On Monday night, the NYPD arrested 19 protesters at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza in New York City. Most were veterans of the Vietnam War and protesting the war in Afghanistan (on its 12th birthday). But conservative news sites picked up the story on Tuesday, conflating the arrests with "Obama's" government shutdown. Protest organizer Ellen Davidson told The Atlantic Wire, "I think that a lot of conservative websites are very supportive of veterans." She isn't mad about the publicity: conservative sites can get "the message out to an audience that might not otherwise be open to it." But "I don't understand how to conflate it with government shutdown."
Some conservative news writers seem to have just missed the fact that the protest was anti-war — the writers presented the Vietnam vets' arrest with mention of WWII vets occupying the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. FireAndreaMitchell reports, "Outrage! Obama has Vietnam Veterans arrested in New York." The Gateway Pundit has a similar post titled "Obama Follows Through On Promise: Arrests Vietnam Vets At War Memorial For Trespassing." The Drudge Report linked to an Infowars post on the topic, where some commenters expressed outrage about the arrests (see right), while a few were more outraged by the group's politics ("This is John Kerry's old treason group. That's all that anyone needs to know," one commenter said). Warner Thurston, a freelance contributor to Breitbart, tweeted a photo of the vets (below left), claiming that they were arrested for "daring" to visit the memorial on the National Mall.
To be clear: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza is not on the National Mall; it's in New York City. And the protesters weren't arrested because of the shutdown or President Obama's wishes. The plaza closes at 10 p.m., and protesters purposefully stayed after closing so that they would be arrested. Some handcuffed themselves together so that they would receive a harsher charge, Davidson explained. "They would like to have a charge that brings them the right to have a jury trial."
Veterans for Peace, the organization that planned the protest, organized in a similar one in 2012 that resulted in arrests. They have been "exposing the true costs of war and militarism since 1985," which isn't the typical extreme-conservative cause. As Davidson outlines, VFP had four objectives: "Calling for an end to the 12-year war in Afghanistan, calling for an end to all U.S. wars of aggression, remembering all those who have fallen and been wounded by war, and standing up for our right, duty and sworn oath, to defend the Constitution and to assemble and organize."
Davidson's partner, Tarak Kauff, is a Vietnam vet who is currently still in jail. She said the Drudge Report pickup of the story just shows that "veterans do get that respect in society." But while everyone can support veterans, "we think that they've been beaten by our country by purposes of wars that are unjust."