Of the 3,000 in attendance only six were escorted from the premises. Seventy-two others, who left of their own free will, were newly minted United States citizens. Despite the promise of angry protests disrupting the address of President George W. Bush at the 46th annual Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony at Monticello, the event went off smoothly.
Code Pink’s Gael Murphy, who has been protesting the Iraq War and the Bush administration for the past six years, hollered at Bush to “defend the Constitution!” “There is no holiday from truth and from justice,” she said later.
Hard to know if the relative understatedness of the heckling was the product of dying passion for an unpopular, lame duck president or efficient crowd control that limited the number of attendees. A handful of shouting protesters sprang from their seats when the President began his address, an homage to—who else?—Thomas Jefferson, but once he finished speaking, nine minutes and 35 seconds later, the stage was restored to the day’s main event, the swearing in of the new citizens. No arrests were made, according to Lee Catlin, the county’s spokeswoman, and those who jumped out of their seats and shouted their disapproval voluntarily left when asked to.
Signs were officially prohibited (as were tobacco, mace and umbrellas, among other things), but 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, saying 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.”
George W. Bush, the fourth sitting president to take part in Monticello’s July 4 festivities, quickly acknowledged the protestors: “We believe in free speech in the United States of America.”
Wayne Mogielnicki, Monticello’s spokesman, said the plan was to ask protesters to be quiet and sit back down. If they didn’t, then they would be asked to leave. Ultimately, six left without incident. Down the mountain at the Monticello Visitor Center on Route 20 several dozen more waved anti-Bush signs.
Murphy was not escorted from Monticello, and leaving on her own 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 “bunch of kooks” that had protested. Hoffman, who was on the Nelson County Board of Supervisors for 16 years, said, “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. “I like Ol’ Boy,” the 81-year-old Hoffman said.
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