Thousands of anti-war protesters demand: "Give us the truth"
They came bearing banners, singing ballads and barking demands from the U.S. commander in chief.
Some 4,000 protesters streamed into Washington Square surrounding The Salt Lake City/County Building downtown to protest the war in Iraq and President George W. Bush, who was scheduled to arrive this evening for an appearance before the national convention of the American Legion.
A few blocks south, uniformed military veterans and civilians spoke in support of the U.S. troops at a 300-strong Freedom Rally in Liberty Park.
They clasped hands and sang out ''God Bless the U.S.A.'' Yellow ribbons printed with the phrase ''Support our Troops,'' hung from shirt pockets, baseball caps and American flags.
''We must continue to support our troops,'' said Paul Holton, president of Operation Give, which organized the rally. ''We want them to be victorious. We want them to accomplish their mission safely.''
Apparently referring to Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, he said: ''The world needs to know we will not sit idly by and let someone speak for us who we disagree with.''
Anderson -- who has taken heat from Republicans for his support of the anti-war demonstration -- was greeted with a huge cheer and the crowd at Washington Square began chanting, ''Rocky, Rocky, Rocky.''
Placards waved with slogans like: ''Impeach Bush,'' ''Regime change begins at home'' and ''Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.''
Big-headed papier mache likenesses of Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice added to the carnival atmosphere.
But the gathering turned serious when Anderson called the Bush administration to task for inserting the United States in what he called ''an unnecessary war based on false justifications.''
''Blind faith in bad leaders is not patriotism,'' he said. ''We are here today to insist that those who were elected to be our leaders tell us the truth. If we had the truth, we wouldn't be in Iraq today.''
The crowd chanted: ''Give us the truth. Give us the truth.''
The mayor said it was ''chilling'' that Bush and his administration could continue to lie to the American people with impunity.
''These imperious, arrogant, dishonest people think we should just fall in line with them and continue to take them at their word.''
Anderson said coming generations will pay the price for the Bush administration's ''lies, violence, cruelty, incompetence and inhumanity.''
The mayor called for ''a new day,'' saying citizens ''must be cognizant of our moral responsibility to speak up in the face of wrongdoing.''
''We must pursue peace as vigorously as the Bush administration has pursued war,'' he said.
A former member of the Green Berets, Gil Iker, also addressed the lively gathering, saying that the president misrepresented himself when he said he was a ''uniter, not a divider.''
''Tragically, the president has squandered our biggest asset, our country's unity.''
After the invasion of Afghanistan, Iker said, the Bush administration lost track of the original mission: to hunt down al Qaeda.
''Iraq is not Afghanistan, any more than Vietnam was World War II,'' he said. ''Bush and Cheney have done enough to our beloved country; they should cut and run.''
Between protest songs and banner waving, the Rev. Tom Goldsmith told the crowd that the president is in denial of the growing civil war in Iraq.
''Bush leads this nation with eyes wide shut,'' he said. ''The war in Iraq is a fiasco.''
Goldsmith invited protestors to sign a petition to indict Bush and his administration, as well as Congress for abuse of power and failure to uphold the Constitution.
As the rally ended, a group of veterans led a march from City Hall to the federal building.
Back at the Freedom Rally, Virginia Foster Eisler, a member of the American Legion Auxiliary from Butler County, Pa., stood amid the crowd, her father's World War II dog tags around her neck and a Japanese flag stained with his blood at her side. She said she supports the soldiers and the country her father gave his life for.
''The troops need to know that we are behind them, like the Rosies in World War II, to show them that they are appreciated and that freedom isn't free,'' Foster Eisler said.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff addressed the crowd.
''I have to support the right of Rocky to be stupid,'' he said. ''But I will not support his right to hurt people. What he is doing is hurting those people whose loved ones gave the ultimate sacrifice.''
A sign nearby echoed his sentiments, in less political terms: ''The fruits, flakes and peacenik nuts don't speak for heartland America.''
A senior vice commander for the American Legion from Douglasville, Ga., Dale Barnett said the veterans organization must stand up against the anti-war crowd that turned public sentiment against the troops during the Vietnam era.
''People look at America. Our enemies look at us. The American people look at us. We as the American Legion believe we should be setting an example about what's positive in America,'' he said.