A biker group known as 2 Million Bikers to DC has offered to protect the funeral of poet Maya Angelou from Westboro Baptist protesters, although the Topeka, Kansas-based group claims to have now withdrawn its presence from the private event.
The Washington, D.C.-based biker group first made its announcement to protect Angelou's upcoming funeral via Facebook last week, writing in multiple posts that although it did not agree with some of Angelou's beliefs and philosophies, it still sought to protect her right to such beliefs from the "hate" projected by Westboro Baptist.
A May 31 update on the "2 Million Bikers to DC" Facebook page said the bikers would protect Angelou's Saturday funeral from Westboro protesters "because it is the right thing to do! Protect her & her family from WBC!"
Belinda Bee, founder of biker group, added to the Examiner in a recent interview that her group would protect Angelou's funeral because "if we allow WBC to protest her funeral what will stop them from protesting one of our funerals?"
"No, we do not agree with her beliefs, but we agree with her freedom to have & voice those beliefs. That is what freedom is about! If we attempt to shut up all those who disagree with us are we not doing the same thing as them?"
Westboro Baptist then announced that it planned to cancel its protest of Angelou's funeral in Wake Forest, North Carolina, on Saturday, telling the Winston-Salem Journal that they would not protest the event if it was private.
Steve Drain, a spokesperson for Westboro, told the local media outlet that although it will not protest a private event, it will still remain vocally opposed to Angelou because she encouraged people to "stand against God."
"If it looks like that's not going to end up being a private affair ... we'll shift gears," Drain said.
Westboro Baptist, a small extremist group, has become well-known in the U.S. for its controversial protesting of funerals, including the funeral services for fallen U.S. soldiers and celebrities.
Angelou, known as a great American author and poet, passed away on May 28 at the age of 86. Along with her dedication to civil rights and women's rights, Angelou also professed her dedication to her Christian faith through her writing and activism. She was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2011. Her funeral will be held Saturday at Wake Forest University's Wait Chapel in North Carolina.