- (Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)
Westboro Baptist Church called for a Roger Ebert funeral protest, in the latest of the controversial sect's pickets, however, it is unsure whether the group's members actually turned up as planned.
An April 8 statement by Westboro had called for its members to protest at film critic Roger Ebert's funeral in Chicago that took place on Monday morning. The group had said that it would be picketing "in lawful proximity" to Ebert's funeral at the Holy Name Cathedral.
Westboro's members have called Ebert an "enabler" and complained that he mocked "the faithful servants of God at Westboro Baptist Church" on his social media accounts.
The controversial group has also called Ebert a "fool [who] sold his soul for some fame & fortune."
However, the group's presence was not noticed at the funeral which went ahead without incident earlier on Monday.
Just last month Westboro were in the news after a neighbor made his own protest against the group, by painting his house in rainbow colors as a sign of gay pride. The move was a protest at the controversial group's aggressive stance against homosexuality.
Aaron Jackson, who is a co-founder of Planting Peace - an organization that works for rainforest conservation, and opening orphanages among other things - recently moved into a house opposite that of a building occupied by Westboro.
Jackson and friends used the opportunity to paint his house on March 19 in rainbow colors - which in the Bible is in fact a sign of the covenant between God and man - but which gay activists have adopted in recent decades as a sign of gay pride. They have dubbed the house the "Equality House."
Westboro, led by founder Fred Phelps Sr., is a highly controversial group, which has held pickets across America targeting soldiers' funerals, celebrities and all persons and events they deem as being supportive of homosexuals, sinful activities, or the American government. They have been labeled a hate group by many other groups, and mainstream Christian denominations have been quick to disassociate themselves with them.
Jackson's organization Planting Peace purposely bought the house, for roughly $83,000, with the thought of using the property to protest against Westboro.
Jackson, who has described himself as a "screaming liberal," has said, "I've wanted to do something, and I knew when I saw that house for sale that it all came together. Everyone who knows me knows that I'm a little crazy and there's no red tape in my charity. When I want to do something, I do it," according to The Huffington Post.
Meanwhile, earlier this year Westboro was rocked by former members of the group speaking out against them, saying that they had been "brainwashed." The former members also said that they no longer wanted to be part of the group that they described would "pray for people to die."
"We know that we've done and said things that hurt people," read a joint statement by Megan Phelps-Roper and her younger sister, Grace, who left the WBC last year. "Inflicting pain on others wasn't the goal, but it was one of the outcomes. We wish it weren't so, and regret that hurt."
Libby Phelps Alvarez, the granddaughter of Phelps, Sr., who left the church two years ago, added in a separate Today News interview, "They think that they are the only ones who are going to heaven and if you don't go to that church you're going to hell."
"There was a point when we started praying for people to die," Alvarez added. "I didn't actually do that but I was around when they did it."
In her interview with the Today News, Alvarez says that she is sorry for any hurt that she has caused while a member of the WBC.
"I would tell them I love them and that people aren't evil like we were taught," Alvarez said of what she would tell her family. "And even though I am crying right now, life isn't full of sadness and sorrow and disease and heartache like they told us. You can lead a happy and good life."
Here is a video report into Roger Ebert's death: