Three thousand were in attendance. Six of those were escorted from the premises. Seventy-two left of their own free will as newly minted United States citizens. Despite the promise of angry protests against the presence of President George W. Bush who had choppered in from D.C. to tour the house and address the new Americans, the 46th annual Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony at Monticello went off smoothly. A handful of shouting protesters sprang from their seats when the President began his address, an homage to Thomas Jefferson and the principles of freedom, but once he finished speaking, 9 minutes and 35 seconds later, the hullabaloo died down and the focus of the day returned to the new citizens and the promise of their lives in the United States. No arrests were made, according to Lee Catlin, the County’s spokeswoman and those who jumped out of their seats and shouted their disapproval were asked to leave and complied voluntarily.
Bush’s participation in the event was announced only last week, generating a quick flurry of e-mails and cries among anti-war and anti-administration groups to upset the ceremony. Meanwhile, Monticello had to fly into high gear to handle the security needs that attend any visit by a head of state. The normally open event went into ticketed mode, with people lining up at dawn on Wednesday to secure any of the 1,000 free tickets that were distributed to the public. A long list of prohibited items was circulated (no tobacco, no mace, no umbrellas), and a new park-and-ride scheme had to be devised to get folks up the mountain in a controlled way. It’s a safe bet that the speaker originally scheduled for this year, filmmaker Ken Burns, would have generated far less commotion.
Though signs were listed among the prohibited items, Northern Virginia resident Gael Murphy and others sporting the signature pink t-shirts of feminist anti-war group Code Pink managed to unfurl pink textile signs reading "Impeach It’s Patriotic!." The President was 10 seconds into his speech, mentioning that he was "thrilled to be here at Monticello," when Murphy sprang from her seat, repeatedly shouting, "Defend the constitution, Impeach Bush!"
It was not an unanticipated moment and Bush said, "To my fellow citizens-to-be, we believe in free speech in the United States of America."
More protesters jumped up, shouting about the "police state" and "fascism." One simply said, "Fuck you, George Bush."
Wayne Mogielnicki, Monticello’s spokesman, said the plan of action was to ask protesters to be quiet and sit back down. If they did not comply, then they would be asked to leave. Ultimately six got that request and they left without incident, perhaps to join the several dozen who were by the Monticello Visitor Center on Route 20 bearing signs and Uncle Sam outfits.
Protest is patriotic. Ask Uncle Sam.
Murphy was not escorted from Monticello and leaving partway through the event, she said she’d been moved to attend because of Bush’s "gall." "He is representing that he is the spirit and the voice of Thomas Jefferson, and he’s not," she said. "He is a deplorable president." She had been seated among family members of new citizens. To them, she says, she expressed a hope that her outbursts hadn’t offended them. "I think speaking truth to power that is hurting the country is the most patriotic thing I could be doing today," Murphy said. "There is no holiday from truth and from justice."
When it was all over, Walter Hoffman, wearing a short-sleeved, red plaid shirt with a mini flag peeking out of the pocket and a cap from Virginia Track and Equipment, remarked on the relative smoothness of the event, his first time in attendance. Hoffman was on the Nelson County Board of Supervisors for 16 years. "Bunch of kooks," he said of the protesters. "They seem to disregard the feelings of anyone but themselves. If they want to express their displeasure this is not the place to do it or the way to do it." He was a sight more impressed by Bush, however, whom he was seeing for the first time. "I like Ol’ Boy," the 81-year-old Hoffman said, and then laughed.