By: Jack Gilroy

On Sunday morning, September 11th, I made a poster to take to a park in Owego.  General George Washington sent infantry here in late summer of 1779 as part of his scorched earth mission to destroy people, fruit trees and food stores of Iroquois Native Americans. The Seneca Nation people, who called their village Ahwaga, fled their Long Houses before soldiers came to burn their homes and store houses of harvested corn, beans and squash. An Owego census of 2013 notes 1.1% of the local population are Native American.

Now, 237 years later, a memorial was being dedicated to honor those who died on 9/11. I had no issue with a dedication to those who died on 9/11. But I did want to protest the slanderous wording carved on the marble monument: “Islamic Terrorists.” No American text book or monument I am aware of proclaims ‘Christian Terrorists’ for killings of Native Americans, Vietnamese, Afghans, Iraqis, etc.

Lockheed Martin, the world’s leading maker of weapons of mass destruction, which is very important to the local economy, is just across the road from the monument. I kept the sign turned and tucked under my arm as I walked the long distance to the ceremony. I searched for others who may have been there to object to the wording, but I was on my own.  Instead, I saw many NRA shirts and hats, Marine Corp League guys, VFW, scores of police—both state and county. The burly members of Patriot Guard Riders stood with stars & stripes flags on lance-like poles, using their motorcycles to block the entrance to the ceremony. (An ambulance with a sick person could not get through for a very long time.)

Patriotic tones filled the air. A Pentagon spokesman told the crowd that America is kept free by our troops stationed around the world. Congressman Tom Reed noted that the USA is the very best nation in the world and said we were attacked by agents of hate who despise our freedom and wealth. The chaplain of Davis Baptist Bible College was supposed to give a benediction but he ranted about his past conviction of cocaine selling and lamented that he is not permitted to have a gun. I continued to keep my sign hidden.

After firing M1’s, old ‘soldiers’ ended the ceremony by shuffling off past the covered shelter for ‘dignitaries’. I got in step behind the uniformed men and held high the sign to the crowd and to the seated dignitaries. The reaction was immediate. Neither my message nor I were acceptable to the crowd. Curses and comments were shouted; the Patriot Guard moved to block my path and sign. I was surrounded by sweaty flesh, a tent of flags and some mean spirited shoving. My sign couldn’t reach over the tall flags. The Riders pressed me as I moved, trying to get the freedom to show my message. A free lance Binghamton writer, petitioned the goon squad to allow me to display my message. “What are you, a Fuckin’ Muslim” screamed one Guard as others shoved the man away and continued to press me. NY State Police stood silently by as I called out to them to get the goons away from me. “Do your job,” I called out loudly.  I hollered to the ‘Patriots,’ “how many of you thugs have discharges from two military services as I do?” Not a comment in response. An angry screaming woman somehow squeezed into the scrum, called me a “fucking low life” and tore my Lockheed-Martin and MLK quote into pieces. Not a word or action by the police. State Troopers at least did walk along as the goon pack herded me away from the spectators. With my sign now destroyed, and the Patriots apparently satisfied their mission was accomplished, they stepped aside. I left for my car, looking back occasionally, feeling fortunate that maybe the police presence saved me from having the same fate as my shattered sign. Dry throat is sometimes caused by fear. I couldn’t wait to down the bottle of water awaiting me in the safety of my car. I drove away asking myself if my Mussolini experience was a harbinger of what is ahead on our national horizon?




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