- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

THURMONT, Md. — Satellite television trucks were in place and security perimeters were extended around Camp David yesterday where President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair met to discuss the ongoing war in Iraq. But there were no drumbeats, no anti-war chants, no alliterative slogans scrawled on signs, and not a single Nobel laureate taken away in plexicuffs.

The presidential retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains, just 70 miles and a half-hour by helicopter from Washington has remained as peaceful as the woods around it, despite daily anti-war demonstrations in big cities that have resulted in thousands of arrests.

J. Mel Poole, superintendent of the National Park Service’s Catoctin Mountain Park, which is home to Camp David, said protesters might have chosen not to follow the president on his frequent trips to the retreat because it is not home to a symbolic landmark such as the White House.

“There’s nothing to take a picture in front of,” Mr. Poole said. “It’s like there’s no ‘there’ there.”

The group of cabins that has served as the retreat for 12 presidents since 1942 is nestled within the national park, unmarked on the Park Service’s official maps and accessible only by a network of roads heavily guarded and open only to authorized vehicles.

Nevertheless, the National Park Service, which provides security for the park but not for Camp David, extended a secure perimeter Wednesday morning by blocking a main road through the park and closing several hiking trails.

“Security is something we take very seriously,” Mr. Poole said. “And we expect the public to do the same.”

Mr. Poole said he hasn’t had to deal with any “First Amendment issues” since President Clinton convened the Middle East summit at Camp David with then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in July 2000.

The retreat was also where President Carter negotiated the Camp David peace accords in September 1978 with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

But strong support for Mr. Bush from Camp David neighbors might explain why there are no protesters.

Mr. Bush won 58 percent of the 2000 vote compared to 38 percent for Al Gore in the towns that surround Camp David in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District. By contrast, the statewide margin was 57 percent for Mr. Gore and 40 percent for Mr. Bush.

While polls indicate about two-thirds of Americans publicly supports the war in Iraq, in Thurmont, Md., adjacent to Camp David, residents say the margin is much higher.

“Up here, it’s just a little different,” said Todd Bennett, who was eating spaghetti and meatballs at the Thurmont Bar and Grill on Main Street along with some co-workers. “We’re in a small community. The people I talk to said, ‘Why didn’t we do this earlier?’”

Mr. Bennett, 29, said the strong support for Mr. Bush could be attributed to the area’s large number of military personnel or to its conservative residents.

But he was sure it would continue as long as Mr. Bush’s “finishes the job.”

Jim Chilcohe, a 43-year-old contractor, said Mr. Bush had made a convincing case that a regime change in Iraq was necessary to win the war on terrorism. Mr. Chilcohe also said he had little patience for the demonstrations he’s seen on television.

“If I see that stuff on the news, I’ll turn the channel,” he said. “If you’ve got a problem with the president, you have elections. But you have to support his decisions.”

About 5 miles north of Thurmont, at Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Md., not a single handbill or a sign advertised a rally or a call to action. Students said opinion on campus ran about 50-50 for and against the war.

“There’s basically nothing happening,” said Marie Hulfrick, 22, a senior. Miss Hulfrick also said she was not sure about whether the quiet campus was an indication of strong support or complete apathy. However, she said there have been a few forums and a prayer vigil so far on campus.

Bernadette Costantini, 18, a freshman from Atlantic City, N.J., said she opposed the war. Asked why she didn’t demonstrate to get the president’s attention at Camp David, she said she didn’t know how to get there.

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