WASHINGTON, DC—FBI director Robert S. Mueller III announced Monday that, due to logistical complications and a lack of interest among participants, the annual Witness Protection Parade will be cancelled "for the foreseeable future."
"The feeling among organizers, participants, and sponsors was that the John Smith Memorial Witness Protection Parade—though a lot of fun—presented too many headaches for everyone involved," Mueller said in a press conference Monday.
The parade, scheduled this year for Oct. 4, has been a major event in Washington ever since the creation of the federal witness-protection program 30 years ago, and has historically garnered TV ratings second only to those of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
"This event has been our way of recognizing the brave men and women whose legal testimony forced them to join the federal witness-protection program," Mueller said. "It was our way of putting these true patriots in the spotlight, if only for a few hours."
Nevertheless, Mueller said that dozens of last year's marchers, all of whom have asked not to be named, declined the invitation to participate in next month's parade. Most claimed that family matters, personal commitments, or the demands of their pool-cleaning jobs in Tempe wouldn't allow them to be in Washington over the weekend.
Mueller said the parade has always been difficult to organize.
"You wouldn't believe how hard it was to track everyone down every year," Mueller said. "Even after we did, there was always trouble. We'd have a group all arranged to carry the big 'Star Witnesses Shining Bright' banner, and then, poof, all six men would disappear into thin air the day of the event."
Mueller said that an additional factor leading to the parade's cancellation was the rising cost of insuring it.
Over the years, the parade has seen an unusually high incidence of tragedy as it winds through 2.4 miles of downtown D.C. In 1977, a burning, driverless garbage truck, reported stolen earlier in the day from the Happy Haul-Away Sanitation Company, plunged into the "Telling The Tales Of Yesteryear" float, killing 17 men. In the '80s, the route was changed annually, in an attempt to circumvent the tendency of Colombian-owned businesses to detonate as the parade passed. Also, the "Boxes Of Nails From Around The World" limousine caravan sponsored by the Sons Of Italy Working Men's Association has exploded with dire consequences seven out of the past nine years.
"Even though the parade was cancelled, it was nice to have been invited," said John Smith, who would have been this year's grand marshal. Smith was granted the honor in celebration of his testimony in the Racketeer Influenced, Corrupt Organizations Act case against convicted Russian mafia boss Illyini Yutokarev last year.
"For poor boy from Ukraine, it is certainly dream come true," said Smith, who said he is not related to any of the 27 previous grand marshals of the same name. "But I never expect any special recognition for what I've done. In fact, I specifically ask for no recognition. Please, none. Please."
Longtime fans of the event expressed disappointment over the parade's cancellation.
"I always loved to watch the parade," said Jilly Messalini, 48, a small-business owner from New York. "I tell you, I'll miss it. Every year, I bring the boys from Brooklyn to see the sights, you know? I usually spot at least one old friend, or maybe even his kids, in one of the marching bands."
"Last year, I recognized a long-lost cousin on the 'Fun Fun Fun In The Arizona Sun' float," said parade attendee Herbert Tong, a prosperous dry-cleaner and importer from San Francisco's Chinatown. "I waved, but he must not have noticed me. I followed him for blocks yelling out his name, but he never waved back. He was probably just embarrassed about his missing fingers."
Although the FBI sponsored the annual parade, the cancellation will also affect other federal agencies that make use of the witness-protection program.
"The IRS and the DEA would always send a nice group out," Mueller said. "And the CIA would usually support us by collecting donations. But then, money was never a problem. In fact, I was shocked by how generous some of the anonymous donors were. You should have seen the rubber-banded rolls of cash we'd find in those coffee cans we placed around town. Clearly, some people really wanted to see these parades happen."