The Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro baptist church is notorious for showing up at the funerals of dead soldiers and other high-profile gatherings wielding anti-gay signs. And we think muslim extremists are bad, these people aren’t much better by any means. But when the church announced plans that it would picket the funeral Thursday for the 9-year-old girl fatally shot over the weekend at a Tucson grocery store by a gunman who allegedly killed five others and injured 14 others attending a town-hall session by Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Tucson- and Phoenix-area residents started counter-preparations and began organizing immediately. They may not be able to stop them from coming, but they plan on giving the grieving family as much of a buffer zone as possible between the protesters and the funeral services for the victims.
Arizona state lawmakers are also scrambling to pass a bill that would order protesters to stay a minimum of 300 feet away from the funeral, a sort of restraining order if you will. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the lead sponsor for the bill, said in an e-mail to colleagues that the plan is to suspend the rules Tuesday and fast-track the bill that will, in essence, protect the victims’ families from the “hateful protest” from the Westboro Baptist Church. She said she has the support of the Senate president and Gov. Jan Brewer, and the bill will go into effect “immediately” once it’s signed. “It’s gonna happen,” Sinema said. The senator said she was “real upset” after learning that the Westboro church planned on protesting but had a visceral reaction after reading their press release and sprung into action. “It is the most disgusting thing I ever read in my entire life,” she told FoxNews.com. “I literally threw up after I read it. … I’m like, ‘I’m gonna fix this.'”
“It makes me sick to my stomach,” said Glen Littell, who’s bringing a pack of bikers from the Phoenix Motorcycle Rider Group to Tucson on Thursday. “They’re a stench from a slaughterhouse. We’re just going to block the stench so the family can catch their breath.” Littell said he and his riders are not looking for any violent confrontations, but told FoxNews.com that Arizona bikers are going to do “whatever we have to do” to cordon off the family and protect them from the protests. A group called the Patriot Guard Riders often does this when the Westboro church pickets military funerals, but Littell said that group is not traveling to Tucson, so “we’re stepping in.” “Our sole purpose will be to allow that family some dignity and respect … without having to worry about the a–holes,” he said.
Littell has notified the Pima County Sheriff’s Department and has reached out to several other biker groups notifying them of their planned presence at Green’s funeral. He crossed his fingers that the Hells Angels would join them. “Nothing says stand back and be silent like a Hells Angels presence,” he said. Littell added that if the church moves on to picket other funerals, his riders will follow. “We’re getting word there’s gonna be a pretty large presence of bikers,” he said. “Word’s spreading. And spreading quickly.”
It’s not clear whether the Westboro church intends to picket the funerals of all the victims of Saturday’s attack. One press release from the group declared, “Thank God for the shooter,” and said the group would picket the “funerals.” Another release announced plans only for the protest on Thursday. “God sent the shooter to deal with idolatrous America,” the group said in a statement. The Westboro church, led by Fred Phelps, believes that tragic events like the deaths of soldiers are punishment for tolerance of homosexuality.
The Supreme Court last fall heard arguments in a case brought against Phelps by the father of a soldier killed in Iraq whose funeral was protested by the group in 2006. The father, Albert Snyder, had won a multimillion-dollar verdict against the church, claiming invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court is expected to issue a ruling soon on whether free speech can be curbed at specific locations and events.
Sinema said the bill she was introducing is modeled on an Ohio law that has withstood court challenge. It would technically apply to protesters at any Arizona funeral, though Sinema was clear that it’s directed at Westboro Baptist Church. She said she hopes the protesters and counter-protesters avoid any violence at the service. Meanwhile, several grassroots groups have popped up on Facebook calling on Tucson residents to intervene. “We will create a wall of humanity to allow the families who’ve lost their love ones to hold their funerals in peace, held with dignity, and surrounded in love,” one of the Facebook groups says in a statement. Another calls for a “peaceful protest” of the church at the funeral Thursday for 9-year-old Christina Green.