Leader Blues

Friday, June 09, 2006

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> Shameful protest

BY GARRICK FELDMAN
Leader publisher

Jonathan Phelps and his small group from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., this week demonstrated at two funerals for soldiers who were recently killed in Iraq.

Phelps and his group don’t mourn the deaths of soldiers like everyone else but celebrate their passing as evidence of divine retribution for America’s tolerance of homosexuality.

I walked up to Phelps as the de-monstration was winding down at Army Specialist Bobby West’s funeral in Beebe. Phelps’ time was almost up — his group had to leave half an hour before the funeral service started — and I wanted to talk to him before he left.

He’s an affable person, with an easy smile who looks like a high school coach or a minister. He’s a good talker. He later told me he’s been a practicing attorney for 20 years.

“We’ve had to deliver a message,” Phelps said. “Doom and gloom is facing this country. I read the Bible. Any nation that goes the way of Sodom and Gemorrah awaits a similar fate.”

Phelps and his group have held demonstrations almost every day for 15 years. Phelps says he averages three demonstrations a week at funerals for soldiers who’d been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Military funerals are where the action is,” he told us.

His father and church leader, Brother Fred Phelps, did not attend Wednesday’s protest here. “He was giving an interview to Rolling Stone magazine,” Phelps said, laughing. It didn’t seem to bother him that the publisher of that counterculture publication is gay.

The group had been to Arkansas before. Phelps was pleased that we noted in an editorial that his group had picketed at the funeral of Virginia Kelly, Bill Clinton’s mother.

The church was upset with Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on homosexuals in the military. “It’s a sodomite agenda,” Phelps said. “His momma raised him from the Devil.”

They were now on Hwy. 64 in Beebe, waving and singing and stomping on flags and holding up signs that said “America Is Doomed,” “Fags Doom Nations,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “Thank God for IEDs.”

An improvised explosive device had killed West, 23, in Baghdad on May 30. His funeral was about to start at First Baptist Church of Beebe, across the road from where Phelps and his entourage were whooping it up, while counterdemonstrators, most of them bikers with U.S. flags, lined up in two long rows in front of the church.

There was some tension in the air, but law-enforcement officials kept the two sides apart. Someone was carrying an eight-inch knife, but the police took it away from him.

Phelps’ group carried other signs that read “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “God Is Your Enemy” and “God Hates Fag Enablers.”

There were cheers when the protesters left Beebe. Phelps and his group walked to their cars and headed for Gerard, Kan., where they picketed at the funeral for a young Marine who was recently killed in the fighting.

He says he keeps up with military funerals by checking a Pentagon Web site and doing Google searches.

We called Phelps on Thursday evening and asked him how the funeral in Kansas had gone.

“It was a grand and glorious event,” said Phelps, talking to us at his church. “The Marine who was killed was very popular in Crawford County, Kansas, where the funeral was held. He was touted as a big hero. We had to set the record straight.
“God is destroying this nation,” he continued.

“It’s not a question of if but when it will be destroyed. He is killing the fruit of this nation in that war. God will bring this nation to Judgment Day by fire and by flood.”