It’s a safe assumption that most protest groups would not kick off a rally by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Certainly that holds true for the hundreds of hard-Left groups convening in New York City this week, many of whom wield signs demanding, “USA out of New York” and recoil at the mere mention of patriotism. Protest Warrior, however, is not your typical protest group: for one thing, its members are conservatives.
Founded in March 2003 by -year olds, Kfir Alfia and Alan Lipton, Protest Warrior is a national network of some 7,200 right-of-center activists. In truth, this is novel concept—even for some of the members. “Conservatives generally like to work within the system; we’ll try to get policy introduced,” says Tom Paladino, 27, who heads the New York chapter of Protest Warrior. “Liberals will just hand out money to whoever wants to print out 10,000 Bush-Lied! posters.”
Which brings up the reason why some 60 members of Protest Warrior have gathered in New York, a city that this week is a crucible of left-wing activism, contempt for the Bush administration, and a general loathing of all things American. Their mission, as the Protest Warriors see it, is twofold: First, they aim to expose the ulterior motives of those protestors who parade their radical agendas in the guise of “peace” activism. As Justin Flemming, head of Protest Warrior’s Chicago chapter puts it, “I’d like Americans to see that the protestors in the street are not the ‘liberals’ they pretend to be.” To this end, the Protest Warriors are toting video cameras. They hope to catch the demonstrators in their more extreme moments, and put the footage on their website, ProtestWarrior.com.
Second, the Protest Warriors intend to demonstrate that conservatives, heretofore a presence at protests only as an object of opposition, are willing to take up signs and take to the streets in defense of their principles. “We want to show that the left no longer has a monopoly on protest,” explains Alfia. Lipton goes still further. “We want to ideologically destroy and bankrupt those groups’ ideas,” he says.
And that’s where the Protest Warrior’s signs come in. Always ironic and often funny, they flay just about every left-wing sacred cow, from war (Except for ending slavery, fascism, Nazism, and communism, war has never solved anything); to communism (Communism has only killed a million people, lets give it another try; to the UN (Hey, U.N., we brought you into this world and we can take you out); to school vouchers (Black Children belong in black schools. Say no to school vouchers).
“Basically, we just took what these groups believe and distilled it to its essence,” Lipton explains.
The groups in question are radical organizations like United For Peace and Justice, a communist front group that last Sunday held a mass rally in New York. Participants in the rally claimed to represent mainstream America. However, as a survey conducted by The New York Sun suggests, their views were significantly recessed from the mainstream. According to the survey, 67 percent of protestors in the Sunday rally considered attacks on American troops as legitimate resistance, while 58 percent believed “neoconservatives” with close ties to Israel’s Likud party had manipulated America into going to war against Iraq. Responders also could not decide which system was the better: socialism, capitalism, or other.
It is precisely such sentiments that the Protest Warriors were determined to expose this Sunday, as they pledged allegiance to the flag, and, with signs and cameras in hand, set out to challenge the protestors of United for Peace and Justice. Needless to say, their presence was not appreciated. No sooner had a band of 60 Protest Warriors come within sight of the anti-war rally wending its way through lower Manhattan, than peace activists of all stripes turned belligerent.
“How much is the CIA paying you?” sniffed one elderly woman. (For the record, the Protest Warriors are funded by profits from merchandise they sell on their Web site.) Others called them fascists. Still another agitated protestor, wearing a “Free Palestine” T-shirt, was more heated in his condemnation. When asked his impressions of the Protest Warriors, the man, who demurred to give his name, said, “I’m going to use the word ‘Nazi’ and that’s quite right,” he said. “These are hard-core, right-wing Zionist racists who want to expel Arabs from their land.” As evidence, he pointed to an object being held aloft by one Protest Warrior: an Israeli flag.
Told of the charges against them, Paladino was unimpressed. Typical of the leftist protestors, he says, is their tendency to eschew serious debate for personal attacks. All told, Paladino doesn’t especially mind. “It just gets us going,” he says. “Here they are outnumbering us by a 1,000 to one, and yet, they feel threatened by us. We must be doing something right”
Still, the Protestor Warriors are frustrated about one thing. Though the group’s members hold a wide variety of views, from libertarian to classical liberal to conservative, all subscribe to one animating principle: a free exchange of ideas. “I love an open debate,” says Protest Warrior and Staten Island native Robert Keating, 23. “Just don’t tell me you hate Bush. Give me an educated reason.”
On these terms, they find the Left a stubbornly resistant -- and totalitarian -- counterpart. For instance, just recently, in perfect Brown Shirt and Red Guard style, leftist hackers on the internet sabotaged and brought down the Protest Warriors’ Web site. Free speech, evidently, as the protests at the RNC indicate, is not one of the Left’s most treasured rights.
At a rally a few weeks prior to the hacking of the Protest Warriors website, a pro-Palestinian activist ripped signs out of Protest Warrior activists’ hands.
For his part, Paladino is just glad Protest Warrior’s members’ weapon of choice is a sense of humor. “If we were as serious as they are, it would turn into all-out war,” he says.
On Sunday, it nearly did. After briefly making their way into the main demonstration, over the stern objections of the New York Police Department, the Protest Warriors were immediately set upon by outraged demonstrators. Within seconds, Paladino had a bullhorn stripped from his hands, then watched as a protestor spiked it into the ground and proceeded to stomp on it. Another member was thrown on the ground. Protest Warrior Will Currier got off comparatively easy: He was spit on.
What’s more, he didn’t seem to mind. “I regard it as battle wound,” Currier said, pointing to a whitish stain on his shirt. “It just goes to show you how much they like free speech.”
Indeed, hardly discouraged by such hostility, the Protest Warriors take it as evidence of their success. “They’re getting pretty agitated,” Currier beamed on Sunday. “That means we’re doing our job.” Paladino was still more excited. “And I’ve got it all on camera,” he said.