A dozen or more clowns descended on the US Marine Corps recruitment offices on outer State Street Saturday afternoon, April 14, to protest military recruitment on high school campuses.
Colorfully dressed and speaking in falsetto voices, the participants, aged 15-25 were comprised mostly of high school students. They urged onlookers to join the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (CIRCA), which the group’s literature described as “a fighting force armed with ruthless love and fully trained in the ancient art of clowning and nonviolent direct action.” One clown climbed atop the red tile roof in the strip mall where the USMC offices are located and planted two signs announcing the Army of Fun and the Rebel Clown Army. Their playfulness was contagious: When Santa Barbara Police Department Officer Andy Radujko instructed the group to remove the signs, but warned them to be careful while climbing back up, a red-nosed clown squeaked, “Don’t worry-we won’t get hurt,” to which Radujko replied, “Well, you say that, but if you’re clowning around you never know.”
The Rebel Clown Army began in the United Kingdom in 2003 in response to a visit by President George W. Bush. The Santa Barbara chapter had its genesis in a youth retreat sponsored by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation attended by some of Saturday’s participants, and the action at the USMC office marked its debut.
The clowns passed out a recruitment list asking for the signatories’ special talents and “favorite fruit (to throw),” and chanted, “I don’t know but I been told, recruiters’ lies are getting old.” Two Marine sergeants-a career counselor and a recruiter-declined to comment and did not admit the clowns inside the offices, but attached their business cards to the inside of the front window, which also displayed posters used in recruitment. One of these featured a young Marine with chiseled features over the caption, “Just think of me as your new guidance counselor.” The clowns posted their counter-recruitment literature on the outside facing in for the sergeants to read, including a comparison of the US Army and the Clown Army.
For all of its self-described “creative goofiness,” such as-“Fight in a war,” contrasted to “Tug-o-war”-the clowns’ literature included some serious fighting words reminiscent of young war resisters’ aggressive appeals to their peers who joined the military during the Vietnamese War. Blaming soldiers for participating has since fallen out of favor by consensus among contemporary war resistors. Nonetheless, the clowns’ literature contrasted “Kids love us!”-as a reason to join the Rebel Clown Army-to “Drop bombs on kids” which they pointed out was something soldiers do.
Onlookers included former Marine Corporal Louis Griffiths of Lompoc, a member of Veterans for Peace, who helps set up the Arlington West display every Sunday at Ledbetter Beach which commemorates American soldiers who have died in the Iraq war. His daughter’s husband is currently serving in Afghanistan. He approved of the action, saying, “This is what we need. We need young people to get involved.”
There was no sign that anybody came to the offices to sign up with the USMC during the 90 minutes that the clowns were milling around in front. High school students said they had not yet made plans to mobilize on campus while military recruiters were present, but that they might do so.