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The American Spectator

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Standoff in D.C.

Anti-capitalist protests engulf the nation's capital -- and one American Spectator reporter gets pepper-sprayed.

WASHINGTON -- The fastest-running protesters charged up the steps of Washington's National Air and Space Museum Saturday afternoon to infiltrate the building and hang banners on the "shameful" exhibits promoting American imperialism. As the white-uniformed security guards hurried to physically block the entrances, only a select few -- myself, for journalistic purposes, included -- kept charging forward.

Roughly one hundred protesters marched on the Air and Space Museum Saturday, following a planned assembly held the night before in Freedom Plaza. At that assembly, the "Action Committee" for the protest movement organized by suggested storming the museum in order to state their opposition to American militarism, which they perceive as a root cause of the federal deficit. The marchers started out in the early afternoon, and after a roughly half-hour parade through the streets of D.C. they reached their target. As the museum doors approached, all of a sudden liberal shoes started marching less forcefully, and the crowd split into two factions -- those rushing the doors, and those staying behind.

After sneaking past the guard at the first entrance, I found myself trapped in a small entranceway outside the second interior door behind a muscle-bound left-wing fanatic and a heavyset guard. The fanatic shoved the guard and the guard shoved back, hard, sending this comrade -- and, by domino effect, me -- sprawling against the wall. After squeezing myself out from under him, I sprinted toward the door. Then I got hit.

Being pepper-sprayed is a singularly agonizing experience -- enormously painful, but even worse for a hypochondriac. When the spray begins soaking into your eyeball, swelling your eyelids and rendering them largely inoperable, it's hard not to worry that you might soon have to invest in stronger-prescription glasses.

But as far as anyone knew I was part of this cause -- a cause that I had infiltrated the day before -- and I wasn't giving up before I had my story. Under a cloud of pepper spray I forced myself into the doors. Suspecting that the entire crowd would be able to get inside, I ran blindly across the floor of the Air and Space Museum to find a place to observe, drawing the attention of hundreds of stunned khaki-clad tourists (some of whom began snapping off disposable-camera portraits of me). I strained to glance behind me at the dozens of protesters I was sure were backing me up, and then I got hit again, this time with a cold realization: I may have been the only one who had made it through the doors.

The tourist reaction within the museum -- like the reactions of those on D.C. tour buses and sidewalks Saturday -- was one of confusion and mild irritation. In the absence of definitive national polling on the matter, that may be the best opinion sample we yet have of this rash of ill-defined, anti-corporate and anti-bailout protests developing across the country. What began on Wall Street is now spreading, and the question still remains: is it dangerous?

Socialist indoctrination methods are surprisingly effective. It's hard not to get swept up in the Movement when you're among a hundred foot soldiers -- most of them attractive 20-year old girls -- marching down E Street toward Freedom Plaza chanting, "How do we end the deficit? End the war and tax the rich!" Whenever the protesters would pass a group of tourists they'd implore them to join, and when a few smiling college kids would hesitantly jump in everyone would applaud wildly.

It was a miracle that they even managed to get to the museum. At the Freedom Plaza planning assembly Friday night, facilitators from struggled to keep order with a system they had invented -- one in which new ideas are called "process points" and "twinkles" (i.e. twinkling your fingers) stand for "yay." No one at the assembly seemed to have any kind of discernable cause ("I thought the government was the problem? Isn't that why we're here?" asked a clueless old man just before the police cut off the microphones). With the lead facilitator -- a redhaired, ponytailed twentysomething woman seemingly just out of grad school -- imploring the crowd to be patient with her as she differentiated between "process points" and "information points," the group grew restless. Disenchanted with false promises of free pizza, they started leaving in mass numbers.

So I was surprised to find myself a fugitive Saturday afternoon, stumbling around aircraft displays with just enough vision to keep tabs on my uniformed pursuers. "The museum is now closed!" screamed one of the guards as alarms sounded. "Everyone make your way to the exits immediately!" Using my jacket to cover my face -- which I could feel swelling to Elephant Man proportions -- I ducked through the confused tourists and raced out the exit. "Hey, you!" shouted a female guard reaching for my arm. "Get back here!" But I was already down the steps and out of sight.

Minutes earlier, I had been among those blocking major D.C. roads chanting "We're unstoppable" -- and from beneath my unshaven left-wing altar ego, I worried that we might actually be. But just as the lefties couldn't figure out how to run their assembly meeting (many process points, I'm afraid to report, were left un-twinkled), so too do they lack the nerve to confront authority. From estimates within the protest, only ten people were pepper-sprayed, and as far as I could tell I was the only one who got inside the museum.

In the absence of ideological uniformity, these protesters have no political power. Their only chance, as I saw it, was to push the envelope and go bold. But, if today's demonstration was any indicator, they don't have what it takes to even do that.

As I scrambled away from the scene of my crime, a police officer outside the museum gates pointed at my eyes, puffed out his chest, and shouted: "Yeah, that's right. That's right." He was proud that I had been pepper-sprayed, and, oddly, so was I. I deserved to get a face full of high-grade pepper, and the guards who sprayed me acted with more courage than I saw from any of the protesters. If you're looking for something to commend these days in America, start with those guards.

More protests are planned for D.C. Sunday, with the internal aim of keeping this disruptive movement going into the work week.

Letter to the Editor

About the Author

Patrick Howley is an assistant editor at The American Spectator.

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