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Neighbor Allows War Protesters to Camp on his Land
Published on Wednesday, August 17, 2005 by the Associated Press
Neighbor Allows War Protesters to Camp on his Land
by Angela Brown
 

CRAWFORD, Texas - Dozens of war protesters camping along a road near President Bush's ranch are about to pull up their stakes - but they're not leaving.

The group is moving about a mile away to a 1-acre corner lot, owned by an Army veteran who sympathizes with those at the vigil that started Aug. 6 by grieving mother Cindy Sheehan.

"I just think people should have a right to protest without being harassed," Fred Mattlage told The Associated Press late Tuesday. "And I'm against the war. I don't think it's a war we need to be in."

The makeshift campsite in ditches off the public road leading to Bush's ranch has attracted hundreds from around the country - protesters as well as Bush supporters holding counter rallies. That has caused traffic jams and road blockages in the rural area.

But some residents are doing more than honking their horns or complaining. In fact, Mattlage's distant cousin who lives near the campsite, Larry Mattlage, fired his shotgun into the air Sunday.

One man was arrested Monday night after authorities say he drove through part of the campsite, running over hundreds of wooden crosses bearing names of fallen U.S. troops. No one was hurt in either incident.

"That's just horrible to desecrate a memorial to the soldiers," Fred Mattlage said. "That upsets me."

He said he will not allow counter protests on his fenced-in property, which is about a mile closer to the ranch than the group's current site. And he is not designating his lot as an established protest site for other groups to use in the future.

"This is for the cause of Cindy Sheehan, and they can stay as long as they want," Fred Mattlage said.

Sheehan of Vacaville, Calif., lost her 24-year-old Casey in Iraq last year. She vows to continue the vigil through Bush's monthlong ranch visit unless he meets with her and other grieving families.

They were to start moving their tents, anti-war banners and portable toilets to the new site Wednesday in preparation for a dusk candlelight vigil. It is one of about 1,000 such vigils across the country, an effort organized by liberal advocacy groups MoveOn.org Political Action, TrueMajority and Democracy for America.

Protests are nothing new when Bush visits his ranch, but most are in Crawford city limits about 7 miles away. Sheehan's demonstration is the longest-running, most publicized and closest to the ranch.

Tuesday morning, several landowners asked county commissioners to extend for at least 2 miles the no-parking zone on public roads around Bush's ranch. The ordinance now prohibits cars from stopping on the road within about a fourth of a mile. They submitted a petition of more than 60 landowners' signatures.

The McLennan County Commission won't vote on the ordinance until after a public hearing next month. Sheehan's group would be long gone by then - even if it stayed on the public right-of-way - but she promised to return whenever Bush goes to his ranch.

Bush, who said he sympathizes with Sheehan, has made no indication that he will meet with her. Sheehan and other families met with Bush two months after her son's death before she became a vocal opponent of the war.

© 2005 Associated Press

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