The backstory on the veterans rally in Washington
October 15th, 2013
05:24 PM ET
8 years ago

The backstory on the veterans rally in Washington

Washington (CNN) – Two groups were largely responsible for a hastily-arranged veterans rally Sunday on the National Mall, and one of them now accuses the other of "hijacking" the idea for the event and turning it into a political spectacle that grabbed the national spotlight.

Crowds of veterans and conservative activists overcame barriers at the World War II Memorial, where high-profile politicians used strong anti-Obama language and blasted the administration for closing national monuments and memorials during the partial government shutdown.

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Some inflammatory rhetoric was heard from the podium and among the audience, and some protesters carried the grated barriers to Pennsylvania Avenue and dumped them in front of the White House.

So how did the rally come about? Here's the timeline.

On Sunday, October 6, one week before the rally, Larry Ward with the grassroots veterans organization Special Operations Speaks (SOS) came across a Facebook page promoting a "Million Vet March on the Memorials," for Sunday, October 13.

The event was being organized by a small, apolitical group called Brats for Veterans Advocacy. The group describes itself as "military brats, current and former military spouses and some veterans" that were sharply disappointed with veterans being used as "political pawns" in the ongoing government shutdown.

Ward, excited by the idea of the march, quickly approached one of the organizers from BVA and offered SOS's help in promoting the rally, Ward told CNN.

According to a series of emails, texts and other online communications released by SOS, a member of BVA responded and accepted the offer from SOS that same day. The member's name was redacted from the communications, and efforts by CNN to contact BVA and confirm the conversations have gone unsuccessful.

Once BVA accepted help from SOS on Sunday, Ward began drafting press releases, creating a website and making arrangements for the rally on Monday. He also recruited Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, to appear at the event.

Later in the day, the BVA member expressed disagreement with some of the language drafted by SOS to promote the rally, including "tyranny" and "protest." Ward agreed to tweak it.

On Tuesday, the BVA member said other members in his group of about five people (located in four different time zones) started to review the promotional materials and didn't feel comfortable with the tone of the copy.

While the small group discussed it among themselves, Ward asked if he could promote the event to his own audience at SOS, without mentioning the connection to BVA. The BVA member said "Ok that's agreeable completely," according to the conversations.

Ward said that would also free him up to use "harder anti Obama messaging."

But over the course of Tuesday evening, things quickly unraveled.

The BVA member continued to relay his group's uncertainty about the direction the rally was taking, as the promotional material went public among conservative circles online. The group also didn't want politicians at the event.

"You're causing confusion with our cause," the BVA member told Ward, saying the promotional language was "divisive."

But Ward argued that the two had already agreed he could promote to his own audience, as long as he didn't mention BVA.

The BVA member quickly sent a cease and desist request from his group: "There are no agreements in place. There is no more wording that we can give to you. There will be no conversations over the phone either."

The BVA member said his group had simply envisioned thousands of veterans gathering on the Mall and singing the Star Spangled Banner. "No one storming a barricade," the BVA member told Ward.

Ward replied, saying in his experience, people don't congregate to sing. "The(y) assemble because they are outraged," he added. "Outrage-justifiable outrage will turn vets out."

The BVA member then notified Ward that BVA would be putting out language distancing itself from SOS.

Ward said he was simply trying to help and promote BVA's event, but after a few more disagreements, the two groups ultimately decided to split ways Tuesday night, resulting in two different websites for the same event.

SOS website | BVA website

On Wednesday night, days before the rally, BVA asked SOS not to use the name "'Million Vet March on the Memorials' name or likeness, nor to appear as an official sponsor, organizer or agent of our event in DC or elsewhere."

But Ward told them he wouldn't agree to that, saying "A rally is an assembly. A Rally is not intellectual property. SOS has the right to support this assembly of Veterans."

Far fewer than a million turned out for the rally, and widely-known speakers including Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, along with Sen. Sarah Palin were invited and gave speeches. One speaker made headlines for telling Obama to "put the Quran down...and to figuratively come out with his hands up."

Another person was seen holding a confederate flag when the protest moved to the White House, while others were holding signs calling for the President's impeachment.

Ward said the BVA member did not attend the event.

According to the National Park Service, anyone is allowed into the World War II Memorial as long as they're exercising their First Amendment rights

On Monday, one day after the rally, BVA put out a statement blasting SOS, though without naming it.

"The political agenda put forth by a local organizer in Washington D.C. yesterday was not in alignment with our message. We feel disheartened that some would seek to hijack the narrative for political gain," the statement read in part.

In an interview with CNN, Ward said there was no "hijacking" for "political gain." From the beginning, he argued, the rally was political because the government shutdown's effect on veterans is a "political issue."

"It wound up to be, in my opinion, one of the greatest acts of civil disobedience in American history," Ward said.

October 1: Veterans break past World War II Memorial barricade

Filed under: Government Shutdown • Veterans
soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Data Driven

    It wound up to be, in my opinion, one of the greatest acts of civil disobedience in American history," Ward said, referring to the rally.

    LOL. No more than 500 people showed up, as the YouTube footage clearly demonstrates. Kudos to the security personnel who professionally resisted repeated provocation from the rebel hijackers of the event.

    Wow, what a story!

    October 15, 2013 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  2. Sniffit

    ""It wound up to be, in my opinion, one of the greatest acts of civil disobedience in American history," Ward said, referring to the rally."

    "It wound up to be, in my opinion, one of the greatest acts of civil disobedience in American history," Ward said, referring to his self-serving hijacking of BVA's event and his delusions of grandeur.


    October 15, 2013 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  3. don in albuquerque

    The place is here, the time is now. Forcibly remove all the tea bag members from the house and senate, and charge them with sedition then try them. Any tea bagger demonstrations will be dealt with the same way the Occupy demos were dealt with.... police and tear gas and arrests. And if Sarah and Cruz show up treat them in particular with extreme prejudice. I know this goes against the grain, goes against mine...but show me another way to deal with this group other then complete surrender of the government. They are not interested in reason.

    October 15, 2013 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  4. Sniffit

    So, CNN, did you even bother to reach out to BVA to try to interview them or did you only reach out to Ward because he's got the far more sensational, partisan and hype-able nonsense to spew?

    October 15, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  5. marcus

    Thank you Ashley for doing a fair and accurate report.

    Marcus Spalding. Retired disabled Vet. U.S Army.

    October 15, 2013 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  6. John Boehner Is a Cr(y)uz Baby

    Whenever you invite the QUITTER from Alaska to any rally it's a KKKlan rally to boot!!!!

    October 15, 2013 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  7. Ol' Yeller

    "You're causing confusion with our cause," the BVA member told Ward, saying the promotional language was "divisive."
    He drew the line at burning the cross on the White House lawn, but acquiesced to the waving the rebel flag and telling the President of the United States to come out with his hands up.

    October 15, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  8. Gurgyl

    This is a biggest plot by GOP to defund Obamacare which USA needs desperately. Pathetic. Pres. Obama be very strict on this, do not let these things hostage Obamacare. Period.

    October 15, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  9. Bootstomper

    Charge these fools with Treason.

    October 15, 2013 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  10. don in albuquerque

    You have to wonder how many of the WWII vets would have ever imagined they would be marching in lock step with the same fascist style group they fought against so gallantly. Wave your confederate flag a little higher baby! Yeah, carry it to the White House and try to scare those black people inside! How sad for this brave group of men and women to fall for anything like this.

    October 15, 2013 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  11. smith

    The SOS and BVA? Really people. These two do not represent vets in america. Try the VFW, American Legion, and Amvets.

    October 15, 2013 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  12. Sndbay

    Thank You Ashley for reporting the truth. I believe in the beginning there were good intentions, that would have pulled everything back to an understanding for freedom. The freedom our veterans fought to give all Americans, and support an important stand for staying united as one nation under God.

    October 15, 2013 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  13. Hooper

    Pictured above: The reason everyone, including the pets in the family should despise John McCain. If it had not been for him, Sarah, would never been in the public eye. She's a loser.

    October 15, 2013 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  14. nintex

    "Far fewer than a million turned out for the rally, and widely-known speakers including Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, along with Sen. Sarah Palin. . . ." WAIT! DId I really read that? When did she become a senator? How in the world did I miss that event? It gives me the heebie-jeebies to even think of the words Sarah Palin and Senator in the same sentence – some one needs to proofread their article and not give the country a heart attack. "Sen. Sarah Palin. ." God help us!

    October 15, 2013 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  15. Lisa P.

    Ward replied, saying in his experience, people don't congregate to sing.

    Shows what he knows. Wisconsin's Solidarity Singalong is well on it's way to becoming the longest sustained protest ever. Of course, we don't do any damage to state property and we only make headlines when Governor Walker tries to change the rules so he can have us arrested. But we still keep on singing.

    October 15, 2013 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  16. annie mak

    how dare this country not pay the veterans that have given life and limb for it r you kidding me? congress give up your pay you don't deserve it why should you eat and pay your bills with there money? American taxpayer money we have no control over. You weren't put there to live above your means like you do it makes me sick and you don't care as long as you make money you all should be recalled and ashamed of what you are doing to the very people who made it a free country you all are a disgrace to America.

    October 15, 2013 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |

    Thank GOD! I knew my fellows vets, as much as we have gone through, would no be involved in an event that disrespect the Commander In Chief, (regardless of who it is,) on world TV. Thanks fellow Vets for showing we are much bigger than Palin, Cruz and Lee. Thanks...

    October 15, 2013 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  18. Anonymous

    its always an act of tyranny when the GOP, the party of minority does not get its way, its nazi this and hitler that, why? because we ant to extend healthcare to all americans!

    October 15, 2013 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  19. bassman

    Sarah Palin's son put his life on the line so Obama's supporters could attack his mother. Shame on you for attacking this Blue Star mother. Shame on you!

    October 15, 2013 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
  20. lawless

    Since when did Sarah Palin become a Senator? I am a Gulf War Vet, those vets attending this rally need to check the records. The GOP and its Teaparty hootlums have done nothing to advance the cause of Vets. In fact the GOP has been cutting your benefits. Check the record. ALSO, Why would Vets associate themselves with the confederates? Its senseless to me...Shameful...

    October 15, 2013 11:31 pm at 11:31 pm |