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Sheehan offered a new camp as tensions with locals grow
She'll relocate closer to Bush, but her memorial will stay put — after damage is repaired
By JULIE MASON
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press
REBUILDING THE MEMORIAL: War protesters near President Bush's ranch make new crosses honoring troops killed in Iraq after the ones planted there were run over by a pickup truck Tuesday.

CRAWFORD - Tensions with local residents are rising, her anti-war vigil is still capturing international attention, and now Cindy Sheehan is moving her protest closer to President Bush's ranch — thanks to what appears to be a clash of attitudes among property-owning relatives.

Sheehan announced her planned move Tuesday after a Waco resident allegedly vandalized her encampment and some Crawford residents complained about disruptions to their normally uneventful surroundings.

Adding to the divisions and debates about the presence of Sheehan, who has gained notice as the mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq, was the apparent family saga behind Sheehan's planned move.

Sheehan's 10-day vigil took its new turn when Fred Mattlage, from nearby Hewitt, walked into the tumbledown Crawford Peace House on Monday night and offered his 300-acre Crawford parcel for use by the protesters.

The offer came before Larry Northern, 46, was arrested and charged with criminal mischief on allegations he drove his pickup over dozens of small crosses planted near the "peace camp" as memorials to fallen American soldiers.

Mattlage's offer means the ramshackle camp of Sheehan and her supporters will relocate from the roadside two miles from Bush's property to an open field about a mile closer. Because the site offers plenty of space for parking, the move is expected to alleviate some of conflict the demonstrators have had with the local residents.

Mattlage, who could not be reached for comment, is reportedly a distant cousin to Larry Mattlage, a homeowner near the protest site who last weekend fired a gun in the air near the encampment after expressing annoyance at the roadside activity.

Sheehan said she will move with the camp but plans to leave the replanted crosses, flags, flowers and her original three tents as a symbolic installation at the site, which is called "Camp Casey" in memory of her son, 24.

"We are all about peace and about reconciliation, and we don't want to have charges pressed or anything because we really want this country to come together," said Sheehan, 48. "It's funny all the violence has come from people who oppose us."

As news of the cross-mowing incident spread, Sheehan took delivery of 35 boxes of long-stemmed roses from an unnamed supporter. By the day's end, protesters were placing the roses among the crosses, which were repaired and replaced in the ground.

Bush, who is spending the month at his ranch, has expressed sympathy for the loss of Sheehan's son but has declined to meet her demand for a meeting to discuss the policies that led to her son's death in 2004.

"He sympathizes with her, he has met with her before," White House press secretary Dana Perino said Tuesday. "He said that one of the most cherished rights in America is the right to free speech and that she has a right to express her views. He does not agree with her view, but he says he respects her right to peacefully protest."

After Sheehan and other survivors of the Iraqi war dead met with Bush last year, her anti-war activisim has grown; she says she wants another crack at asking Bush to justify the war.

But as evidence that her presence is a thorn in the side of the president's neighbors, more than 60 Crawford-area residents have signed a petition asking McLennan County commissioners to expand a no-parking zone that prohibits cars from within a few hundred feet of the ranch.

"All those of us that live in that area and in that community and our children also have civil rights, and we do feel that those are being seriously compromised at this time," said John Laufenberg, a resident and petitioner, according to the Associated Press.

Garth Jowett, a University of Houston communications professor and expert on political propaganda, said that Sheehan's cause has gained attention because her activisim humanizes the costs of the war.

Critics of Sheehan's protest also have done an effective job — of vilifying her as "a crazy lady" who is being manipulated by liberal organizations such as MoveOn.org and by the news media. "If Bush meets with her he will have conceded that she has something to say to him," Jowett said. "She has her bona fides: She lost her son and she has a real issue, which I think really annoys the right."

On his Monday talk show, radio personality Rush Limbaugh noted that Sheehan's son volunteered for the Army. He disparaged the "squatters" in Sheehan's entourage.

"There's no meaning to what she's doing. She's a pawn, she's a tool of a bunch of fellow crackpots upon whom we couldn't depend if our lives were at stake, and that's why they are so few and far between. Thankfully, they are not anywhere near the majority of people in the country," Limbaugh said.

Recent polls have shown a majority of Americans no longer support the war in Iraq, with Bush's approval ratings for his handling of the war as low as 38 percent.

julie.mason@chron.com

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