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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ideological Diversity Adds Spice to Protests


While the speakers on the stage at the Republican convention have been largely on message, the protesters outside have not always been so united. At times during the protests over the last two days, the groups and individuals vying to use the same stretches of public space have been coming into conflict.

One such example occurred on Tuesday afternoon, when members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a fundamentalist splinter group from Kansas, entered a designated protest zone near the convention center. Soon, the handful of church members â€"â€" known for holding protests at soldiers' funerals while arguing that American combat deaths are God's punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality â€"â€" were confronted by a group of anarchists and other leftists.

Insults were exchanged. Tempers flared. Witnesses said one church member became belligerent when two men kissed in front of him. Lines of police officers wearing helmets and carrying round plastic shields stood between the groups and ended up escorting the church members from the area as their detractors jeered.

“They are just a silly cartoon,” said John Murdock, 37, of New York, as the group departed. “They should be mocked.”

A few hours later, however, it was the anarchists who came under criticism during a march of immigrant groups and opponents of measures requiring voters to present identification at polling places.

As dozens of black-clad youths surged to the front of the march, in Ybor City, and shouted anti-capitalist slogans, some leaders of the march objected. After a while the anarchists stopped and held a quick meeting and one of them, Anthon y Robledo, urged his colleagues to restrain themselves, shouting, “Do not co-opt their march!”

His comrades concurred. Then, singing the words “solidarity forever,” the anarchists moved to the sides of the street and allowed the other marchers to lead the procession.

The interesting amalgam of Occupy Wall Street protesters, Ron Paul supporters and even Mitt Romney backers has led to some intriguing confrontations on the streets.

As a group of Occupy protesters yelled demands to see Mitt Romney's tax returns, some of the group also sparred with a handful of Paul supporters standing nearby. The Paul supporters shouted the name of the Texas congressman. Occupy members responded by shouting, “Nobody for president!”

A Romney supporter, Ben Howe, paused to debate an Occupy protester. The protester castigated Mr. Romney. Mr. Howe criticized part of the message against his candidate. “When you say '1 percent,' all I hear is ‘class warfare,'â € he said.

As the two continued to exchange views, there were moments of harmony. But the adversarial atmosphere returned when a Paul supporter accused Mr. Howe of harboring an anti-Islam bias. At that, Mr. Howe turned away, declaring that further conversation would be pointless.