As the Obama administration continues to press its case for military intervention in Syria, anti-war protesters and Syrian Americans friendly with the Assad regime amassed outside the White House Monday morning chanting "Hands off Syria!"
Between 400 and 500 demonstrators from as far away as Michigan rallied in front of the White House, waving pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Syrian flags while chanting anti-war slogans, before marching to the Capitol Building.
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"Syrians support Pres. Bashar al-Assad. Stop U.S.-Zionist war on Syria," read the sign of Bill Bolde, 45, who bused down to D.C. from Massachusetts with around two-dozen Syrians.
Bolde said he opposed any U.S. military action against Syria, "just like I oppose all the U.S. wars."
"I came here just to say to Obama to do peace," Rita Masouh, 40, said. "I was in Syria last month, and we are fighting al Qaeda."
"I’m sure it’s a lie," Masouh said of the chemical weapons attacks. "They, al Qaeda, did it. The majority of Syrian people want Assad. We don’t want extremists and radicals to take over. They’re coming from all over—Chechnya, Libya, Afghanistan."
The secular Assad regime’s tolerance of religious diversity was a common theme. Additionally, almost everyone interviewed by the Washington Free Beacon expressed serious doubts over the Obama administration’s claims that Assad attacked civilians with chemical weapons.
Kristen Jones, 23 with dyed-red hair, bused in with her friend Tasha Sparks all the way from Dearborn, Mich.
"Why would Assad do that to his own people?" Jones said. "That makes no sense, but it’s another weapons of mass destruction thing."
"The rebels are in a video admitting they did it," Sparks said. "Look it up."
After chanting in front of the White House, part of the crowd gathered to sing the Syrian anthem and listen to speakers.
"Mr. Obama, the Syrian people don’t appreciate your double standards," one speaker said. "You fight al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but you love them in Syria."
Brian Becker, the national coordinator for the anti-war group Answer Coalition, said the campaign was unfairly targeting Assad for removal.
"We know that the real goal isn’t to protect children," Becker said. "The real purpose is to replace the legitimate government of Syria with a proxy government that does our bidding in the region."
The Syrian American Forum, in a statement, urged the Obama administration "to push all parties involved in the fighting in Syria for an immediate ceasefire and a negotiated peaceful settlement of the crisis in Syria."
In the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue, a small group of older white folks held American flags and yellow "don’t tread on me" Gadsen flags.
Larry Hollifield sat in armchair next to a cooler of water bottles and a a sign that read, "IMPEACH OBAMA." They were not part of the main protest, he said.
"I could give you about 250 impeachable offenses," Hollifield said when asked about his sign. "First of all, he’s not a citizen. We know it, Congress knows it, everyone knows it. He wasn’t born in the United States."
"He’s got the Muslim Brotherhood into our government," Hollifield’s wife Karen added.
"They’re both terrorists, but one supports Christians," Karen said of the Syria conflict. "The other terrorist group supports Islam. I just can’t see any good outcome from us meddling over there."
The Syrian protesters came back down the street, streaming around the Hollifields and crew. Walking with the crowd was Atiyeh Darcy, dressed in a flowing white robe with a cross on front.
Darcy said the rebels in Syria were butchering Christians and had recently attacked Maaloula, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world and one of the few that still speaks Aramaic.
Darcy also was skeptical of reports of brutality by the Assad regime. She cited the death toll reported by Doctors Without Borders, which is less than 400—far fewer than the figure used by the Obama administration.
"The media reports 100,000 dead in the civil war like that’s all Assad," she said. "We want the names of the people who lost their lives in the chemical weapons attack."
Darcy hailed from Allentown, Penn., one of the largest Syrian communities in the United States. Syrians from Allentown were scheduled to meet with Rep. Charlie Dent (R., Pa.), their congressman, later Monday night.
The protest left en route to the Capitol Building around noon. A few demonstrators still milled about, taking pictures in front of the White House and chatting with each other.
In Lafayette Park across the street from the White House, Chris Stevens, 67, and "Cheap Pete" sat on a bench. Pete, a Korean War veteran, has sold political buttons to tourists and protesters in D.C. for the past 50 years or so.
Stevens, a Vietnam vet, wore a baseball cap and a blue jumpsuit with a button sporting the ‘60s anti-war slogan: "1-2-3-4 W.D.W.Y.F.W."
"It’s the New World Order, Agenda 21, you know all that" Stevens said of the Syrian crisis. He described himself as a libertarian and a capitalist, not an Occupy Wall Street type.
He said what was happening in Damascus, where St. Peter and St. John had once walked, was a shame, but he saw no reason for war.
"Listen, as old as I am, I’ll put on a uniform and fight if someone picks a fight with us, but what has Syria done to us? They’re nothing but mutts," Steven said of the White House. "Mutts."