[Update: Edited the quote regarding veterans who have committed suicide.]
On February 20, libertarian activist and Iraq War veteran Adam Kokesh, and Nathan Cox, co-founder with Kokesh of Veterans for Ron Paul, hosted a rally and march for veterans and active duty service members who support the Texas Congressman for the 2012 Republican nomination. The "Ron Paul Is the Choice of the Troops" rally began at noon in the Sylvan Theater by the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.. Troops marched on the White House in a 48 x 8 formation, totaling 384, and they were joined by roughly a hundred supporters and observers.
Many people at the event were new to politics, yet they had traveled from out of state to participate in the rally. I spent some time with John, a teacher from Long Island, who told me that he came to support Ron Paul because of the financial meltdown of 2008. "I worked for Morgan Stanley in 2007. That's how I saw it coming. All that reckless betting." He said that in the aftermath of September 11, he supported the Iraq War. "I was eighteen. My dad is a fireman. But I got duped in the Iraq War. Most of us did. The same thing is happening now with Iran." He cited the rational self interest of Iranian authorities as reason to discount them as a threat to the United States, a much more powerful entity capable of causing disproportionate damage in response to any provocation. "That's what I try to teach my students. I say, they're crazy, but they're not stupid. You don't get to be a dictator by being stupid." John said he won't vote for any candidate who supports war at this point. "Look, I don't want to fight, so why am I going to vote for someone who's going to make someone else go and fight?"
I also spoke to Kristin from Toms River, New Jersey, who was at the rally "to support the troops and Ron Paul" with her husband and four of their children. She told me she has two nephews in the military, one in the Marines and one in the Air Force. When asked if she and her husband had been libertarian before hearing about Ron Paul's political platform, she smiled and said, "We are now." Like John, the teacher from Long Island, Kristin and her husband had never donated to a campaign or cared about politics before, "but now, every time there's a money bomb, we're right there."
To Kristin, the presidential candidate's ethos of sound money, free enterprise, and a peaceful foreign policy trumps her prior disinterest in elections. "Ron Paul's message is so clear. It's back to the basics. It's the same as it was twenty or thirty years ago, and it's as true as it was when Thomas Jefferson said it before him. It stands the test of time."
It's clear that Paul's messaging galvanizes the support of the idealistic. I was able to speak to a young man who asked not to have his name published after the controversy over the participation of active duty service members in the march. He first read the United States Constitution in French in his home country of Senegal when he was a teen. This is why, he said, he chose the United States as his new home when President Abdoulaye Wade came to power in 2000. "I love freedom," he said. He came here to learn about a people who support "truth, being free, and not telling lies," but that he has come to see a less virtuous side after twelve years. "I really believed in that. I miss that. I call it a mirage."
Ron Paul has restored the service member's belief in his own ideals. "He was the first person I heard talking about the Constitution, about the real America. I'm taking time to look at it even more now because of Ron Paul...." It was worth it, he said, to fly up for the day from his base in the South, because "if we don't figure this out, someone else will come in and show us. That's how empires are. They go up and then they go down."
The Troops for Ron Paul followed their rally with a march on the White House at around 2:30 PM. When they got there, their chant of "Ron Paul Revolution" overpowered other, smaller protests taking place, including this one by Iranian U.S.-designated terrorist group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK):
The troops did an about-face in front of the White House and held a salute for over half an hour; one second of salute for every soldier who has died in the global war on terror. Different durations of the salute were dedicated to different causes within the issue of needless loss of life, including "every soldier who has committed suicide while Barack Obama was their commander in chief" and a period of prayer for the dead. The crowd of over five hundred people stayed silent; there was only the wind, the click of cameras and the wail of a crying baby somewhere behind the formation.