A Bad Day for the Huckster

While Governor Mike Huckabee was busy putting both feet in his mouth during a press conference at a downtown Des Moines hotel where he was showing reporters a negative campaign ad that he said he had decided not to release, antiwar protesters caught his campaign staff flat-footed as they occupied his Iowa campaign headquarters on the last day of 2007.

Huckabee’s effort to effectively release the negative ad while announcing his decision not to release it brought guffaws of laughter from the reporters assembled for the press conference. But no one was laughing over at the ordained Southern Baptist minister’s campaign headquarters a few blocks away where Voices for Creative Nonviolence (VCNV) and Occupation Campaign activists walked into Huckabee’s Iowa headquarters and unfurled a banner emblazoned with the question “Who Would Jesus Bomb?”

Stunned staffers fingered their cell phones in an effort to reach their supervisors, most of whom were at the press conference with Huckabee. Soon, staffers began demanding that the activists, Robert Braam of Manhattan, IL, Kathy Kelly, of Chicago, IL; and Mona Shaw of Iowa City, IA, leave the office immediately. The activists politely declined and began singing “Auld Lang Syne” in remembrance of Iraq war dead. They also read from a list of the names of the dead, chanting “We remember you,” after each name. And they engaged staffers with the question, “Who would Jesus bomb?” imploring Huckabee to sign a pledge to completely withdraw from Iraq within 100 days of assuming office; halt all military actions against Iraq and Iran; and fund the rebuilding of Iraq as well as health, education and infrastructure needs in the U.S. and "…the highest quality health care, education and jobs training benefits for veterans of our country’s Armed Services.”

A private security guard reiterated the Huckabee staffers’ demands that the activists leave, and again they politely refused. Moments later, a senior Huckabee staffer arrived and gave the order to call police officers to remove the protesters. The staffer, a tall man, said he was authorized to speak for the campaign but he declined to do so or to give his name. The staffer then advanced on Braam and attempted to intimidate him verbally. When his words failed to have the desired effect, the staffer went nose to nose with Braam and jostled him in an apparent attempt to physically intimidate or provoke the activist. Braam calmly backed away, asking the Huckabee staffer, “Are you pushing me?”

“Prior to the event we have in-depth discussions about nonviolence,” Braam said later. “We are fully prepared.”

Outside in the sub-freezing cold six activists, Razia Ahmed; Catholic Worker Community leader Frank Cordaro, Elton Davis, Lee Lewis, Catholic Peace Ministry executive director Brian Terrell, and John Tuzcu, acted in support of their colleagues who were risking arrest inside. While Tuzcu video taped the event for later posting on YouTube, others held a banner proclaiming, “End the Iraq War / No War with Iran” and spoke with members of the press and with passersby. Lee Lewis held aloft a placard bearing the question, “Who Would Jesus Bomb?”

The activists received unexpected support from a group of Ron Paul volunteers, college students who came to Iowa at the campaign’s expense for something called “Ron Paul’s Christmas Vacation.” The Paul campaign volunteers trooped out of Paul’s Iowa campaign headquarters, which is located in the same building as Huckabee’s. The groups met and mingled with a large contingent of print reporters, photojournalists, and broadcast media personnel from local, national, and international news organizations who arrived at Huckabee’s headquarters for a scheduled event.

As Des Moines Police Department officers arrived and prepared to arrest the activists, their supporters, along with some 35 or 40 reporters and media personnel and the group of Paul campaign volunteers, milled about on the sidewalk and in the street. At one point, the activists and the group of Paul volunteers chanted antiwar slogans responsively.

When Huckabee’s bus arrived, his campaign headquarters entrance was effectively blocked forcing Huckabee to sit in his idling bus as Cordaro, a former Catholic priest who left the priesthood in 2003, shouted question after question at the ordained Southern Baptist minister to the delight of the crowd of activists, reporters, Paul campaign volunteers, and a growing number of curious onlookers.

“We’re here to ask the governor, ‘Who would Jesus bomb?'” shouted Cordaro.

“What kind of Christianity does he back? The Jesus of ‘love your enemy,’ the Jesus of the Beatitudes, or the USA-stamped-Jesus, the Jesus of empire?” shouted Cordaro.

After about 20 minutes, the bus pulled away with Huckabee still on board. Huckabee’s schedule was delayed for about an hour.

Arrested for trespassing, Braam, Kelly, and Shaw were escorted by officers through a cheering crowd to a waiting paddy wagon and transported to Des Moines Police Headquarters where they were issued citations and promptly released.

The contrast between the belligerent attitude Huckabee’s senior staffer in charge inside the campaign headquarters and the calm, quiet professionalism of the arresting officers was remarkable.

“They were very gentle with us,” Kelly said in the foyer of the Des Moines Police Department headquarters after she and her colleagues had been released. She noted that the arresting officers had not found it necessary to handcuff the arrestees.

“One commented that the Auld Lang Syne song verses that we were singing always got to him,” said Kelly. “It was almost genteel.”

In a news release issued by the Des Moines Catholic Worker Community, Kelly, co-director of VCNV, was quoted as saying, “We’re very respectful of the Iowa Caucus process and the long history behind it, but we feel quite strongly that the issues of this war must be inserted into the process of narrowing down the candidates for the presidential election.”