Only three Westboro Baptist Church members showed up at Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day to protest against America’s “dead ‘heroes.’”
But about 80 people, including about 10 members of a supposed offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan in Virginia, came to participate in a counter-protest against the fringe Topeka, Kan. group, reported CNN. The KKK group was separated from the other counter-protesters.
Westboro, according to its website, came to specifically protest against members of the U.S. military on Memorial Day. The group, which has no affiliation with any Baptist denomination, spewed hate-filled words on its website against members of the armed forces, dismissing their bravery and sacrifice.
Nearby in a designated zone on Monday, members of the Knights of the Southern Cross, which claims affiliation with the white supremacy group KKK, peacefully protested against Westboro’s anti-U.S. soldier message.
“It’s the soldier that fought and died and gave them that right to free speech,” said Dennis LaBonte, the so-called “Imperial Wizard” of the Knights of the Southern Cross, to CNN.
No matter how small the Westboro protests are, they seemingly attract media attention because of the large counter-protests they incite.
Thousands of counter-protesters showed up in Joplin, Mo. – some coming from other states – on Sunday when they heard that Westboro members were planning to picket on the day of the memorial service for Joplin tornado victims.
Although some reports say that Westboro members came and were chased off by motorcyclists, The Joblin Globe reported that the controversial group did not appear. Instead, a man with no affiliation to the controversial group came and protested and was chased by the counter-protest crowd.
Westboro is notorious for its hate-filled language – its website is called “God Hates Fags” – and is vehemently denounced by mainstream churches. Some military families recently tried to sue Westboro for picketing at the funerals of their love ones, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled nearly unanimously, 8 to 1, in March that Westboro's right to free speech outweighed military families’ right to privacy.
“On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker,” remarked Chief Justice John Roberts.
Westboro is a self-described “primitive” church that claims to have held more than 40,000 picketing events. The congregation is made up nearly entirely of pastor Fred Phelps’ family. Members are often seen with “America is Doomed” and “You’re Going to Hell” signs at schools, churches and funerals.