The War at Home

October 29th, 2011

By Jan Barry

Scott Olsen (AP)In Boston, Massachusetts and Oakland, California, Veterans For Peace members have been assaulted by police while peacefully demonstrating on behalf of Occupy Wall Street protest groups’ constitutional rights.

The most seriously injured is Scott Olsen, a Marine vet of two tours in Iraq, who was hospitalized with head injuries after police in Oakland fired tear-gas canisters and other projectiles into an Occupy Oakland crowd assembled in front of City Hall. Olsen was wearing a Veterans For Peace T-shirt and desert camouflage field jacket and hat when he was struck in the forehead. He is also a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

“It was like a war zone,” Joshua Shepherd, a fellow vet who was standing near Olsen while dressed in his Navy uniform and holding aloft a highly visible, white Veterans For Peace flag, told The Associated Press. “Shepherd said it’s a cruel irony that Olsen is fighting for his life in the country that he fought to protect. ‘He was over there protecting the rights and freedoms of America and he comes home, exercises his freedoms and it’s here where he’s nearly fatally wounded,’ Shepherd said.”

Rachel McNeil (right) and fellow VFP membersIn Boston, police knocked down, clubbed and tore Veterans For Peace and an American flag from the hands of a group of peace activist vets standing between the police assault and an Occupy Boston encampment the authorities set out to destroy. Among those dragged off to a paddy wagon was Rachel McNeil, an Army vet who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and was holding an American flag. Her crime: “Rachel loudly and continuously led a chant of the Oath (I do solemly swear to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic); but she alternated it with ‘We have a permit.  It’s called the Constitution’ and also ‘This is a peaceful demonstration,'” a fellow Vets For Peace member noted.

“VFP members are involved with dozens of these local ‘occupy movement’ encampments and we support them fully,” VFP national officers stated.  “In Boston, for example, our members, wearing VFP shirts and carrying VFP flags, stood between a line of police and the encampment, urging police to ‘join the 99%’ and not evict the protesters.  In that case, several of our members were banged and bruised when the police decided instead to carry out their eviction orders….

“As with virtually every example of the occupy movement across the country, those encamped were conducting themselves peacefully beforehand, protesting current economic, social and environmental conditions in the U.S. brought about by decades of corporate control, a criminal financial industry and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are driving the U.S. global empire into bankruptcy.  These ‘occupy movement’ participants are telling us something we need very desperately to hear.  They should be listened to, not arrested and brutalized.

“Police in the majority of cities are acting with restraint and humanity towards the encampments, but Veterans For Peace will not be deterred by police who choose to use brutal tactics.  In fact, as happens with repression everywhere, more people join the cause.”

Indeed, as The New York Times reported today, “the wounding of an Iraq war veteran … has provided a powerful central rallying point.” Thousands of people streamed into downtown Oakland the next day for a peaceful gathering on behalf of the Occupy Oakland movement. The mayor of Oakland commended the movement’s goals. The police promised an investigation into what caused Olsen’s injuries. News reports and videos taken at the time show what happened.

“Scott Olsen, a 24-year-old Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq, stood calmly in front of a police line as tear gas canisters that officers shot into the Occupy Oakland protest Tuesday night whizzed past his head,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported today.

“‘He was standing perfectly still, provoking no one,’ said Raleigh Latham, an Oakland filmmaker shooting footage of the confrontation between police and hundreds of protesters at 14th Street and Broadway. ‘If something didn’t hit him directly in the face, then it went off close to his head and knocked him down.’ The something was a projectile that apparently came from police lines, fractured Olsen’s skull and put him in Highland General Hospital. Doctors upgraded his condition Thursday from critical to fair, and said they expect him to make a full recovery.”

Like many members of Vets For Peace, Scott Olsen felt it was important to demonstrate the peaceful presence of military veterans at the Occupy Wall Street encampments that have sprung up around the country. As The Associated Press noted in a report carried by Business Week and news publications nationwide, Olsen “makes a good living as a network engineer and has a nice hillside apartment overlooking San Francisco Bay. And yet, his friends say, he felt so strongly about economic inequality in the country that he fought for that he slept at a San Francisco protest camp after work.

“‘He felt you shouldn’t wait until something is affecting you to get out and do something about it,’ said friend and roommate Keith Shannon, who served with Olsen in Iraq.”

For more information:

“Hurt protester Scott Olsen was ‘provoking no one'”, SFGate
“Injured vet spent day at work, nights at protest”, Bloomberg Businessweek
Official VFP Statement Regarding Occupy Incident in Oakland, Veterans for Peace

(This article was also posted at EarthAirWater.)


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7 Responses to “The War at Home”



  1. Tom Carter |

    It’s sad and unfortunate when anyone is injured while excercising his First Amendment rights during a peaceful protest, assuming there’s been no provocation or actual violence.

    There’s certainly been a lot of press coverage of the fact that an Iraq War veteran was injured. It’s always tempting to note that a veteran was injured or abused during a protest against (name the cause). The implication, sometimes, is that it’s an indication that the military in general or veterans in particular mostly share the views of the injured person. That seems to be rarely the case. The military and its veterans, like most slices of American society, have a broad divergence of political views. I doubt that even a noticeable minority share the views of people now camped out in American cities.


  2. larry |

    I’m inclined to agree with Tom. The presence of a few veterans in the Occupy mobs isn’t a blanket endorsement by the military. I notice that you titled you piece “The war at home”. Are you trying to dignify the Occupy movement hooligans by making them appear to be “Freedom fighters”? They have been “Duped” into being part of a mob and nothing more. First Amendment rights? Its more like mob rule.


  3. Jan |

    Well, Larry, one man’s mob is another man’s protest demonstration. I once spent a week occupying a corner of the Washington Mall with a group of Vietnam veterans. Call it what you want. I call it exercising the First Amendment. Otherwise it gets rusty.


  4. Tom Carter |

    Jan, I agree completely. Freedom of speech means nothing if it doesn’t include speech of the most objectionable kind (depending on individual opinions of what is “objectionable”). Beyond that, no group of people can be broadly characterized by the actions of a few. There are some in the Occupy movement who espouse views that I agree with, and I disagree with other points they make, but I think they all have the right to demonstrate in support of their opinions.


  5. larry |

    I could post many questions and opinions about the Occupy movement. I’ll even admit that I agree with some of their grievances. I can also see that the movement is promoting class warfare. Such actions bother me a great deal. Jan, to his credit, is honest enough to label it as such. His title,”The War At Home”, pretty much tells it like it is. Jan claims that the veterans are there to defend the rights of the protesters. The work of the veterans is admirable but questionable in the eyes of many. It’s apparent that the protesters are doing pretty much as they please.
    God Bless America!


  6. d |

    Thank you,Jan,up until now,I had no idea what the occupiers were protesting. I think,I agree with them,especially if they are for ending the war. Just what,if anything,do they expect to be the outcome of their protests? In other words,in their perfect world, what is the outcome,or resolution, of the protests? Exactly who or what are they protesting,the war,or do they want Wall Street to close down? I think that is highly unlikely and probably,impossible. I’m all for protesting the wars,but we can’t exactly expect to close down the stock market,or get rich people to stop being rich,can we?


  7. Jan Barry |

    I couldn’t figure out what they were protesting either, given the abysmal news media coverage. So I went to the Occupy Wall Street gathering in a park in NYC. Their main point is that those who ended up with a lot of money on Wall Street gambling with other peopls’s money should pay more in taxes, because the rest of us are tapped out. Their protest of plans by Bank of America and other big banks’ (who were bailed out with taxpayer money) to charge $5 or whatever for customers using their debit card had a pretty immediate impact. Many of the protesters, I discovered, are military veterans. Only when Scott Olsen got shot in the head with a tear gas canister did the news mdedia discover that many of the protesters take the Bill of Rights seriously because they served in defense of the rights Americans take for granted.


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