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Pro-War Demonstrators Tear Up Peace Sign

The Patriot-News | May 07, 2007 
LARA BRENCKLE

The Iraq debate briefly boiled over on the state Capitol steps when half a dozen people at WHP-AM's rally in support of troops yesterday yelled at a woman holding a sign questioning the war.

Bridget Whitley of Harrisburg stood near the front of the crowd, holding a sign that said she supported the troops but wanted an end to the war.

A man from the crowd grabbed Whitley's sign and started walking away. There was a scuffle, and a woman grabbed the sign and ripped it into pieces.

Chris Brooks of Lancaster was debating the war with Whitley before -- and after -- Whitley's sign was taken.

"Weren't you listening?" Whitley said. "Weren't you watching four years ago when [President Bush] said it was 'mission accomplished'?"

"That mission was accomplished," Brooks said.

As their conversation escalated, those standing around her admonished Whitley.

"You disgust me," someone hissed.

"I just cannot believe you come here and bring that disgusting thing here," said Josephine Stockton of Columbus, Ohio. "People like you are demoralizing our country."

Whitley stood her ground and remained near the front of the rally for the duration of the hourlong event, which started at noon. It was the fourth the radio station has hosted.

"Thirty-seven percent of people believe we should be in Iraq without any time limits or benchmarks," Whitley said. "I represent the majority. I support our troops and want them out of Iraq."

Paula Hoff of Glen Rock watched the scene unfold and was upset.

"My son's over there right now, and morale is poor," Hoff said. "They need to know we support them and care about them."

The scuffle was not mentioned by the event's speakers.

But broadcaster R.J. Harris, the event's host, said people have a right to their opinions.

"It's a great thing about America -- we have the right to say what we want.

"[The other side] can say what they want -- but we have a lot more than 50 people here today," Harris said, referring to an anti-war rally he said was held the day before.

Harris estimated between 2,500 and 3,000 people showed up yesterday -- considerably more than the 1,000 people at last year's event but not nearly the 12,000 people who showed up for the first rally in 2003.

"I just think Americans, human beings, have short attention spans," Harris said. "There was a lull last year. We've just gone through a year where the country is very divided, and the people who support the troops are very vocal."

The division, according to the speakers and a number of attendees, centered on the war spending bill Bush recently vetoed.

Laurie Behney of Harrisburg carried a sign that read "We love our military, where's Congress?" a reference, she said, to her disgust with the political fighting over the most recent war spending bill.

Last week, Bush vetoed a bill that would have paid for the war but called for the U.S. to begin withdrawing from Iraq in October.

"Our country has troops in harm's way all over the world, and they're playing politics with funding," said Behney, whose nephew Bill is serving in Iraq.

Talk show host Bob Durgin was equally adamant.

"How do we know who really supports our troops?" Durgin asked. "We don't accept a finance bill with defeatist timelines that tell the enemy to hang in there. Supporters of our troops publicly cheer our soldiers to victory."

Event co-sponsor Giant Food Stores donated $150,000 raised through customer donations to the Liberty USO.

A spokeswoman for Giant said the money would be used to send 300 children of deployed service members to camp; to pay for a retreat weekend for families of soldiers killed in action, and to support other needs.

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