- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

NEW YORK — The protest dragon that met its unfortunate end at the hands of revolutionary arsonists in front of Madison Square Garden this week had a future as bright as its green skin.

“I’m very sad about what happened to the dragon,” said Adam Eidinger, a District-based activist and candidate for the District’s “shadow” U.S. representative — an honorary office created to protest the District’s lack of statehood. He was the overseer of the creature.

“It had been in three big protests, and we made new protest banners for the march. And it was freshly painted. It had turned from orange to green. And it was going to stay in New York after this — for more protests down the line.”

At 15-feet high, the symbolic “Dragon of Self-Determination” was an imposing figure in the protests. Its huge feet slammed, and its tail thumped when it walked.

Fifteen persons were needed to handle it, from manning the public-address system to keeping it steady as it ambled through heavy crowds. It had been living in a garage in Northwest Washington.

Based on a combination of Japanese-animated dragons and the Chinese dragons that are the heart of celebrations and parades in that country, it took months and $1,000 worth of papier-mache, cardboard and wood to construct.

At the height of Sunday’s march protesting the Bush administration and the arrival of delegates to the Republican National Convention, witnesses say, self-styled anarchists commandeered the 50-foot monster and used an accelerant to light it on fire.

Police arrested four persons in connection with the destruction. One of them, Yusuke Banno, was charged with inciting a riot, resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer, after an officer’s hand was burned as he attempted to extinguish the blaze.

The three others have refused to give their names and remain locked up with Mr. Banno.

When the dragon was ignited, Mr. Eidinger, 30, was headed to Union Square with the dragon’s voice, a public-address system, which was faltering.

Photos, video and witnesses indicate that just before the fire, several young men in black, some with black umbrellas, began to walk alongside the dragon, which spanned almost the entire width of Seventh Avenue.

“There were people who were masked up telling some of our people handling the dragon to get away, that they were taking over,” said Zoe Mitchell, 24, who helped build the dragon and was part of the contingent from Washington that made the trek for this week’s protests.

“We knew something weird was going on,” Miss Mitchell said. “I left, I wanted to get out of there. I was down the block when I saw the smoke, and my heart sunk.”

Some in the protest community speculate that police or Republican operatives set the dragon ablaze. Others point the finger at the cadre of anarchists who use organized protests to vandalize property.

One Web posting by a woman who said she was a witness gave her account: “Just past [the Garden] a group of individuals who had just put bandanas on to hide their faces, presumably to conceal their identities, circled around a green-paper prop … with several large fabric banners to conceal the act of dousing it with an accelerant and setting it on fire.”

Mr. Eidinger said the burning and loss of the dragon, although upsetting, did not diminish what he said was the significance of the march, which was to protest the president and his policies.

“I don’t want to play up the burning,” he said. “Who set it is unclear. People are saying the police did it; others are saying anarchists did it.

“But it was a great march and protest.”

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