Patriot Guard Bikers vs. Fred Phelps.
The "A**Hole of the Week" is usually Pooh's territory. So I'll stop short of calling the "Reverend" Fred Phelps an a**hole. But if ever an a**hole grew legs and walked, this guy has to be one.
Most people have probably heard of Phelps in one context or another. He runs a despicable website aimed at hate-mongering. He is the "head" of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. According to the Anti-Defamation League page on Phelps and WBC:
Incorporated in 1967 as a not-for-profit organization, the virulently homophobic Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) considers itself an "Old School (or, Primitive)" Baptist Church. The Church is led by the septuagenarian Reverend Fred Waldron Phelps Sr., and many WBC congregants are related to Phelps by blood. His wife, several of his children and dozens of his grandchildren frequent the church.
While WBC has picketed the gay community at hundreds of events nationwide, most of the individuals protested by the Church are not homosexual. In fact, WBC most often targets people it mistakenly claims are gay or those it believes to be encouraging homosexuality. Many WBC fliers emphasize the race or religion of these individuals, suggesting that the Church's hate spreads beyond its abhorrence of homosexuality. What appears to be anti-gay rhetoric is often a vehicle for WBC's anti-Semitism, hatred of other Christians, and even racism, though in the 1980s Fred Phelps received awards from the Greater Kansas City Chapter of Blacks in Government and the Bonner Springs branch of the NAACP for his work on behalf of Black clients.
Trained as a lawyer, Fred Phelps was disbarred in 1979 by the Kansas Supreme Court, which asserted that he had "little regard for the ethics of his profession." The formal complaint against Phelps charged that he misrepresented the truth in a motion for a new trial in a case he had brought, and that he held the defendant in the case up to "unnecessary public ridicule for which there is no basis in fact." Following his disbarment from Kansas State courts, Phelps continued to practice law in Federal courts. In 1985, nine Federal court judges filed a disciplinary complaint charging him and six of his family members, all attorneys, with making false accusations against them. The Phelpses fought the complaint but lost. In 1989, Fred Phelps agreed to surrender his license to practice law in Federal court in exchange for the Federal judges allowing the other members of his family to continue practicing in Federal court.
In 1991, WBC staged its first public demonstration, targeting a park in Topeka allegedly frequented by gays. Thousands of protests have followed, and WBC shows no sign of slowing down. In addition to speeches on the picket lines, the Church spreads its hateful message via faxed fliers and "News Releases." These faxed documents also appear at WBC's notorious Web site, Godhatesfags.com, along with photos of Church pickets and a schedule of upcoming demonstrations. A second WBC Web site, Godhatesamerica.com, contends that the United States is "doomed" because it supports gays. According to Fred Phelps, "God invented the Internet for us to preach on."
Phelps and WBC regularly picket and demonstrate all over the country to speak out against homosexuality and the gay community. Now, Phelps has added a new target for his disgusting hate-speech: the families of fallen American soldiers. Phelps has started another disgusting website and he and his "church" (comprised primarily of his family and extended family members) have started traveling around the country to picket and demonstrate at the funerals of fallen American soldiers.
A big part of Phelps' protests at these funerals is the inclusion of protest signs "thanking" God for IEDs (improvised explosive devices) that are a major killer of American soldiers in Iraq and signs "thanking" God for 9/11. Phelps and his fellow protestors (again, primarily family and extended family members) demonstrate at these funerals and proclaim that the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq are divine punishment for a country that harbors homosexuals and suggest that the soldiers themselves (and their grieving family members) are homosexual themselves and were punished by being killed in Iraq.
According to the AP, "[a]t least 14 states are considering laws aimed at the funeral protesters, who at a recent memorial service at Fort Campbell wrapped themselves in upside-down American flags. They danced and sang impromptu songs peppered with vulgarities that condemned homosexuals and soldiers."
Aside from the legislative response, however, is the response of a group of bikers calling themselves"The Patriot Guard Riders". The group
started back in early August of 2005 with the American Legion Riders chapter 136 from Kansas. They were appalled to hear that a fallen hero’s memory was being tarnished by misguided religious zealots who were protesting at funerals. They decided to do something about it. At the ALR 136 August meeting, Director : Chuck " Pappy " Barshney appointed members, Terry “Darkhorse” Houck, Cregg “Bronco 6” Hansen, Steve “McDaddy” McDonald, and Bill ”Wild Bill” Logan to form a committee to strategize and form a battle plan to combat Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.
When they heard that the WBC was going to protest at the Funeral of Sgt. John Doles in Chelsea, Oklahoma, they established a Mission Statement, which included getting the families permission and contacting Law Enforcement and other Motorcycle Groups in Oklahoma. They agreed that their ultimate goal was to get veterans and motorcycle organizations involved in every state so that each state could handle the situation internally and not rely on other states to do the job. They were very successful in mustering riders to honor Sgt. Doles and limiting the intrusion by the WBC.
After the Chelsea Mission the Kansas American Legion Riders wanted all Motorcycle Groups/ Organizations to be recongnized . On the 18th of Oct. 2005 the Patriot Guard name was established and was announced on the 27th of Oct. ,2005 to the 100 + motorcyclists present at the Tonganoxie Mission to Honor Spc Lucas Frantz .
Following the missions in South Haven, KS and a later ride in Edmond, OK, Jeff “Twister” Brown, from Broken Arrow, OK, decided to do more than just ride. He saw a need to get a strong nation-wide communications and recruiting program in place. He contacted the original AL riders in Kansas and told them of his plans. They openly shared their experiences, suggestions, and encouragement. Within a matter of days, Brown had formed the Patriot Guard Riders and began a nation-wide campaign to garner support.
Similarly, after a mission ride in Greeley, CO, Hugh Knaus and Jason “Waldo” Wallin answered the call of the newly formed Patriot Guard Riders, becoming the national webmaster and communications director, respectively. Within a matter of days, a mission statement was refined and a website was built, rebuilt, and launched. A call immediately went out to individual riders and groups across the nation to join and ride with the PGR. State Captains were recruited to work more closely with the members in their area.
The growth has been phenomenal. Within a week their membership included many riders from associations like the VFW, American Legion, Rolling Thunder, ABATE, Combat Vets Motorcycle Association, Intruder Alert, Leathernecks Motorcycle Club, and almost five hundred individual riders. To the credit of Hugh and “Waldo”, the PGR website had received almost 566,000 hits in the first two weeks! Patriots from all over America and several foreign countries responded. Emails were pouring in from people wanting to support and join the newly formed PGR.
The AP reports that the group is more than 5,000 strong and is riding to funerals where Phelps and his WBC have protests planned. The PGR bikers shield the families of the fallen soldiers from the WBC protesters, and overshadow the hate speech of Phelps' group with "patriotic chants and a sea of red, white, and blue flags." The group's Kentucky captain, Don Woodrick, told the Ap that "[t]he most important thing we can do is let families know that the nation cares. When a total stranger gets on a motorcycle in the middle of winter and drives 300 miles to hold a flag, that makes a powerful statement." Indeed. And a refreshing statement in the face of Phelps' group, no matter your position on the war.
"This is just the right thing to do. This is something America didn't do in the '70s," said Kurt Mayer, the group's national spokesman. "Whether we agree with why we're over there, these soldiers are dying to protect our freedoms."
**UPDATE: After composing this post, I see that readeriam already posted on it. Perhaps there's something to the old adage about great minds and such!
**UPDATE: May 10, 2006:
Kierkegaard Lives Update Post: House Passes Anti-Protest Bill.