Thirteen members of a Catholic lay organization have traveled to Columbus from Pennsylvania for the annual School of Americas Watch protest this weekend. However, the difference is that the group, American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, is here to support the military.
John Ritchie, director of the organization’s student-action group that networks with students on 719 campuses, called the military a “noble institution” during a demonstration Friday.
The members, each wearing a red cape, stood along 13th Street in downtown Columbus Friday holding banners. Passing cars saluted them with blaring horns.
According to the organization’s literature, the SOA Watch, which began in 1990 in an attempt to close the School of Americas at Fort Benning, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, is “not so much a protest, but rather a gathering of the remnants of the religious and cultural left who create a ’60s like carnival atmosphere around Fort Benning.”
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It said the Army’s efforts through the years have fallen on “deaf ears.”
This is the group’s fifth visit to Columbus.
“To call it a school of assassins is ridiculous. The school is training people how to go back their countries and defend them,” Ritchie said of SOA Watch’s charges against the school. “We are opposed to every kind of atrocity by graduates that might have occurred, but you can’t blame an entire school for what a few did no more than you can blame Georgetown University for every bad thing a former student does.”
He is aware many Catholics are among the protesters and that it is a Catholic priest, the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, who began and leads the movement.
“Bourgeois doesn’t represent the Catholic church,” said Ritchie of the man who is called a “leftist” in the group’s literature. “He was excommunicated by the Vatican for openly opposing church doctrine. He and his followers cling to the long condemned tenants of liberation theology, a Marxist interpretation of the Catholic faith.”
A flyer from the organization said such a liberationist vision has nothing to do with true Catholic teaching and that the followers in their “skewed outlook” see the military as a symbol of oppression that must be eliminated, forcing all states to renounce the use of force to secure their rights and maintain order.
The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property was formed in 1973 to “resist the realm of ideas, the liberal, socialist and communist trends of the times and affirm the positive values of tradition, family and private property.” The organization plans to be at the main gate on Fort Benning this weekend, Ritchie said.