Rallies outside courthouse turn order to disorder

By Ellen Gamerman, Baltimore Sun, 12/12/2000

ASHINGTON - It was Election Judgment Day, and the voice of the Almighty thundered outside the US Supreme Court yesterday morning. In this case, it was a conservative electrical engineer from Sterling, Va., unleashing a partisan tirade for George W. Bush.

''Al Gore, this is God,'' David Cascio, 38, boomed over a bullhorn. ''What don't you understand? Thou shalt not steal!''

Democrats returned fire, chanting ''Democracy, not hypocrisy!'' and ''Trust the people!'' Soon, police in riot helmets separated the two sides with yellow metal barricades. As if they could be divided any further.

Protesters from both sides battled postelection fatigue and the freezing wind chill outside the court as the biggest moment yet in the campaign drama unfolded inside.

After weeks of election impasse, partisans were still flying in from around the country to protest for a few hours on the sidewalk in front of the court. Others just shifted venues from the street bordering the vice president's residence, where both sides have been gathering for weeks. Many were veterans of the earlier high-volume rally when the court met on this case Dec. 1.

But most were a little battle-weary, carrying dog-eared signs and shouting in increasingly hoarse voices. As Cascio, now practically a professional protester, put it: ''We're near the exhaustion point.''

Even so, neither side sounded ready to quit.

''The trouble is, the Republicans have a lot of bullhorns, so you have to pretty much get close to them and yell in their face,'' said Ben Dixon, 52, a Washington lawyer, raising his voice as Gore forces behind him chanted: ''GWB! GWB! How many votes can you steal from me!''

Fewer converged on the Supreme Court yesterday than the last time the election dispute came before the justices, when throngs spilled across the street and jammed the Capitol grounds. Anticipating the weariness of the rank and file, activists worked to mobilize the faithful and build a crowd.

Registered Democrats in Washington received recorded phone messages at their homes urging them to demonstrate. And interest groups sounded the alert. About 150 workers at the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers, whose members largely backed Gore, received phone messages from their president urging them to gather outside the court. The union sent two busloads of protesters.

Republicans hoisted ''No Buses Needed!'' signs as they alleged that their opponents failed to match their grass-roots activism. Plenty of Bush supporters poured from the area's advocacy groups, such as Dawson Hobbs, 26, who works for the National Rifle Association.

Hobbs and others in the Bush contingent auditioned an arcane new chant: ''It's not a democracy; it's a republic.''

''The founding fathers said direct democracy is their greatest fear,'' he said. ''It leads to mob rule. The Constitution was set up to protect us from that.''

Bush voter Susan Clark, 58, was blunt. ''A democracy is for thugs,'' she said. ''A republic is when the people follow the rules.''

Outside the court, the scene drew as much from P.T. Barnum as it did from the Founding Fathers.

Amid the madness, John Boyd led his 400-pound mule toward the court. The Gore supporter from South Hill, Va., argued that he was showing how the government breaks promises to its black citizens - once promising them ''40 acres and a mule'' but never delivering, just as it vowed to count every vote.

For some parents, missing school seemed justified as they guided their children through a day of hands-on history-making.

''There's nothing more fun than this,'' said Ronald Ladouceur, 41, even as police with guns and nightsticks were pushing past his family.

He said he wanted his three children to see the spectacle before it ended, and so he piled them onto a plane from Albany, N.Y.

''You can participate,'' he said. ''You can yell. It's cathartic. The kids love it.''