Protesters outraged by Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip have become a regular presence outside the residence of Antony Blinken, the United States Secretary of State, in the state of Virginia. Some camp for days in tents on sidewalks. Palestinian flags and handmade signs express fury at a diplomat who has become the face of President Joe Biden’s policy toward the conflict.
“Bloody Blinken lives here,” read one sign. “Caution: war criminal inside,” read another. Cars drove over the words “genocide secretary” written along the road in chalk. And when Blinken’s official motorcade pulled out of his driveway one day in January, protesters threw fake blood at the vehicle.
Protest organizers even gave their effort a name, “Occupy Blinken” (a reference to activist movements from the past decade, such as Occupy Wall Street), and said in a statement that their camp has already housed more than 100 people. On Thursday afternoon, perhaps two dozen were visible, alongside many security officers. They have been “braving frigid temperatures, winds and rain, 24 hours a day, to plead with Blinken” to support an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, according to the statement.
Some neighbors are unhappy with the commotion on their normally quiet street, according to one. A digital traffic sign imported by police warns drivers to slow down and instructs them not to honk their horns, suggesting that demonstrations of support have caused unwanted noise in an area that is also home to at least two ambassadors from Persian Gulf countries.
For Blinken, it’s certainly a surprising turn of events. For much of the past two years, he has been a hero in many quarters of the United States and Europe for defending Ukraine and demanding accountability for Russian wartime atrocities. Now he is condemned by angry protesters who are outraged that the Biden administration provided military equipment and political cover for what they call the morally outrageous, even criminal, Israeli response to the Hamas attacks on October 7.
Protesters also gathered outside the homes of National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, including on Christmas morning. They have also been harassing Biden’s recent public appearances, with activists interrupting his speeches in some cases.
But Blinken appears to be bearing the brunt of this, perhaps because of his diplomatic role and his frequent television appearances.
Outside the State Department, several lampposts are covered with posters of his smiling face set against the rubble of Gaza. “We charge you with genocide for financing and aiding Israel’s genocide of Palestinian men, women and children in Gaza,” the materials say.
Israel strongly rejects the accusation that its military campaign against Hamas constitutes a genocidal effort to exterminate the Palestinians. The Biden administration says the genocide charge is unfounded, although the International Court of Justice recently issued a preliminary ruling suggesting the charge was “plausible.”
Blinken frequently speaks of “Israel’s right to defend itself” and repeatedly emphasizes that Hamas is responsible for triggering the catastrophe in Gaza by attacking Israel and killing some 1,200 people. But he also says publicly that the number of civilians killed in Gaza has been “heartbreaking” for him and argues that US diplomacy has achieved more than any other country in ensuring the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza.
In a statement, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Blinken is aware of the criticism.
Blinken is just another secretary of State to suffer personal animosity over a foreign conflict, though he may be experiencing it more acutely than any of his predecessors since Condoleezza Rice, who held the post in the second term of the Bush administration. During a House of Representatives hearing in 2007, a woman opposed to the US occupation of Iraq approached Rice and held hands covered in red paint just inches from her face.
During a visit to Britain the previous year, Rice was confronted by protesters — “Hey, Condi, hey, how many children did you kill today?” some sang—and she was forced to cancel a planned parade at a mosque. In June 2004, up to 1,300 people marched to the home of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Washington’s Kalorama neighborhood.