Bullhorn announcement duped Bush protesters into leaving scene of Bush's visit
Someone apparently duped 500 chanting protesters into believing that President Bush had canceled his Saturday visit to a Northeast Portland job training center.
The announcement, made over a bullhorn, prompted cheers and caused nearly everyone in the crowd to wander away happily, thinking that their presence had put a stop to the president's visit.
They were wrong.
Ten minutes later, the president's limousine came into sight for his visit to the job center on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The 30 protesters remaining on the police line were unable to marshal much more than a few dispirited chants against a backdrop of barking dogs.
The protest was over before Bush arrived, derailing a tense and potentially violent confrontation with police.
In the few days since, no one has taken responsibility for the misinformation. Neither the Portland Police Bureau nor the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition, one of the primary protest groups there, knew whether the information was the result of subversion or a misunderstanding.
"We don't know, and I don't think we'll ever know," said David Zundel, a spokesman for the coalition of protesters.
"It smells like a disinformation campaign," said Kathleen Juergens, who announced the incorrect information over the bullhorn after it was reported to her. She said she had no solid evidence other than her belief that law enforcement agencies are capable of such disinformation.
A photographer, however, reported hearing a voice over a police radio frequency saying: "The misinformation is working. They're leaving."
A police spokesman said the bureau would look into possible police involvement in the incident.
In the end, however, Zundel said the coalition doesn't care much about assigning blame.
Protest follows pattern The rally started at 11 a.m. Saturday at Irving Park, about four blocks from the Northeast One Stop Career Center, 3034 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., which Bush was scheduled to visit. About 500 marchers, under close police scrutiny, walked from the park to MLK Boulevard and then south to a point about two blocks from the site of the visit.
There the familiar pattern of Portland protests kicked in - a blend of performance art, politics and street theater. The crowd included several political factions drawing attention to a range of issues, among them energy policies, environmental policies, labor issues, justice issues, civil rights and trade.
Most, however, seemed interested in protesting the war in Afghanistan. There were a few anarchists, including a black-clad band that set its political ideology aside long enough to perform in sync with one another.
There were chants, songs, dance, political slogans and a few heated shouts at police, who remained silent. Most encounters with police fell within the law.
At one point, a smiling guy with a banjo worked his way into the crowd and started playing happy banjo music. He found rhythm in formless political chants and turned them into cheery, melodic folks songs.
Over her bullhorn, Juergens led the crowd in chants. She addressed the crowd as "my dear comrades" and kept the crowd updated on Bush's progress. At 1:29 p.m., she announced that Bush had arrived in Portland and that the crowd should stay "until he gets his rotten little butt here."
Two minutes later, however, an organizer for the coalition heard over her walkie-talkie that "the news" was reporting that Bush had canceled the stop. She told Ray Ludwig, another organizer; he whispered the report to Juergens, who made the announcement to the crowd over her bullhorn. The crowd cheered, and a jubilant Juergens encouraged protesters to make their way to Parkrose High School, Bush's next stop.
Confusion or deception?
Within 10 minutes, most of the crowd had drifted away. But then the flashing lights of Bush's motorcade came into view two blocks south.
Zundel said the coalition isn't sure where the report came from. Only a few walkie-talkies were in use by the group, perhaps three but maybe one or two more, Ludwig said. They were devices that anyone could buy at an electronics store, which means anyone could have broadcast over the channel that protesters were using.
The woman who first heard the report said it was a male voice. Zundel said he hadn't yet spoken with every protester assigned a walkie-talkie. It could have been a coalition member who misunderstood a news report, Zundel said, or it could have been deception.
Portland police and leftist protesters have viewed each other with suspicion in recent years. Twenty protesters were arrested in a 2000 May Day march, but last year's march went off without a hitch. Activists accused the police of spying on them but then praised the city for not helping the FBI interview Middle Eastern immigrants during the recent terrorism investigation.
Zundel said he didn't think Saturday's event would disrupt the relationship between Portland police and leftist groups.
"It's not like we're buddies," he said. "But we're not opponents, either. If we do something big like we did on Saturday, we let them know. Police like to know what's going on, so we tell them what we're doing so we don't get in each other's way."
Jim Redden contributed to this report.
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