The four police commanders present drew several, of what appeared to be leaders of the group, into a dialogue, hoping to get them to disperse, and, in any event to gain time pending the arrival of the two additional Speical Events Squad Units.
The construction workers assailed the fact that there was no American Flag in evidence at the Federal Hall National Memorial Building, in contrast to the many that were displayed from the adjoining banks and financial institutions (all of which were at full staff). They argued that this was a Government owned building, that it was owned by all the people and that they had a right to share an equal portion of the steps and to express their views in support of the American Flag and the foreign policy of the United States; that everyone had an equal right to freely express their views.
The construction workers were told that if they applied for a parade and/or loudspeaker permit, that one would be issued to them and they could then exercise their rights; it was pointed out, however, that because of the dangers involved, they could not occupy the steps of the Federal Hall National Memorial Building simulataneously with the anti-war protesters.
While this exchange was taking place between the police and the construction workers, the noon time lunch crowd began to filter into the area causing it to become quite congested with people, many of whom flocked to the support of the construction workers and their demands and swelled their ranks considerably.
It was later learned, that because of the early morning weather, the flag was not flown from the Federal building as per regulations.
The entire group of peace demonstrators formed up into a solid mass at the base of the statue of George Washington at the western extreme of the Federal Memorial Building steps. They shouted peace slogans and invectives at the construction workers and, intentionally or otherwise, proceeded to close the gap that existed between them. A second police line was quickly formed parallel to the first line to keep the two factions separated and to establish a buffer zone between them.
Heckling between the two groups intensified very rapidly, emotions became strained, and the construction workers, reinforced from the rear by some thousand vocal supporters from the Wall Street area, suddenly burst through the easterly terminus of the police line and negotiated the eastern portion of the front steps of the Federal National Memorial Building. The scene was described by commentators as resembling the raising of the American Flag at Iwo Jima.
Although portions of motion picture films of the incident depicted the presence of a large Viet Cong flag in the ranks of the peace demonstrators at the foot of the statue of George Washington, it could not definitely be established if it was so displayed at a time coincidental with the breaching of the police lines by the construction workers and their supporters, and the catalyst that caused their sudden surge.
Once atop the steps, the construction workers implanted a number of American flags on the pillars and on the statue of George Washington. Since the peace demonstrators were concentrated to the westerly portion of the front of the building, little physical contact between these two groups took place at this time and the construction workers, seemingly content with their victory, proceeded to conduct a salutory ceremony to the Flag. The police lines were reformed perpendicular to the centerline of the face of the building to once again again separate the two factions.
The usual lunch hour crowd which had, by now, inundated the area completely from building line to building line, loudly applauded the construction workers and their singing of the National anthem; many onlookers joined in, openly displaying much fervor.
At this juncture, a neatly groomed conservatively dressed middle aged man suddenly took a position on the pedestal in front of the statue of George Washington where he thumbed his nose at the construction worker group, shouted obscenities, and ultimately committed an act of desecration upon one of the American flags implanted there by them. He was variously reported as blowing his nose in the flag, tearing the flag with his teeth, and eating the flag.
The construction workers ignored his taunts but became enraged and reacted violently to the desecration of the American flag. They overran the entire step area, forcing the peace demonstrators down to the street among the spectators; the flag desecrator was toppled to the ground, and numerous sporadic scuffles took place between peace demonstrators, construction workers, and onlookers. Because of the solid mass of people, the police found it almost impossible to move about to prevent fighting or effect arrests, and the two additional Special Events Squad Units, which arrived almost simultaneously with the sudden eruption of violence, found it quite difficult to make their way through the crowd from Broadway.