Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Powerful liberal advocacy groups such as MoveOn.org are taking a less active role in Cindy Sheehan’s anti-war activities in the wake of criticism that they may have muddied her message.

The groups, which played a major role in Mrs. Sheehan’s monthlong vigil outside President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, are scaling back their involvement as Mrs. Sheehan prepares to leave Texas today on a bus tour to Washington.

Critics had said it appeared that Mrs. Sheehan had morphed from a mother grieving the loss of her son in Iraq into a pawn of liberal advocacy groups.

“The vigil started as a very grass-roots thing and then grew because groups like MoveOn were drawn to what Cindy was doing and wanted to offer their support,” said Wade Fletcher of Mintwood Media Collective, a Washington-based public-relations group advising the Sheehan demonstrators.

“Now we’re kind of bringing it back to the original grass roots,” he added.

For example, the protesters will no longer receive strategic and political advice from Fenton Communications, a large, left-wing public-relations firm. That role reverts to Mintwood, a small operation that helped Mrs. Sheehan early on.

Also taking a lesser role will be MoveOn.org, which spent August running anti-Bush TV and newspaper ads featuring Mrs. Sheehan. The group, which posted images on its Web site likening the president to Adolf Hitler, once pledged to raise $2 million to keep Sheehan ads on the air.

Organizers of the bus tour expressed hope that they might continue to receive financial donations from powerful liberal advocacy groups such as MoveOn and TrueMajority, which was founded by Ben & Jerry’s ice cream magnate Ben Cohen. But they are focused on soliciting contributions from people who oppose the Iraq war.

“We’re renting the buses; we’re collecting the funding to make it all possible, so this is a grass-roots effort,” said organizer Nancy Lessin of Military Families Speak Out, one of four groups paying for the bus tour.

The other groups sponsoring the trip are Gold Star Families for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace.

Organizers said they would continue to receive support from high-profile groups such as Code Pink, a women’s group that holds weekly war protests outside Walter Reed Army Hospital. Code Pink protesters brandish signs with such messages as “Maimed for Lies” and “Enlist here and die for Halliburton.”

Despite the effort to return Mrs. Sheehan’s cause to a grass-roots movement, she has made no attempt to ratchet down her rhetoric. Yesterday, for example, she railed against “the reckless commander in chief” for waging a “cowardly and ignoble war.”

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino declined to criticize Mrs. Sheehan, noting that “the president has said that the right to free speech is one of the most treasured freedoms in America.”

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