The Million Vet March this weekend had to happen to let President Obama know his efforts to block all Americans, including veterans, from America's national parks and memorials would not be tolerated and that veterans are willing to fight to keep them open, according to the thousand-member strong Special Operations Speaks.
The group is also incensed that CNN characterized the march as a tea-party event and used one confederate flag and one controversial comment to define the march.
The issue of veterans' access to memorials arose on the very first day of the partial government shutdown. World War II veterans arriving on an Honor Flight from Mississippi were blocked from seeing the World War II Memorial by the National Park Service, or NPS. Barricades were placed in strategic locations, and NPS rangers were stationed at key points to block entry, even though no such security measures are in place at open-air memorials during normal government operations.
Similar confrontations followed, and veterans were physically removed from other memorials along the National Mall. As a result, organizers declared Sunday the day of the Million Vets March, and they set out to reopen the memorials in an act of civil disobedience.
"We had to stare down the president," Special Operations Speaks Political Director Larry Ward told WND. "The president of the United States, for the past five years, has really not treated veterans any good, going back to the 2009 (Department of Homeland Security) report where it called returning veterans potential terror threats to trying to take their guns away if they go to see a doctor. It was a bad start, and it's gotten worse and worse. To use the government slimdown as a means to punish the American people, to inflict maximum pain, is deplorable. To do so to our American veterans, to our World War II vets, is absolutely unacceptable."
The political debate over government funding and the debt ceiling have both sides pointing the finger of blame across the political aisle. Ward said his group would spread the blame around if it were warranted, but he said President Obama and the Democrats are responsible for the memorials being shuttered.
"We would have been focusing on the Republicans and the Democrats had the House of Representatives not passed a bill to open all the parks," he said. "And the president, what he did was he signed a veto threat for any bill that came to his desk that reopened the parks."
That being said, Ward added that the group makes no secret that there is a political element to their involvement in the march and criticism of the president.
"It is a political fight. There's no question it's a political fight," he said. "The president of the United States is using our veterans as political pawns. We had to make a statement and tell him that's unacceptable. So we didn't start the political fight, but we stood up for it and we're going to continue to stand up for it. Those barricades are going to continue to be taken down across the country, and our veterans are going to get access to the memorials without having to ask permission from a park ranger to enter."
Ward said crowds started to gather around 7 a.m. Sunday. Just more than an hour later, the barricades started coming down. He said the vast majority of the people on hand were veterans, but they were joined by conservative politicians like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as well as the Tea Party Patriots and Tea Party Express.
After the barricades were removed, a group of veterans carried the rails a short distance to the southern fence of the White House. Ward said that was a powerful moment.
"This is, in my opinion, one of the most historic and captivating moments in our nation's history, when our veterans took the initiative (through) civil disobedience, brought these barricades, dropped them on Obama's doorstep," Ward said. "One of them had a sign on it that said, 'Return to Sender.' It was a fantastic moment in our history, and it made me very proud of these folks who stood up."
It was near the White House that veterans encountered police officers dressed in riot gear. Ward was not a witness to the confrontation, but he said there is plenty of video that will show the veterans acted peacefully and lawfully and the police instigated the tension.
Special Operations Speaks is also lashing out at CNN for what it considers deliberately false reporting on the event, even issuing an open letter in criticism of the coverage. A CNN.com report gave considerable attention to the one confederate flag at the event and to one speaker, Larry Klayman, who asserted that President Obama is a practicing Muslim. Ward said those incidents do not represent the whole event and CNN's insistence that they do is a clear-cut case of journalistic malpractice.
"What CNN tried to do was to mute the national enthusiasm for this event by picking out these one or two isolated incidents and also by trying to say that it was a tea-party event. Of course, the left has done such a great job of demonizing the tea party, not that we're distancing ourselves from the tea party," said Ward, noting that not a single liberal organization or elected official showed up to support the veterans.
"The make-up of the crowd was 80-90 percent veterans. For them to call it a tea-party event just because there were some Gadsden flags flying is ridiculous," Ward said. "I pointed out in the letter that calling it a tea-party event just because the tea party showed is akin to calling CNN a communist news network just because their reporters are so far left-leaning."
Ward also vowed that we haven't heard the last of efforts to help veterans gain access to their memorials.
"It's not going to stop," he said. "I've heard of a number of individual local protests that are going to go out and continue to cut those wires, continue to practice civil disobedience. We are in the era now of civil disobedience, and it will not stop. We will peacefully gather. We will peacefully make our protests, but we will not be obedient to these unconstitutional, deplorable acts of barricading our veterans outside of their memorials that are there to honor them."
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