Radio station makes pre-emptive strike against peace rallies

DUVALL — Listeners of conservative radio station KVI-AM (570) are going pre-emptive against the peace movement, crashing rallies and overwhelming them with their numbers to where peace demonstrators complain that the informal rules of engagement have been violated.

"It seems a little bit like a cheap shot, when they target your time and place," said Dave Meeds, 62, of Monroe, who held a "Power Corrupts" sign this week several hundred yards south of the intersection of the Woodinville-Duvall Road and Highway 203.

If nothing else, the encounters are reshaping the protest landscape and in some cases have resulted in conflict. Peace demonstrators have complained to KVI's parent company, Fisher Communications, and the station's advertisers.

One advertiser canceled a KVI "Support the Troops" sign giveaway to avoid a demonstration at its business.

For months now, Meeds and other Sno-Valley People for Peace have spent Monday evenings at Duvall's busiest intersection.

But two Mondays ago, KVI morning host Kirby Wilbur assembled a pro-troops rally at the spot an hour before the peace protesters were due to arrive.

"It's just to show there's another opinion here," said Wilbur, a Duvall resident who this Monday hosted a rally of military vehicles, pro-American music and 200 flag-wavers that could have come from central casting. Even a mature bald eagle floated overhead, as if on cue.

"That's a good sign," said Art Schacklett of Duvall as he worked his way through a free hot dog.

Wilbur snorted at the notion that the corner belonged to the peace demonstrators or anyone else and said they were still welcome there. But he acknowledged that the arrival of KVI's "570th Cavalry" an hour before the peace vigil was a pre-emptive strike.

"The Bush doctrine," he said, alluding to President Bush's pre-emptive military action in Iraq.

The 570th Cavalry is a force: a conservative niche-oriented radio station with activist hosts like Wilbur and John Carlson capable of mobilizing an audience that numbers more than 250,000 listeners over the course of a week and more than 20,000 at any given time.

KVI listeners are now routinely targeting the regularly scheduled peace vigils of neighborhood groups and dispatching people with KVI-issued "Support the Troops" signs to protests that listeners call in by cellphone.

The station also has tapped into the emotions surrounding the war, which polls show has the support of a majority of Americans.

It's the negative side of those emotions that has some peace protesters nervous and even scared.

Elizabeth Simmons-O'Neill of Lake Forest Park for Peace has called the station "a fomenter of hatred, verbal assault and intimidation," and she is one of several people encouraging people to contact station's sponsors to object to the 570th Cavalry's tactics.

All Star Toyota in Lake City canceled a KVI "Support Our Troops" sign giveaway Friday afternoon because the dealership was afraid the event, a remote broadcast used for advertising, might turn into a rally, said Ray Minton, general manager.

"That was not the purpose of the deal," Minton said. "I just want to advertise Toyotas."

Fisher Communications, the owner of KVI, has received about 50 e-mails on the station's protest activities, with most writers questioning the station's role in opposing and allegedly disturbing peace demonstrations, said Chris Wheeler, the company's senior vice president for communications.

The company, which avoids interfering in the station's editorial positions, has seen no reason to step in, said Wheeler.

"As far as Fisher and the corporate offices here go, we don't get involved in that directly unless it's illegal or ill-advised," he said. "So far, it looks legal."

Members of the peace coalition Sound Nonviolent Opponents of War, or SNOW, blame KVI for sending protesters to heckle U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, when he appeared at a peace vigil last month in front of the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building.

The war protesters have also complained that a minority of KVI demonstrators are blocking their signs, shouting profanities and shoving people.

"It's a threatening situation for someone holding a peace sign and two small children to be standing with people who oppose my view," said Jean Bradbury of Duvall, who feels the KVI rallies have essentially "shouted down" the peace vigils.

Wilbur, the KVI host, said he has urged the pro-troops demonstrators to be polite, civil and avoid arguments.

"I don't want to shut them down," he said.

Moreover, the support-the-troops demonstrators — a loose term as even war protesters call themselves "pro-troops" — say they too have been harassed. Wilbur said he has been called a war criminal, though negative remarks are rare.

Richard Tiekamp, a Vietnam veteran and friend of Wilbur's, said he was attacked in downtown Seattle by a peace demonstrator.

"A girl took a swing at me with one of her signs," Tiekamp said. "I thought that was a pretty sick situation."

But in the midst of the tensions, peace has been known to break out.

Beth Strohstern, a Sno-Valley resident for peace, was unwilling to give up her corner completely and stood as a "citizen of this Earth" Monday with an Earth flag surrounded by American flags.

Nearby was Jim Heald of Clearview, Snohomish County, in a "We Stand As One ... I'm Proud to Be An American" T-shirt.

His brother had served in Vietnam. So had Strohstern's husband and "many of my friends that didn't come home."

The two agreed they had the good fortune of living in a country where people of differing opinions could stand side by side. They talked about freedom and Iraq for a bit.

Then Strohstern excused herself and headed to the far smaller crowd of about 15 fellow peace protesters to the south.

Eric Sorensen: 206-464-8253 or