Second Attack on White House Peace Vigil Arouses Concern About Political Climate

An unidentified individual vandalized the renown anti-nuclear protest in front of the White House on Friday night, damaging one of its large signs. The person either kicked or punched the wooden sign, cracking and breaking it in several places, according to the volunteer present at the time.

The volunteer, who did not wish to be identified, was inside the tent and did not see the assailant approach. He was not injured. The incident was reported to the Secret Service, which will review surveillance camera footage and investigate the matter. It was the second attack on the 35-year-long protest known as the White House Peace Vigil in the last five months.

The volunteer did not hear the vandal say anything or make any visual identification. The protest’s coordinator, Philipos Melako-Bello, left just before the incident. He said he had spoken to a man who was angry that he couldn’t pitch a tent nearby. (The Peace Vigil has a permit allowing it to maintain the tent and signs.) Melaku-Bello, however, couldn’t say whether the man was responsible for damaging the sign.

But this second incident of vandalism following close on the heels of one during Donald Trump’s controversial presidential campaign has him concerned.

“This is suspiciously close to the inauguration,” he said. “It’s not necessarily a person representing Trump. That’s the mindset of the Trump nation. … This is the way they think.” he said. “We’re protesting for the civilians of this planet for peace, and anytime there is an assault on this, it must be people that don’t want peace,” he said.

Philipos Melaku-Bello surveys the damage done to one of the peace vigil’s signs./Photo by John Zangas

He hopes that the Peace Vigil is not becoming a lightning rod for hostility in the midst of a vitriolic political climate. “More and more, people are getting pissed off.”

Melaku-Bello went so far as to call the incident a hate crime, because the assailant “showed hatred toward somebody who just wants peace.”

He speculated that the recent United Nations vote condemning Israeli settlements might also be a possible source of ire, since the Peace Vigil displays signs opposing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. “The UN resolution that just came through would make people mad, and who would they get mad at? Some place which stands up for the rights of the Palestinians,” Melaku-Bello said.

Someone also attacked the Peace Vigil the night of August 10 by repeatedly slicing the tent with a sharp object and shouting epithets. The incident was not caught on video, and the assailant was never caught.

Melaku-Bello said that both the large yellow signs, which had stood there for over ten years, had just been rebuilt and replaced three weeks ago by volunteers who donated labor and materials.

In preparation for the Inaugural Parade, the tent and signs had been moved back from their permitted location on the sidewalk on Pennsylvania Avenue across from the White House to a position near Jackson Statue. The move happens every four years to make room for construction of the executive bleachers. Just-inaugurated President Trump, other chiefs of state, and selected dignitaries will watch the parade from the bleachers located on the spot that the peace vigil normally resides. After the executive bleachers are disassembled, the Peace Vigil will return to its usual location.

Melaku-Bello is trying to raise money to repair the sign and said that while the cost “was not huge,” repairs would require power tools, paint and weather sealant.