WASHINGTON, D.C. —Hours before President Joe Biden arrived in Ukraine, anti-war protesters gathered at the Monument and marched to the White House with the goal of pushing back against the administration’s approval of funding foreign wars. But, while the event attempted to capture a general anti-war theme, attendees had a different idea top of mind: Vladimir Putin is not the bad guy.
At the Sunday afternoon “Rage Against the War Machine” rally, around a half-dozen Russian flags waved in the air, and another two Soviet Union flags flew. There was no lack of sympathy for Putin, who has committed war crimes in his ongoing and bloody fight against Ukraine.
“He’s a nationalist leader, and we need more of them. The U.S. needs more of them,” rally-goer Suzanne Wilson, from Santa Barbara, California, declared of Putin during an interview with The Daily Beast while waving a Russian flag around in her right hand. She then praised “people that are willing to fight back [against] this U.S. hegemony.”
“We need more such leaders here in the United States who put the people and the people’s interest, and the economy—they have to make that their first priority. Not these foreign wars. Who does that benefit? The industrialists.”
Wilson then took aim at the Biden administration.
“How do we benefit from sending money overseas to build up the Ukraine war machine,” she asked before answering her question by saying the United States doesn’t benefit.
Likewise, Colette Burghardt, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, argued that Putin had been a victim of the United States painting him as a villain.
“They have been demonizing Russians for years,” she said, adding that Putin is a “Russian patriot.” “And this idea that he had no business invading Ukraine….what else could he do? He was surrounded by NATO, and we were putting rockets into Pollan and arming Ukraine—and he was supposed to stand for that? I mean, that’s ridiculous. Really, there was nothing he could do but invade. And try to get the U.S. out of Ukraine.”
Brian Harris, who told The Daily Beast he was with U.S. socialist group The Center for Political Innovation, echoed frustration at the Biden administration, coming from the political left of the president’s policy positions.
“I think they always use something trivial to drum up fear,” he said of the administration taking action to shoot down balloons entering U.S. airspace, comparing the move to the spreading of “black propaganda.”
Harris was indifferent to the waving of Russian flags, saying that it “depends” on the motives of the individuals waving them, but said the “crack-up of American power abroad is positive.”
Such sentiment was shared by former Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who said from the main stage that the “proxy that we are fighting against Russia right now could turn at any moment into a direct conflict between the United States [and] NATO and Russia.” Gabbard then suggested that a Cold War could occur again.
“Whether intentional or accidental, there is only one destination for such war, and that is a nuclear holocaust,” she added.
Other speakers on the National Mall included former Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich, failed Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein, and Libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul. As for the crowd, it was a mixed bag, with some wearing far-right InfoWars t-shirts while others donned Pride-themed attire.
About halfway through the rally, five counter-demonstrators carrying pro-Ukraine signs and Ukrainian flags emerged. Their unofficial leader of the anti-Russia contingent, Riley Geary, was decked in Ukrainian flags from head to toe and wasn’t pulling any punches.
“I just told them to go back to Russia where they belong,” he told The Daily Beast, which was directed at a group of nearby Russian flag-carrying demonstrators. He called Putin a “war criminal” and completed the brief interview with The Daily Beast by calling Russia flag-bearing rally attendees “paid Russian agents.”
The event concluded with a slow march to the north side of the White House, where attendees clashed with additional pro-Ukraine demonstrators.
“Go to the Russian embassy,” one man carrying a Ukrainian flag told an anti-war protester part of the larger group that had walked from the Monument. “The Russian residence is right there! It’s 15 minutes away!”
A senior White House communications official didn’t return The Daily Beast’s request for comment on this story.