Born in 1957, Cindy Sheehan founded Gold Star Families for Peace, which is a member organization of the United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalition. Sheehan first captured media headlines in August 2005 when she and a group of her supporters camped out in front of President George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, demanding that Bush meet with her to discuss the death of her son Casey, a U.S. Army soldier who in April 2004 had been killed in combat in the Iraq War. Sheehan dubbed the location of her protest “Camp Casey,” in honor of her son.
Bush already had met with Mrs. Sheehan and a delegation of grieving military families in June 2004, two months after Casey's death. After that meeting, Sheehan initially stated that the President had shown himself to be a caring individual of deep religious convictions. “I now know he's sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis,” Sheehan declared at the time. "I know he's sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he's a man of faith." She concluded by saying, "That was the gift the President gave us, the gift of happiness, of being together."
By August of 2005, however, Mrs. Sheehan had changed her story entirely. She stated in a radio broadcast: "Looking back, all I can say is that the meeting with Bush was one of the most disgusting experiences in my life." She referred to the President as the "Führer" and characterized America’s invasion of Iraq as "blatant genocide."
When she was subsequently asked to reconcile her extremely dissimilar recollections of that June 2004 meeting with President Bush, Sheehan replied that she had been "still in shock" at that time. But now (in August 2005), she said, she wished to speak to Bush and ask him, "Why did you kill my son?"
Sheehan’s antipathy for Bush dated back at least to the latter part of 2004. In "An Open Letter to President George Bush," published in the Revolutionary Communist Party-controlled Not In Our Name newsletter shortly after the November 2004 presidential election, she wrote that Bush had “stole[n]” the presidency from the rightful winner, John Kerry.
In April 2005 Sheehan spoke at a San Francisco State University (SFSU) rally in support of Lynne Stewart, the self-described “radical activist attorney” who had been convicted two months earlier of illegally providing material aid to her incarcerated client, Omar Abdel Rahman, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Sheehan depicted Ms. Stewart as “my human Atticus Finch,” a reference to the heroic attorney in the book To Kill a Mockingbird. Explained Sheehan: “He [Finch] did what he knew was right, but wasn’t popular. And that’s what Lynne [Stewart] is doing.”
“We are not waging a war on terror in this country,” Sheehan told her SFSU audience that day. “We’re waging a war of terror. The biggest terrorist in the world is George W. Bush,” whose “band of neo-cons and their neo-con agenda killed my son.”
Sheehan’s comments at SFSU also included the following:
“I was raised in a country by a public school system that taught us that America was good, that America was just. [But] America has been killing people ... since we first stepped on this continent, we have been responsible for death and destruction. I passed on that bullshit [about America’s goodness] to my son and my son enlisted [in the Army]. [Now] I’m going all over the country telling moms: ‘This country is not worth dying for.’ … [W]e were not attacked by Iraq. We might not even have been attacked by Osama bin Laden if 9/11 was their [the Bush administration’s] Pearl Harbor to get their neo-con agenda through and, if I would have known that before my son was killed, I would have taken him to Canada. I would never have let him go and try and defend this morally repugnant system we have.”
“What [U.S. government leaders are] saying, too, is like, it’s okay for Israel to have nuclear weapons. But Iran or Syria better not get nuclear weapons. It’s okay for the United States to have nuclear weapons. It’s okay for the countries that we say it’s okay for. We are waging a nuclear war in Iraq right now. That country [Iraq] is contaminated. It will be contaminated for practically eternity now. It’s okay for them [the U.S. military] to have them [nuclear weapons], but Iran or Syria can’t have them. It’s okay for Israel to occupy Palestine ... and it’s okay for Iraq to occupy -- I mean, for the United States to occupy Iraq, but it’s not okay for Syria to be in Lebanon.”
In June 2005, Sheehan testified at the so-called "impeachment hearings" where Representative John Conyers led Congressional Democrats in trying to make a case for President Bush’s removal from office. Said Sheehan:
"The so-called Downing Street Memo dated 23 July, 2003, only confirms what I already suspected,” “The leadership of this country rushed us into an illegal invasion of another sovereign country on prefabricated and cherry picked intelligence.... I believed before our leaders invaded Iraq in March, 2003, and I am even more convinced now, that this aggression on Iraq was based on a lie of historic proportions and was blatantly unnecessary."
Also in 2005, Sheehan endorsed the "College Not Combat" campaign in San Francisco, which encouraged the city's high schools to deny military recruiters access to their student directories. The "College Not Combat" coalition included such member organizations as International ANSWER, Code Pink, the National Lawyers Guild, the International Socialist Organization, Socialist Organizer, and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (which hails convicted cop-killers as "political prisoners"). These groups share the view that in order to frustrate "imperialist" U.S. foreign policy, it is imperative to reduce the number of young people joining the armed forces.
In the heyday of her antiwar, anti-Bush activism, Sheehan developed a close working relationship with Medea Benjamin, who co-founded Code Pink and Global Exchange, and who masterminded the violent anti-World Trade Organization riots in Seattle in 1999. Sheehan also shared the stage at antiwar protests with Kathy Kelly, Director of Voices in the Wilderness.
The publicity for Sheehan’s activist tour was handled, in large measure, by David Fenton and his public relations firm, Fenton Communications. The antiwar group TrueMajority footed the bill not only for Fenton’s services, but also for many other expenses associated with Sheehan’s efforts.
Fenton Communications was not Sheehan's only public relations conduit. Her statements were also distributed by the Institute for Public Accuracy, the organization that had sponsored Sean Penn's anti-American propaganda trip to Baghdad on the eve of the Iraq War.
The strategist most responsible for orchestrating Sheehan’s public statements and appearances was Lisa Fithian, described by National Review’s Byron York as “a legendary organizer who operates in the world of anti-globalism anarchists, antiwar protesters, and union activists.” York calls Fithian “an advocate of aggressive ‘direct action’ demonstrations” who “protested the first Gulf war, played an important role in the violent shutdown of Seattle during the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting, was a key planner in protests at the Republican and Democratic national conventions in 2000 and 2004, and organized demonstrations at trade meetings in Washington, DC, Prague, and Genoa.” "I create crisis," says Fithian, "because crisis is that edge where change is possible." Drawing her inspiration from the anarchist movement in late 19th- and early 20th-century Spain, Fithian seeks "to create a new world" by means of "dismantl[ing] or transform[ing] the old order.”
Blaming not only America, but also Israel, for her son’s death, Sheehan wrote that Casey had been “killed for lies and for a … Neo-Con agenda to benefit Israel.” “My son,” she complained, “joined the Army to protect America, not Israel.” In an antiwar speech in April 2005, Sheehan described Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a prominent Jew in the Bush administration, as a "murderous liar."
The Crawford Peace House website, which was devoted to promoting Sheehan’s cause, featured a photograph depicting the entire state of Israel as "Palestine." It also displayed a photo of Eugene Bird, the former U.S. director of Berlin’s Spandau Prison, who had suggested that Israeli intelligence was responsible for the prisoner abuse that had occurred at Abu Ghraib. When Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited President Bush in Crawford in April 2005, members of the Peace House greeted him with an 800-foot-long banner listing all of the United Nations resolutions that Israel allegedly had violated.
In Sheehan’s calculus, Islamic terrorism was not something that drew its inspiration from Muslim doctrine or tradition, but rather could best be understood as a reaction to all manner of American and Israeli transgressions. "You get America out of Iraq, and Israel out of Palestine, and you'll stop the terrorism," Sheehan said. The threat of such terrorism, she added, was largely a fabrication of the Bush administration: "When I was growing up, it was Communists. Now it's Terrorists. So you always have to have somebody to fight and be afraid of, so the war machine can build more bombs, guns, and bullets and everything."
In August 2005, Sheehan was asked by CBS News’ Mark Knoller: “You know that the President says Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism, don’t you believe that?" Sheehan replied:
"No, because it’s not true. You know Iraq was no threat to the United States of America until we invaded…. Iraq was not involved in 9/11, Iraq was not a terrorist state. But now that we have decimated the country the borders are open, freedom fighters from other countries are going in and they (America) have created more terrorism by going to an Islamic country, devastating the country and killing innocent people in that country. The terrorism is growing and people who never thought of being car bombers or suicide bombers are now doing it because they want the United States of America out of their country."
Demanding that the U.S. withdraw all its troops from Iraq immediately, Sheehan said:
“As soon as we get them out of the country, people, the insurgency will go down. They might have a little bit of trouble at first, but you know what every Iraqi tells me: ‘We’re a civilization that has been around for thousands of years. We can handle our own problems.’”
On August 5, 2005 in Dallas, Sheehan called President Bush a “lying bastard,” a “chickenhawk,” a “filth-spewer,” and a “warmonger.” Seventeen days later, she denounced members of the Bush administration as "f---ing hypocrites," and she condemned both the U.S. and Israel for their respective "occupations" of Iraq and Palestine. On another occasion, she depicted Bush’s foreign policy as “insane, arrogant, and callous.”
Before the end of August 2005, Sheehan had been quoted declaring that President Bush was an “evil maniac” who headed "the biggest terrorist outfit in the world"; that “my son died for oil … to make [Bush’s] friends rich” and “to spread the cancer of Pax Americana, imperialism in the Middle East”; that the Bush administration was composed of “war criminals” who “need to go to prison for what they've done in this world”; that Bush “needs to sign up his two little party-animal girls … to go to this war”; that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld “is a liar” who, “as with Hitler and Stalin, will say anything so long as he thinks it will help shape the world to his own liking”; that Saddam Hussein and Rumsfeld were "kindred spirits"; that the U.S. “has been overtaken by murderous thugs ... gangsters who lust after fortunes and power, never caring that their addictions are at the expense of our loved ones, and the blood of innocent people near and far”; and that Republicans “are now putting in place, all across this country, a system of voting that provides no way to validate the accuracy of the counting of the votes ... and ... by its very design, prohibits recounting the votes.”
In response to a fellow activist who had pointed out that “the polls [regarding Americans’ approval of U.S. involvement in the Iraq War] are plummeting, people are dying,” a smiling Mrs. Sheehan said that such a state of affairs could provide her and her supporters with the “momentum” they would need in order to "press the advantage."
Among the earliest supporters of Sheehan’s cause was Ralph Nader, who dispatched a letter denouncing the Bush administration as “this rogue regime” which was “led by two draft-dodgers and officially counseled by similar pro-war evaders during the Vietnam War.”
Democratic National Party Chair Howard Dean’s organization Democracy for America also stood firmly behind Sheehan. Dean’s onetime presidential campaign strategist Joe Trippi made an appearance at Camp Casey, collaborating with Code Pink co-founder Jodie Evans and the Democrats.com website to produce a web broadcast lauding Sheehan. In that production, Sheehan intimated that the Secret Service might well have murdered her, had she not placed a notice about her suspicions on the blogosphere. "Thank God for the Internet, or … we would already be a fascist state," she foreswore.
Another notable Sheehan supporter was Democrat Representative Jan Schakowsky of the Progressive Caucus and the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus. Moreover, some 40 Congressional Democrats -- including Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey, and Pete Stark -- signed a letter urging President Bush to meet with Sheehan.
Film producer Michael Moore set aside a portion of his website for a Cindy Sheehan blogspot, where the activist mother could post her thoughts about the Iraq War, the Bush administration, and whatever else interested her. The Daily Kos also gave Sheehan a forum for her daily blogs.
Additional high-profile supporters of Sheehan included Jesse Jackson, Martin Sheen, Maxine Waters (whom Sheehan called “my dear friend and fellow peace warrior”), MSNBC newsman Chris Matthews, and Democrat Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey.
Among Sheehan’s organizational backers were CodePink and the pro-Democrat activist group MoveOn.org.
Unwilling to compromise her anti-war position in even the smallest measure, Sheehan steadfastly refused to support any political candidate who did not share her commitment to pulling all U.S. troops out of Iraq immediately. In October 2005, for example, she wrote:
"I would love to support Hillary [Clinton] for President if she would come out against the travesty in Iraq. But I don't think she can speak out against the occupation, because she supports it. I will not make the mistake of supporting another pro-war Democrat for president again: As I won't support a pro-war Republican."
In January 2006 Sheehan joined Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in addressing the Sixth World Social Forum (WSF) in Caracas, Venezuela, where nearly 60,000 people met to protest American foreign policy and debate such issues as land reform for the poor, fair trade, and indigenous rights. Sheehan hailed the WSF as “the kind of event where many ideas are exchanged and the best are promoted.”
''Enough of imperialist aggression,” President Chavez said as he hugged Sheehan on his nationally broadcast TV show. “We must tell the world: down with the U.S. empire. We have to bury imperialism this century. Cindy, we are with you in your fight.'' Sheehan told Chavez that she agreed with Harry Belafonte, who had made headlines by calling President Bush ''the greatest terrorist in the world.'' And in a blog she posted during the WSF -- entitled “A New World is Possible” -- Sheehan asserted that Chavez was not a dictator, but rather “a democratically elected leader who is very popular in his country.”
Shortly after her visit with Chavez, Sheehan urged the nations of the world to help bring down “the U.S. empire” and declared that she would prefer to see Chavez in the White House than President Bush. Said Sheehan:
“Hugo Chavez also wants to finally realize Simon de Bolivar’s vision of a united South America which can be together stronger to live more peacefully with the U.S. and stand in solidarity against the constant meddling of all of our regimes in their affairs…George [Bush] is a reverse Robin Hood and even steals from our grandchildren’s future to further enrich the already obscenely rich of the present. I would rather live under a president like Hugo who tries to improve living conditions in his country than someone like George who is demolishing our social structures and making the poor, poorer.”Also at the WSF, Sheehan announced that she was contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate. According to the Associated Press, Hugo Chavez encouraged her to pursue that goal. (Ultimately Sheehan would run instead -- though unsuccessfully -- against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for California's eighth Congressional district seat. Sheehan announced her candidacy for that race in August 2007.)