WACO, Texas – As President Bush's neighbors seek relief from protesters by way of the county commission, one local resident took matters into his own hands and now has been charged with criminal mischief.
McLennan County resident Larry Northern (search), 59, faced $3,000 bail Tuesday after witnesses said he swerved his pickup truck in and out of a display of crosses set up on the side of the road by anti-war protesters.
The crosses represented the U.S. troops who have died in Iraq, with individuals' names on each. Northern was charged with criminal mischief over $1,500 and under $20,000.
Cindy Sheehan (search), who has led the protest outside President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, said she was very upset by the vandalism.
"I just want to say that what happened last night is very disturbing to all of us and it really should be very disturbing to America, because no matter what you think about the war, we should all honor the sacrifices of the ones who have fallen," said Sheehan, whose son Casey died in Iraq in August 2004.
"What we saw here last night was a sacrilege ... five of those crosses are those of my friends," added protester Charlie Anderson, who said he is a veteran of the Iraq war.
But Sheehan and her group are largely blamed for creating the hostility brewing among the president's neighbors, who have appealed to the McLennan County Commission to erect a barrier that could prevent anti-war protesters from congregating on the road outside Bush's ranch.
More than 60 people signed a petition sent to the commissioners asking them to expand the no-parking zone that bans cars within a few hundred feet of the ranch. The effect would be to push the anti-war protesters, who have pitched tents and set up port-a-potties on the winding two-lane road, about seven miles away from the neighbors' properties into the town of Crawford.
Some residents said they worry about the safety of children waiting for school buses in the area. Schools began classes Tuesday.
"All those of us that live in that area and in that community and our children also have civil rights, and we do feel that those are being seriously compromised at this time," said John Laufenberg, who attended a Tuesday meeting of the commission and refuted concerns raised by protesters that expanding the parking ban would violate civil rights.
"I would encourage the commission to weigh heavily the First Amendment (search) rights that we have, because that's really the fundamental thing: free speech, the ability to protest, legitimate dissent in a democracy," said Ann Wright, who has been in charge of the site, dubbed "Camp Casey." Wright was joined at the commission meeting by about a dozen people from the camp.
Sheehan did not attend the meeting, but said her group has been very respectful of the area.
"We're trying to be good neighbors. We're cooperating with law enforcement. If you talk to law enforcement, they'll tell you the same thing. We're trying to make everybody happy, and the only thing we want is to talk to one of their neighbors. And if they want us to leave, they should talk to their neighbor, George Bush, and tell him to talk to us," Sheehan said.
Opponents of the shantytown that has been set up in shallow ditches next to Bush's ranch say the protesters are legally parked, but they are wandering into the street and bringing traffic, which doesn't usually exist there, to a crawl. Some drivers have blown their horns continuously while maneuvering around the crowd, and several have yelled, "Go home!"
Sheehan, of Vacaville, Calif., said she will return to Bush's Texas home every time he is in town until he meets with her and other grieving families. Sheehan started the vigil on Aug. 6 and plans to stay until Bush returns to Washington in September.
The county commission is unlikely to vote on changes to the ordinance before Bush leaves. The commission must publicize the petition and advertise a public hearing, which won't be held for another four weeks. The commissioners can vote.
Northern's alleged aggression isn't the first by area residents. On Sunday, Bush neighbor Larry Mattlage fired a shotgun, in part to sound his frustration with the constant guests in his neighborhood. Police say Mattlage broke no laws and so he was not arrested. No one was hurt in either incident.
Bush said he sympathizes with Sheehan but has made no indication that he will meet with her. Sheehan did meet with Bush in June 2004, at a gathering at Fort Lewis, Wash., for grieving families.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Edwards (search), wife of former vice presidential candidate John Edwards, wrote a letter of support for the protesters that urged others to call the president and demand he meet with Sheehan.
"The president's cavalier dismissal of Cindy Sheehan is emblematic of a greater problem. This is a mother who raised her son to love his country enough to serve. ... And when the worst does happen, when the world comes crashing down and she puts the boy she bore, the boy she taught, the boy she loved in the ground, what does that government say to her? It says we'll do the talking; we don't need to hear from you," Edwards wrote.
FOX News' Mike Emanuel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.