By Sarah Tan, Andrea Swalec and Tom Liddy
MANHATTAN — Cops arrested dozens of Occupy Wall Street protesters Saturday afternoon after they stormed a church-owned lot in SoHo that they were hoping to make their new encampment — a dramatic showing for a movement that been sputtering in recent weeks after being forced out of its Lower Manhattan base.
Some of the hundreds of anti-greed protesters, some dressed in Santa suits, streamed over the chain link fence at the lot near Duarte Square using a wooden ladder. Others poured in under the fence that protesters had lifted up.
Inside they clashed with cops in a brief, but chaotic scene, according to witnesses.
“It was so inspiring," said Jordan Brooks, of Philadelphia, who made it over the fence, but was not arrested. "I just had to follow. I climbed over and I saw all these people running and I just followed them."
Some of the 100 people who made it into the lot at Varick and Canal streets, including members of the clergy, managed to escape through the opening in the fence, but many were cuffed. Cops said that at least 40 people were arrested.
Brooks said that the clash was violent.
“It was bad. They pulled some guy by his hair off the fence," he said. "I thought they were going to pull off his scalp.
"Were were all standing by the fence and I saw some guy got punched."
The protesters were eyeing the lot, owned by Trinity Church, as a potential new encampment after they were booted from Zuccotti Park last month.
They even picked up support from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who supported OWS's efforts to base themselves at the park, but warned against attempts to break in.
While Trinity has been considered a close ally of the movement, providing protesters with facilities and pastoral services, it has refused to give the demonstrators access to the space, which was the site of another clash with police on Nov. 15.
In a statement, Trinity blasted the protesters for breaking into the lot.
"We are saddened that OWS protesters chose to ignore yesterday’s messages from Archbishop Tutu, from the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and from Bishop of New York Mark S. Sisk," said Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper, the rector of Trinity Church.
Cooper said that while the church shared the occupiers' quest for "social and economic justice," "we do not, however, believe that erecting a tent city at Duarte Square enhances their mission or ours.
"The vacant lot has no facilities to sustain a winter encampment. In good conscience and faith, we strongly believe to do so would be wrong, unsafe, unhealthy, and potentially injurious."
After the arrests at Duarte Square, the protesters marched through the streets of Lower Manhattan. At first they headed towards the rector's house, but found it barricaded.
Afterwards, they marched up Seventh Avenue in the Village, chanting "take the street" and marching through traffic before heading up to Times Square.
Along the way, a number of protesters were arrested.
Earlier in the day, demonstrators, joined by members of the clergy and some elected officials, held up signs and chanted "Hell no, we won't go! Occupy 2.0!"
"They are portraying that their door is open to negotiation we've been proposing alternatives but so far we've had no response," said retired Bishop George Packer. "If we walked over and leaned against that fence wed get arrested for trespassing. "
And Chris Ashley, a chaplain from Union Theological Seminary in Morningside Heights, said that "this movement needs a space where we can make democracy happen in person."
"I want to bear witness that there's plenty of us in the church that stand up to support this movement," he added. "Jesus prayed and he occupied."