WASHINGTON – The National Air and Space Museum in Washington was closed Saturday after anti-war demonstrators swarmed the building to protest a drone exhibit and security guards used pepper spray to repel them, sickening a number of protesters.
Smithsonian spokesman John Gibbons said a large group of demonstrators, estimated at 100 to 200 people, arrived at about 3 p.m. and tried to enter the National Mall museum. When a security guard stopped group members from entering, saying they could not bring in signs, he was apparently held by demonstrators, Gibbons said. A second guard who arrived used pepper spray on at least one person and the crowd dispersed, he added.
A number of groups have been demonstrating in the city in the past week. The group that arrived at the museum Saturday included individuals taking part in the October 2011 Stop the Machine demonstration in the city’s Freedom Plaza, which has an anti-war and anti-corporate greed message. The group also included protesters affiliated with Occupy D.C., a group modeled on the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City.
Ann Wilcox, a lawyer working with Stop the Machine, said a 19-year-old woman from Madison, Wis., was arrested by police. She paid a fine and was released later Saturday.
David Swanson, 41, of Charlottesville, Va., said he was among dozens of people sickened by the pepper spray.
“I began choking and vomiting and got a headache,” Swanson said.
Swanson, who says he has been part of the Freedom Plaza protest, says protesters were not looking to shut down the museum but to make a point about the massive military spending and the use of deadly drones. He said the security officers got aggressive after some protesters unfurled a protest banner inside.