I am old enough to remember the massive protests in Washington, D.C. for civil rights and against the Vietnam War which were attended by hundreds of thousands of protestors. (Here is a list from Wikipedia if you are interested). Some protests occasionally turned violent.
Recent events reminded of this long forgotten moment in history on May 9, 1970. The Story of the Really Weird Night Richard Nixon Hung Out With Hippies at the Lincoln Memorial (excerpt):
The Kent State shootings added urgency to a national student strike that had been hastily cobbled together after Nixon’s Thursday-evening address on Cambodia. The killings also swelled the ranks of those headed to Washington the following weekend for yet another antiwar demonstration on the Mall. [According to Wikipedia, 100,000 protestors were in Washington, D.C. to protest the Kent State massacre and Nixon’s incursion into Cambodia].
As had happened at Kent State, moderate students across the nation found themselves suddenly radicalized by the shootings. Radicals, meanwhile, had a new reason to resort to stronger means of protest. All told, more than 450 US colleges, universities, and even high schools were disrupted by strikes.
At 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, five days of damage control culminated in a Friday-night press conference. Afterward, an ebullient Nixon retired to the living quarters of a White House ringed once more by DC Transit buses and protected by elements of the 82nd Airborne, bivouacked in the Executive Office Building next door.
Nixon, it turned out, couldn’t sleep Friday night—around 3:30 the next morning, Nixon roused his valet, Manolo Sanchez, to ask if he wanted some hot chocolate. Sanchez declined, but Nixon wasn’t discouraged. Had Sanchez ever seen the Lincoln Memorial, the President persisted. The valet apparently had not, and with that, the Night of the Weird began.
“I said, ‘Get your clothes on, and we will go down to the Lincoln Memorial,’” Nixon said in a version of events he dictated for the record several days later. “Well, I got dressed, and at approximately 4:35, we left the White House and drove to the Lincoln Memorial. I have never seen the Secret Service quite so petrified with apprehension.”
With cause. Protesters had already gathered at the memorial in advance of Saturday’s demonstration against the war, against the Kent State dead, against, most personally and viscerally, Richard Nixon himself.
A famous photograph captures the next scene: Nixon in suit and tie, the ski-nose profile tilted slightly forward, a handful of sleepy-eyed demonstrators listening in shock and dull amazement, maybe wondering what drug could have produced such an apparition, as the President reprised his press-conference triumph for an early-morning audience who, stranded on the Mall, hadn’t watched a moment of it.
“I said I was sorry they had missed it because I had tried to explain in the press conference that my goals in Vietnam were the same as theirs—to stop the killing, to end the war, to bring peace…There seemed to be no—they did not respond. I hoped that their hatred of the war, which I could well understand, would not turn into a bitter hatred of our whole system, our country, and everything that it stood for. I said, ‘I know you, that probably most of you think I’m an SOB. But I want you to know that I understand just how you feel.’”
That’s the President’s official account. The protesters would tell an alternate version to the press who descended on them that morning. Nixon mentioned Vietnam, but when that drew a tepid response, he moved to other topics. What college were they attending? One student was at Syracuse University, a chance for the commander in chief to talk about football. Another was from California—on to surfing.
Both accounts are in keeping with a President obsessed with war matters, battered by Kent State, challenged by small talk (aides commonly fed him three-by-five cards for such moments), and physically brave, but as the sun began to rise and word of the night visitor spread, even Richard Nixon had to acknowledge that it was time to leave.
Now try to imagine our Twitter-troll-in-chief, “Bunker Boy,” rage tweeting mean tweets from the bunker about everyone and anyone who does not genuflect before him as the “greatest president ever” doing something like this. One cannot. He will not meet with protestors demanding justice for George Floyd and other victims of police brutality.
In fact, Donald Trump has finally gotten the wall that he always wanted, but around the “People’s House” at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, turning it into his own personal fortress. Maybe he can get Mexico to pay for it. With White House effectively a fortress, some see Trump’s strength — but others see weakness:
In the 72 hours since Monday’s melee at Lafayette Square, the White House has been transformed into a veritable fortress — the physical manifestation of President Trump’s vision of law-and-order “domination” over the millions of Americans who have taken to the streets to protest racial injustice.
The security perimeter around the White House keeps expanding. Tall black fencing is going up seemingly by the hour. Armed guards and sharpshooters and combat troops are omnipresent.
The White House is now so heavily fortified that it resembles the monarchical palaces or authoritarian compounds of regimes in faraway lands — strikingly incongruous with the historic role of the executive mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, which since its cornerstone was laid in 1792 has been known as the People’s House and celebrated as an accessible symbol of American democracy.
This week’s security measures follow nighttime demonstrations just outside the campus gates last weekend that turned violent. White House officials stressed that Trump was not involved in the decision to beef up security or to increase the fencing around the compound’s perimeter, with one senior administration official saying that the precautions are not unique to the Trump administration.
If you believe this, I have a Trump Tower to sell you. Not even Nixon went so far.
[T]he resulting picture is both jarring and distinctly political — a Rorschach test for one’s view of Trump’s presidency. His supporters see a projection of absolute strength, a leader controlling the streets to protect his people. His critics see a wannabe dictator and a president hiding from his own citizenry.
Trump — who has long gravitated toward strongman leaders abroad and has sought to bathe himself in military iconography — likes the images of police and troops enforcing order, believing they symbolize his toughness and communicate that his crackdown has largely controlled unrest in the streets of Washington, according to White House officials.
“Washington is in great shape,” Trump said Wednesday in a Fox News Radio interview. “I jokingly said, a little bit jokingly, maybe, it’s one of the safest places on earth. And we had no problem at all last night. We had substantial dominant force and it — we have to have a dominant force. Maybe it doesn’t sound good to say it, but you have to have a dominant force. We need law and order.”
What he means is an authoritarian autocratic police state. This man is the greatest threat to your constitutional liberty and freedom.
Deborah Berke, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, said the White House barricaded as if it were a military base, with multiple layers of black fencing surrounding the limestone Georgian structure, conveys the opposite message and represents a physical violation of democracy.
“I think the need to fortify your house — and it’s not his house; it’s our house — shows weakness,” she said. “The president of the United States should not feel threatened by his or her own citizens.”
The campaign of former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, says Trump’s desire to project toughness will not work with many voters.
“Firing tear gas and shooting rubber bullets at peaceful demonstrators outside the People’s House doesn’t make anyone safer or Donald Trump seem tougher, and it certainly doesn’t address the systemic racism and inequality that has plagued our country for generations,” Biden spokesman T.J. Ducklo wrote in an email.
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District of Columbia Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) told reporters Thursday that she is “concerned that some of the hardening that they are doing may be not just temporary.”
“It’s a sad commentary that the house and its inhabitants have to be walled off,” Bowser said. “We should want the White House to be opened up for people to be able to access it from all sides.”
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Past presidents have resisted security suggestions at and around the White House that could stoke fears that the government was under threat.
Following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt balked at efforts to fortify the White House, which at the time had been open to casual visitors strolling the grounds during the day, according to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Fearful about a bombing attack, the Secret Service wanted Roosevelt to cover skylights with sand, to camouflage the White House, to paint the windows black, to stand up machine-gun emplacements and to build a bomb shelter, Goodwin said.
“FDR rejected most of these recommendations, though he finally agreed, ‘with not a little annoyance,’ to the construction of a shelter in the Treasury Department,” Goodwin said in an email.
Even Nixon just ringed the White House with DC Transit buses as a temporary measure.
The White House – the “People’s House” – is not yours, “Bunker Boy.” You are only a temporary resident, it belongs to the people of the United States. Come November, you are going to be evicted.