Colonel’s Backers Write Their Support Large With PM-US-Iran-Contras Rdp, Bjt
Undated (AP) _ Americans who sympathize with Lt. Col. Oliver North are finding a variety of ways to express support: raising money for his defense, flying banners on both coasts and telling him he should run for president.
After months of hearing that North deserved the bulk of the blame for the Iran-Contra affair, Americans heard the decorated Marine tell his side of the story before congressional committees on television last week.
Many liked what they saw, judging by an outbreak of sales of T-shirts and buttons with North’s picture.
″Ollie North, rather than being a loose cannon, is in fact an American hero,″ Rep. Pat Swindall, R-Ga., said to enthusiastic applause from about 60 people at a Young Republican barbecue in Macon.
But an ″Ollie North Is Not A Hero″ demonstration in front of the Marine Recruiting Station in Minneapolis drew more than 100 people today. Contragate Watch, a group that wants a deeper investigation of U.S. support of the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, said the public is not getting enough facts from the hearings.
North was fired from the National Security Council staff for his part in arranging secret arms sales to Iran to help free hostages and using some of the proceeds to aid Contra rebels fighting Nicaragua’s leftist government.
North maintains he assumed he was acting with Reagan’s knowledge and approval, but the president has denied knowing of the money diversion.
Rather than seeing North take the fall for the decision to keep the program secret from Congress, some think North should be running the country and are distributing ″Ollie North For President″ bumper stickers.
″The people I’ve had contact with are acting enthusiastically about it. I had 120 bumper stickers made up and they were almost all gone in only a few hours,″ said Robert K. Arundale II, self-appointed chairman of the North for President Committee in Illinois.
″If we had to vote for president today, not knowing anything more about anyone than we do now, and his (North’s) name was on the ballot, I’d vote for him. And I think a lot of others would, too,″ said Gerry Neal, a wholesale oil distributor who put North bumper stickers in Tulsa, Okla., service stations, parts stores and restaurants.
At a baseball game in Atlanta, thousands cheered when a plane flew over trailing a banner with an American flag and a message promoting North for president.
Other planes flew pro-North banners on both coasts over the weekend.
Real estate developer Arthur Stivaletta of Dedham, Mass., who organized the patriotic ″Wake Up America Campaign,″ rented planes to fly a banner over the Maryland and Delaware beaches Sunday and over Washington today.
Salesmen at a car dealership in Derry, N.H., were so impressed with North, they pledged to donate $50 for every car sold to his defense fund.
As of Sunday, salesman Jim Butler said more than $250 had been collected.
The promotion ″didn’t seem to have had a great effect one way or the other,″ Butlet said. But a sign in front of the dealership prompted plenty of phone calls, some for and some against North and the car deal, he said.
Western Union, which offers reduced rates for telegrams to Capitol Hill, advertised the service Sunday as an opportunity to ″make your voice heard at the Iran-Contra hearings.″
The number of telegrams and mailgrams sent to Capitol Hill during North’s testimony hit 50,000 Friday, said Western Union spokesman Warren Bechtel.
North showed off the telegrams as a sign of support during the hearings.
But Lance Morgan, spokesman for the Senate members of the congressional inquiry, said telephone calls once running 5-to-1 in favor of North were now 50-50.
Various national opinion polls showed that a majority of Americans believed North was a patriot but only a minority considered him a national hero. Majorities said he was well-intentioned and was acting with the approval of his superiors, as he testified.
A poll conducted for Newsweek by The Gallup Organization found that 28 percent of 620 adults interviewed by telephone Thursday and Friday said they would vote for North for public office. Gallup reported a margin of sampling error of 5 percentage points.