Casey rally. In 2005, nearly 6,000 protesters descended on the tiny Texas town to let the world – and America’s president – know their disapproval of the war in Iraq, among other things. This year, the protests have been smaller, in Crawford at least. But around the nation, thousands are in the streets weekly, protesting the war, protesting oppressive immigration legislation, and protesting the government’s lack of response to the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina.

On that Easter weekend in Crawford, a strange thing came about: two people, inexorably tied by the deaths of those close to them, joined together to begin anew. Their common goal: the further growth of the new civil rights and peace movements.

I arrived at the Crawford Peace House around noon on Easter Sunday, having driven to Waco from Lewisville the night prior. It became quickly apparent that I was about three days late. According to reports from area media, the scene had gotten harsh not but 24 hours earlier. My friend Nathan Diebenow with The Lone Star Iconoclast wrote that a man on horseback wielding an American flag had ridden into the middle of a crowd at Camp Casey II, provoking them with profanity and threats of violence. In fact, just two days prior - on Good Friday of all days – 14 protesters were arrested under a new county ordinance that prohibits camping on public grounds. It was passed in response to last summer’s massive camp-ins.

The “Good Friday 14,” as they have come to be known, had only just gotten out of jail when I arrived. Within seconds of stepping out of my vehicle, it was quickly apparent the atmosphere was still one of Fear and Loathing.

Within ten minutes, trouble was brewing. As I sat on a yard chair in front of the peace house talking amiably with several folks who were selling anti-war related merchandise, a man on a motorcycle suddenly appeared next to us. He was older, and quite haggard, wearing a white shirt, jeans and sunglasses. He revved his engines and spun out in the dirt, kicking up a cloud that flapped open a U.S. Marine Corps flag hoisted from the rear of his bike. Tom Swann, a blind Vietnam veteran, approached the biker and demanded to know why a motorcycle was on the lawn.

The intruder (on bike) is confronted by David Broiles, the peace house's lawyer.
Photo by Stephen Webster

“Get the fuck away from me, motherfucker. Fuck you!” said the man on the motorcycle. Within seconds three more peace supporters were at the bike’s side.

“Someone call the cops!” yelled an older lady.

“Get the fuck away from me, assholes,” said the man on the bike. He raised his fist to the blind man and threatened him. “I will beat your ass, motherfucker.”

He made sure to spin out and kick up a lot of dust before driving away.
Photo by Stephen Webster

Recognizing the threat, I drew my camera and started shooting. As my lens flickered away, he pulled out of the peace house’s front yard and roared down the road into town, leaving a thick, orange cloud in his wake. I held up my camera and smiled. “Guys,” I said, “I’ve got him on tape and film”

A few seconds later, two teenage girls in a green Ford Mustang rode past the peace house, hands out their windows. They were making the peace symbol, except they were holding it upside-down; an inverted ‘v’. They made a u-turn after passing, and pulled up to some sign-holding protesters on the side of the road.

These two girls drove past the peace house at least eight times, shouting and throwing things.
Photo by Stephen Webster

“I have a question for you bastards,” said the driver. “Don’t you remember 9/11? Fuck you!” They sped off as the protesters yelled back, pointing to images on their signs depicting bombs inside the World Trade Center towers. They reached the end of the street in town and parked in front of Crawford’s only gas station. They hopped out and gleefully skipped inside. When they returned to their car, they headed back in the direction of the peace house. This time, the man on the motorcycle was following them.

Working together? We may never know.
Photo by Stephen Webster

As they rode by, they held middle fingers out their windows and screamed obscenities. I photographed them and recorded their passing. The man on the motorcycle threw a bottle of water at a few people standing off the side of the road. They circled and returned again, and repeated this about six times. Finally, the McLennan County police showed up. The peace house’s lawyer, David Broiles of Dallas, asked me to speak with the officers.

“For some reason,” he said, “the f-word is illegal out here. But we can pretty much use that against anyone who is harassing us. As long as we keep it civil, they usually screw themselves by thinking they are above the law and we aren’t.”

“You took pictures of the disturbance?” asked Officer David Fulford, who had personally overseen the arrest of the “Good Friday 14.”

The peace house regulars had many nice things to say about Officer David Fulford (right), who arrested the harassers.

Photo by Stephen Webster

I told him yes, that I was just doing my job, simply documenting the event. I told him I am a reporter, and that my photos did indeed have the license plate numbers of the offenders’ vehicles.

“Oh, wow. There is a God,” he said. I was sort of taken aback.

“We’re going to prosecute these people. Why can’t they just leave you guys alone? Can you download all those pictures for me?”

“Yes sir,” I said.

“Oh, you are fan-tastic.”

This, coming from the Crawford police.

Several hours later I was informed both the driver and passenger of the green Mustang were arrested, as was the man on the motorcycle. The protesters did not stop thanking me for the rest of the day.

We took a shuttle to Camp Casey, which had been set up about three days before. Upon arrival, we noticed a relatively small amount of activity. Most people were tearing the structure down, packing pallets of bottled water, and talking about their experiences. I walked around the site, eavesdropping on various conversations. Finally I decided to look for the peace mom herself, Cindy Sheehan.

While searching for Cindy Sheehan, I came across this rather orderly memorial.
Photo by Stephen Webster

As I paced through the camp, I asked several people if they knew were I could find Cindy. Everyone I talked to said she was around somewhere, but nobody was quite sure. I was informed that Cindy would be speaking about two hours later at the peace house’s service and lunch, and would be joined by Rev. Johnson, who would be speaking in Rev. Lowery’s stead. I was more than a little let down that I had missed the Civil Rights leader’s speech on Saturday. Kicking the dirt I walked back out into the beating sunlight, squinting and wrinkled my face, struggling to get a make on Cindy. Ah, I thought, there she is.

I approached Cindy as she was speaking with two other people. They finished their conversation and moved on. Just as it looked like Cindy was going to turn and leave, she noticed me approaching her and stopped.

“Cindy?” I asked.

“Yes?”

“Hi. My name is Stephen Webster. I’m with The News Connection and The Lone Star Iconoclast.”

She paused and furrowed her brow.

“Webster? Iconoclast? I know you,” she said, pointing an index finger at me and nodding her head.

Before I could eek out a response, she closed the distance between us, taking five large steps in my direction. Her arms opened up and embraced me. I reciprocated.

“Thank you,” she said.

“No, thank you,” I responded. “None of this would be happening without you.”

Just when I thought our hug had ended, as I began to relax my arms and relinquish my hold, she squeezed even tighter and put her face against my collarbone.

“Thank you. You guys do so much good,” she said, giving me a final squeeze.

We let our arms fall at our sides and stepped away from each other. I reached into my pocket and pulled out three folded sheets of paper, offering them to her with an outstretched hand. I told her it was a column I had written about Halliburton, and how they are building ‘immigrant detention facilities’ in America at the behest of the Department of Homeland Security. She shook her head and said she had heard the rumor, but did not know many of the details. I said that I thought she might like the story, and that I wanted her to have it. Then we got together for that obligatory ‘picture-with-a-famous-person’ pose where we lock arms over shoulders and grin real big. Everyone felt all fuzzy inside.

Bill Mitchell (left), Cindy Sheehan (center) and Stephen Webster (right) at Camp Casey II on April 16, 2006.
Photo by an unnamed, friendly person


Cindy Sheehan (left) and my friend Matt Swain (right) with his sign, which she autographed.
Photo by Stephen Webster

A woman in a white shirt with a peace symbol on it approached as Cindy walked away.

“Are you Stephen?” she asked. “With The Iconoclast?”

Yes, I said.

“Okay, I’m sorry to bother you, but they need you back at the peace house. The cops are there, and you have to make a statement. They said you took pictures of the disturbance as well, so they need those too. Could I get you to come back on the next shuttle?”

I obliged and hopped the next van back.

When I retuned to the peace house, two police vehicles were parked across the street. I downloaded the images on the public computer at the peace house and showed them to officer Fulford, who seemed to be more on the side of the peace folks than the antagonists. I made several copies of pictures depicting the vehicles’ license plates.

As I walked outside, the sound of clapping filled the air. I turned the corner and headed for the back yard, and encountered a group of about 90 people in a circle, standing in the shade of a large oak tree. Under a white tarp stood Reverend Peter Johnson, preparing to address the crowd. Lowery, who I thought was speaking that day, is an associate of Johnson’s at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, where Johnson is a senior staff member.

In the back yard of the peace house, people gathered for speeches, prayer and vegetarian cuisine.
Photo by Stephen Webster

“Happy Holy Day, everybody. And I say ‘Holy Day’ because this is in fact not a ‘holiday,’ it is a Holy Day,” said Johnson. “The fourth of July; now that’s a holiday. Resurrection day is a Holy Day. And to have the third anniversary of the Crawford Peace House on resurrection day; that ought to say to you that there is magic in the way God works.”

“You know, the book of Ezekiel talks about the wheel in the middle of a wheel,” continued Johnson. “The Crawford Peace House is like that wheel in the middle of a wheel. The town of Crawford is the outer wheel, spinning the wrong way. The wheel in the middle of the wheel will turn those going the wrong way, and help them see the right way. And we will all stand together.”

Rev. Johnson delivered a powerful, passionate speech and invocation.
Photo by Stephen Webster

“Everything that happens is divine. The Crawford Peace House, being here at the right time, is divine,” he said. “The whole Civil Rights movement … I would like to tell people that we were so smart and sophisticated that we planned all of that stuff. But, no, we didn’t. In fact, everything we planned failed. Everything God planned worked. How many of you all know about the Albany, Georgia movement?”

Only one person raised a hand.

“The reason for that is that we planned that. Everybody knows about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. That was God’s plan. We like to say that the good lord came on Rosa Parks’ heart one day and started a movement. Birmingham was God’s plan, not ours. Selma, Alabama was God’s plan, not ours. In fact, during that year when we were planning to do all of these ourselves, Selma was not even on the map. Let me tell you why Selma was not on the map and how God works in mysterious ways …”

Reverend Johnson described his experiences in the spring of 1965, when about 650 protesters marched out of Selma, Alabama toward the capitol, Montgomery. American history books refer to the final day of this march as “Bloody Sunday.” On March 7, 1965, protesters made it just six blocks before being attacked by police brandishing clubs and tear gas. Days later Dr. Martin Luther King entered the town and held another march to the street where the attack occurred. Shortly thereafter Federal District Court Judge Frank Minis Johnson ruled that the citizens were acting within their rights, even while marching down a public highway.

“This was the beginning of the end,” said Rev. Johnson. “They warned us about Selma, back when Dr. King was just dating Coretta. Dr. King’s father warned him about Selma, and said that white people there are mean and dangerous. We were gonna avoid Selma. Two weeks after Dr. King’s first march out of Selma, almost 3,000 people came to Selma to walk with us once again. We walked miles and miles every day and people was sleeping wherever they could. When we got to Montgomery, there were over 20,000 people with us. In Selma, with our feet, we wrote the Voting Rights Act. We did not plan to do that. God did that. So you see, God really does work in mysterious ways.”

The crowd went wild.

Was the peace house Divine providence? Rev. Johnson thinks so.
Photo by Stephen Webster

“The Crawford Peace House was inspired by God,” said Johnson. “Nobody sent for Cindy Sheehan. She came here because God sent her here. She came here and took a seat in a ditch. If God had not put the Crawford Peace House here, that would not have worked. Even when we were asleep, God was making this thing work. He said, ‘I’m gonna send a lady to Crawford, but I need a peace house there to welcome her. I’m gonna send people from all over America to Crawford to make a witness for peace, but I need a peace house there with a bathroom and a kitchen, and with two people with big hearts, with love in their hearts.' So, you see, we did not plan this thing. I would love to say that we planned this, but that is not true. God planned this for us. Do not be discouraged.”

Once Johnson finished his speech, Cindy Sheehan took the microphone. She talked about her son Casey, and why she had come to Crawford in the first place. She repeatedly thanked Rev. Johnson, and offered her thanks and praise to God for placing the Crawford Peace House in the president’s adopted home town, and for causing its third anniversary to coincide with Easter this year. She called it divine providence, and echoed the words of Dr. King and Dr. Lowery. She evoked images of the Civil Rights movement, and thanked those in attendance.

Sheehan's speech was equally impassioned.
Photo by Stephen Webster

“When I decided to come to Camp Casey on August 3rd, 2005, that was a Wednesday, and I had no idea that the Crawford Peace House even existed,” said Sheehan. “I sent out my famous email to about 300 people. I said, 14 Marines were killed today, and that was 20 in two days because six more were killed the day before. We have been working so hard for peace. What is it gonna take? I just had a brainstorm while I was typing that email. It was my frustration over the continued loss of life because of the lies. I said, I’m going to Dallas, Texas. I’m going to the Veterans for Peace convention. When I’m through with that I’m driving down to Crawford, Texas. I’m gonna get as close as I can. I’m going to demand to meet with the president and I’m gonna ask him what noble cause he killed my son for.”

She recounted how she first met the founder of the Crawford Peace House, Hadi Jawad. She said when she first arrived at the peace house, their phone was turned off, so she paid $250 to have it turned back on.

"God really does work in mysterious ways."
Photo by Stephen Webster

“Little did I know, I was about to be stuck in Crawford for the next 26 days not being able to transfer funds,” said Sheehan. “So that check bounced! But two weeks later, as more and more people were coming to Crawford, people from all over America gave us over $30,000.”

Everybody applauded. I spotted a couple people crying.

As Cindy wrapped her speech, Rev. Johnson walked up and embraced her. He turned and faced the audience, taking the microphone in one hand and placing his arm over Sheehan’s shoulder.

Rev. Johnson and Sheehan encouraged everyone to mail, email, phone and fax Jesus' Sermon on the Mount to the White House.
Photo by Stephen Webster

“There is something I want to ask each and every one of ya’ll to do,” said Rev. Johnson. “Please, ask all of our friends from all over the world to do this too. I want ya’ll to make copies of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and send it to the White House. I want you to send it in emails and letters. I want to flood the White House’s mail room with copies of the Sermon on the Mount. I want to clog up the White House email systems with Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Please do this, and get your friends to do it too.”

Johnny Wolf, a co-founder of the peace house, stepped up to the microphone as Cindy and Rev. Johnson waived and smiled at the crowd. “Its all yours, Johnny,” said Sheehan.

“We have a traditional blessing that we all do here,” he said. “I’d like you all to join in. It’s a little bit Buddhist and a little bit Little Rascals.” Members of the audience hungrily eyed the large bowls of vegetarian cuisine set out on tables under the tarp.

“It goes a little something like this,” began Wolf.

“Yuuuuuummmmmmmmmmm,” he said, his voice ringing in his throat like a meditative om. He opened his eyes and pointed the microphone at the audience.

Chow time at the peace house.
Photo by Stephen Webster

“Yuuuuuummmmmmmmmmm,” they said.

“Yuuuuuummmmmmmmmmm,” he retorted.

Again, “Yuuuuuummmmmmmmmmm,” echoed the audience.

“Eat ‘em up,” concluded Wolf in a deep, resonant voice. The crowd applauded, and then started moving toward the food.

As they dined on seasoned squash and steamed rice, I made my way inside the peace house, taking a seat on a couch next to a tattooed man wearing a white shirt that read, “Iraq Veterans Against the War.” His name was Geoff Reymillard, and he asked that I only identify him if I plan on mentioning the organization imprinted across his shirt. I agreed. He told me he had been stationed with the Army’s 42nd Infantry in Tikrit, more commonly known as the northern axis of the Sunni Triangle; a hotbed violence.

Geoff Reymillard of Iraqi Veterans Against the War spoke about his experiences.
Photo by Stephen Webster

“One of the experiences that has made the deepest impact on me, as far as being against the war in general, is that we have to understand the term Haji,” said Reymillard. “During Vietnam you had the term Gook, and today you have the term Haji. There was an incident one day where there was a traffic control point set up. This car sped at the traffic control point very quickly and a young private who was manning a .50 caliber machine gun fired into the car and killed all four of the family members. It was a mother, a father, and two children, both under the age of five. After they were killed it was sent up the chain. I went to a briefing that night and there were two Generals, two Colonels, and two Lieutenant Colonels. After it was briefed to them, a Colonel turns to the entire crowd and he says, and I quote, ‘if these fucking Haji’s would learn how to drive, that shit wouldn’t happen.’”

He looked down and took a bite of his food, just shaking his head.

“What we are seeing here is an Iraqi no longer being a human,” he continued. “They become this Haji, just like they became Gooks in Vietnam, they have become Haji’s to our soldiers. Their deaths are not reported at all. They are all just chalked up to being insurgents. That is what happens over and over again. All the Iraqis being killed just ‘become’ insurgents. I just … I don’t know how you can be in favor of that at all.”

I walked outside toward the road in front of the peace house and drew a cigarette from my pocket. Dragging off the butt, I walked toward my vehicle, intending to find a place to leave a stack of newspapers I had collected. A man with a friendly-looking moustache wearing a floppy hat and large sunglasses approached me.

“Hey buddy!” he said. “I wanted to thank you for snapping those shots of those crazies who came around here earlier.”

“Oh. Thanks. Not a problem. Just doing my job, you know?”

He stuck out a hand and smiled.

“Bill Mitchell. I’m a friend of Cindy’s,” he said as I grasped his knuckles.

Bill Mitchell, father of Mike Mitchell, who died in Iraq on April 4, 2004.
Photo by Stephen Webster

I told him that I am a writer. He quickly offered, “My son was killed in Iraq. I’ll talk if you want.”

We both leaned against the side of the car and I switched on my recorder.

“My son, Mike Mitchell, was in the Army for 11 months,” he said. “He was killed in Sadir City, Iraq on ‘o-four, o-four, o-four’ [04/04/04]. On April 3rd, 2004 he packed his bags. Him and all 80 buddies of his were all going home, and they were all so excited. April 4th was the Sadir City uprising, the first cog of what Casey Sheehan was a part of. Twenty of our soldiers got ambushed in Sadir City, my son had spent eight months in Sadir City. I’m firmly convinced that Mike’s First Armor would not have been caught in the uprising. April 4th was a turnover of power from the First Armor to the First Cat. That is when the Shiite uprising happened. That is what Casey Sheehan was caught up in. Six other boys died in Sadir City that day. Six-hundred and four had died up to that point. One-hundred thirty five had been killed in just that month of April. That was when this whole damn war blew apart.”

He was wearing dark sunglasses, but when he looked down I could see the edges of his mouth begin to tremble. “I … ah … I …” he began.

“Just give me a minute, okay?” He turned his back and took a few paces in a circle.

“Hey, do you have a lighter?” he asked. I did, so I handed it to him.

He pulled hard on a Camel cigarette and handed the lighter back.

“Okay, where was I? Oh, yeah,” he said. “Sadir City. That’s right.”

"The day before my son died, we had captured the editor of one of Sadir City’s newspapers, Al-Haswah. They shut down the press just before the uprising. Now they have a new paper, and it is sponsored by the Department of Defense, which pays people in our military to write propaganda. We go in there to supposedly force Democracy on these people at the point of a gun, but we can’t even let them have a free press? I just don’t believe it.”

I shook his hand again and thanked him for sharing. He was still a little broken up. He shook his head as he took several steps away, and kicked the ground turning up a cloud of dust. Turning to face me once again, he held out both arms and shouted, “FOR WHAT? HUH? FOR WHAT?” His shoulders sank. His head fell. He turned around again and slowly walked away.

It was then I noticed a tan-colored van, moving very slowly past the peace house. I stood and held my camera at the ready, thinking it was another disturbance in the making. Instead, it was two elderly people wearing Sunday clothes. The man was fat and bald, and he was wearing a white shirt, black jacket and a brown coat. His wife had a tall, poofy looking hair-doo and a pair of gold-rimmed glasses. Her dress was adorned with flowers. A Bible rested on their dash board.

The passenger-side window came down and the woman looked directly at me.

“Why don’t you go home?” she shouted. It did not sound like a question.

“Just go home! Get the hell out of here!” she screamed. She was very upset.

I looked at her and turned my head sideways. It made no sense, going from one political extreme to another, but staying within the boundaries of a single religious philosophy. As a child, I was raised to be a literalist Christian, though I am not today. But Rev. Johnson had convinced me of one thing: God intended this. God had sent me there. God had sent her there. And I would be damned (perhaps literally?) if I did not let her know it.

I put my right hand on my chest and took three steps toward the van.

“God loves you,” I said. She shook her head once left, and once right, then repeated herself.

“GO HOME! WE DON’T WANT YOU HERE!”

I took one step closer to her.

“Jesus loves you. And so do we,” I said. This time she looked utterly shocked.

“Whatever. Get away from us!” she yelled.

As they began to drive off, David Broiles, the lawyer, approached to my right.

“Happy Easter,” he said with a wave. “Happy Resurrection Day, my friends.” The woman’s only response was to throw a cup out of her window. It was empty.

Rev. Johnson urged everyone to not just pray for peace, but to be a witness for it.
Photo by Stephen Webster

When I finally departed, the sun was low in the sky, but much of the activity at the peace house continued still. Though I had missed a majority of the weekend’s activism, and apparently some real danger and excitement, I felt spiritually refreshed, having seen what I had seen, and taking part in this unusual commemoration of Resurrection Day; the Holy Day; a day of many coincidences.

Divine providence? I do not know. I’ve never quite been an Athiest, but I’ve never quite gotten away from the teachings of Christ and Buddha and Mohammed. But the one ignis fatuus I was able to eliminate from my philosophical spectrum is the non-attachment of common and uncommon happenings.

There are no coincidences.

Stephen Webster is an Investigative Reporter and Syndicated Columnist with The News Connection, a Staff Columnist with George W. Bush’s hometown weekly The Lone Star Iconoclast, and a former Contributor to The Dallas Morning News’ Science & Technology section. For more of Webster’s musings, visit The Gonzo Muckraker.

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