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Pro-War Group Roars Into Berkeley

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday March 25, 2008
Eagles Up demonstrates support for the troops and the war Saturday at the downtown Marine Recruiting Center. Code Pink has been demonstrating against the war and recruitment since September.
Judith Scherr
Eagles Up demonstrates support for the troops and the war Saturday at the downtown Marine Recruiting Center. Code Pink has been demonstrating against the war and recruitment since September.

Roaring into Berkeley on their Harley’s—with the more sedate aboard red-white-and-blue-draped SUVs—a leather-clad flag-bearing conservative America took center stage Saturday at the downtown Marine Recruiting Center. The event, which drew some 350 people at its height, was organized by two groups, Eagles Up and Move America Forward (MAF). 

“I’m Cat Moy, and I’m an American,” said the Move America Forward executive director, speaking from the bed of a pickup truck at the noon rally in front of the center.  

Moy praised the patriots she said she saw in the crowd. “We stand today in the bowels of anti-Americanism,” she said as the crowd cheered and waved hundreds of American flags. The Berkeley City Council “paid the way of America’s enemies. They have called our Marines—our heroes—‘unwelcome.’ And these traitors refuse to apologize to the Marines, the very men and women who give them the freedom to act like maniacal dopes. These filthy leftovers from the Vietnam-era and their spawn give nothing to this country….” 

The gathering and rally was monitored by a half-dozen Berkeley police officers stationed in front of the center and about 15 more scattered around the Shattuck Square area, about a third as many officers assigned to the smaller anti-war demonstration March 19 sponsored by Code Pink, International Answer and the World Can’t Wait. At its height, that rally drew 250 people and was much smaller most of the day. 

At least one off-duty police officer from Santa Rosa was among the protesters. 

Unlike what they had done at some earlier demonstrations, police permitted older folks among the participants to set up folding chairs on the sidewalk, which was often impassible as they chatted among themselves in front of the Marine Recruiting Station. Police appeared to ignore Berkeley’s no-smoking laws and gave a heads up to the out-of-town crowd by asking speakers at the noon rally to let people know that city personnel would soon be out to check the parking meters. 

Speakers could be heard three blocks away, but, according to Deputy City Manager Lisa Caronna, who spoke to the Planet on Monday, city staffers were present to monitor the sound and make sure it conformed to the group’s permits.  

Asked why demonstrators were allowed to block sidewalks and place chairs on the sidewalk—something counter-recruiting protesters had not been allowed to do—Caronna said “police use discretion.” The important thing, she said, was to keep traffic flowing, which police did.  

Caronna further noted that, although anti-war protesters had no permit to march in the street March 19, police permitted them to do so and allowed them to use an unpermitted bullhorn as well.  

A number of demonstrators told the Planet they had came to Berkeley to counter Code Pink, the often outlandish anti-war group that has maintained a presence most weekdays at the center since September.  

MAF, which staged the rally, is a pro-military group chaired by former KSFO broadcaster Melanie Morgan and allied through MAF Chief Strategist Sal Russo to the Sacramento-based public relations firm Russo Marsh & Rogers.  

Eagles Up, which organized most of the protesters, is a group formed last summer to support the military and the war. The Eagles website describes one of its principles: “America is at war with a brutal, butchering, Islamic enemy. Victory is the only option in the current war in Iraq and around the world. Political surrender is not an option. We reject the theory of supporting the troops but not the war.…” 

Sporting a leather vest, Alfonso Peña of Oakland told the Planet he supports the war as retaliation against “whoever” crashed planes into the twin towers.  

Peña pointed to the success of the war. “We put down a dictatorship,” he said. 

Dale Thompson of Sunnyvale, a retired Naval officer, was standing in uniform in front of the center. He said he was there to support the all-volunteer troops.  

Responding to a question of why the U.S. is fighting in Iraq, Thompson said it was about fighting those who had destroyed the twin towers. It isn’t a question of the specific nationality of the enemy, he said: “Iraqis, Iranians, al Qaeda—it doesn’t matter,” he said. “After 9/11 people came together.” 

James E. Bundgaard, warrant officer CW4 retired, fought in Vietnam and told the Planet he remembered when he came home and couldn’t wear his uniform without being harassed. He said the same feelings against the military are resurfacing and blamed the anti-military recruiting demonstrations for some of that.  

“You’re never going to get rid of war,” Bundgaard said. “There are forces like us that have to take a stand.” Saddam Hussein was captured and killed “through efforts of ours to stand for what is right.” 

Forty-year Berkeley resident Doris Balabanian and a friend had been shopping at the nearby farmers’ market when they saw a group of men on motorcycles with flags and followed them up the street to see what was going on.  

Balabanian told the Planet she supports the troops and also supports the country getting out of Iraq. She hadn’t been to a Code Pink demonstration, but said she thought their anti-war message was getting lost. 

A small group of Code Pink women set up a table at University and Shattuck avenues, away from most of the demonstrators. 

“We’re here to show a presence,” said Norma Myers a Berkeley resident and business owner, standing at the Code Pink table. 

Melanie Morgan emceed the rally and introduced San Diego businessman Brian Dennard to the crowd. Dennard later told the Planet that his company, which purchases yacht supplies, had cancelled orders with businesses in Berkeley and Alameda, though he declined to name them. He called on the crowd to boycott Berkeley businesses.