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Context of 'October 14, 1998: Anti-Gay Church Group Protests at Murdered Gay Student’s Funeral'

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Part of the Westboro Baptist Church as it appears in recent years. The URL “godhatesamerica.com” is written on a banner hanging in front of the church.Part of the Westboro Baptist Church as it appears in recent years. The URL “godhatesamerica.com” is written on a banner hanging in front of the church. [Source: Ask (.com)]The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) in Topeka, Kansas, holds its first services under the auspices of Pastor Fred Waldron Phelps. Phelps, his wife, nine of his 13 children, and their spouses and children make up the core of the WBC’s small congregation. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) will describe the church as a virtual cult led by Phelps. Phelps and his extended family members live in houses on the WBC compound in Topeka, with the houses arranged in a box formation and sharing a central backyard. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] The congregation will quickly begin shedding members because of Phelps’s vitriolic preaching, and for a time Phelps will attempt to support the church by selling vacuum cleaners and baby carriages door-to-door. For years, much of the church’s income comes from Phelps’s children, who regularly sell candy door-to-door. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001]
Atmosphere of Fear, Abuse Alleged - According to one of Phelps’s estranged children, Nathan Phelps, Phelps uses violence and abuse to keep the members in line; in the SPLC’s words, “cultivating an atmosphere of fear to maintain his authority.” Nathan and his two siblings, Mark Phelps, and Dortha Bird, will later leave the church and family, and all three will allege physical and psychological abuse in multiple newspaper and television interviews. Fred Phelps will dismiss all the allegations as “a sea of fag lies.” Nathan will allege that his father beat him with a leather strap and a mattock handle until he “couldn’t lie down or sit down for a week.” They will also allege that Phelps beat his wife, forced his children to fast, and other charges. No child abuse charges brought against Phelps will ever result in convictions, usually because the children will refuse to testify out of what Nathan Phelps will call fear of reprisal. Children in the Phelps family are kept close to the church, and, the SPLC will write, “their upbringing offers them few opportunities to integrate into mainstream society. It is common to see young children from the Phelps family at WBC pickets, often holding the group’s hateful signs. These children casually use the words ‘fag’ and ‘dyke’ in interviews, and the older children report having no close friends at school. The Phelps family raises its children to hold hateful and upsetting views, and to believe that all people not in WBC will go to hell.… The children quickly grow alienated in school and in society, leading them to build relationships almost exclusively within the family. This helps to explain why nine of Fred Phelps’ 13 children have remained members of the church.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] Phelps, who dropped out of the fundamentalist religious Bob Jones University, was ordained as a Baptist minister at the age of 17. He met his future wife Marge Phelps after his California street ministry against dirty jokes and sexual petting was the subject of a Time magazine profile. Between 1952 and 1968 the couple will have 13 children. Phelps will go on to earn a law degree from Washburn University in 1962, though he has some difficulty being admitted to the Kansas bar because no judge will be willing to vouch for his good character. Between 1951 and 2010, Phelps will be arrested multiple times for assault, battery, threats, trespassing, disorderly conduct, and contempt of court. He will be convicted four times, but will successfully avoid prison. He will decorate his WBC compound with an enormous upside-down American flag. He will go on to vilify both liberal and conservative lawmakers, including future President Ronald Reagan, and will praise enemies of the nation such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] Mark Phelps will later call his father “a small, pathetic old man” who “behaves with a viciousness the likes of which I have never seen.” All three estranged children say that Phelps routinely refers to African-Americans as “dumb n_ggers.” Bird later says, “He only started picketing in 1991, but I want people to understand that nothing’s changed, he’s been like this all along.” She will change her last name to Bird to celebrate her new-found freedom away from the family, though she will continue to live in the Topeka area. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001]
Fundamentalist Doctrine - Phelps teaches a fundamentalist version of Calvinist doctrine called “Primitive Baptist,” in which members believe that God only chooses a select few to be saved, and everyone else is doomed to burn in hell. The WBC Web site will later explain: “Your best hope is that you are among those he has chosen. Your prayer every day should be that you might be. And if you are not, nothing you say or do will serve as a substitute.”
Successful Lawsuits Help Fund Church - In 1964, Phelps will found a law firm specifically for defending the church against civil suits; the firm employs five attorneys, all children of Phelps. Phelps himself is a lawyer, but he will be disbarred in 1979 by the Kansas Supreme Court, which will find that he shows “little regard for the ethics of his profession.” The church does not solicit or accept outside donations; much of its funding comes from successful lawsuits against the Topeka city government and other organizations and individuals. The SPLC will explain, “Because the Phelps family represents WBC in court, they can put the fees they win towards supporting the church.” As of 2007, many Phelps family members will work for the state government, bringing additional revenue to the church. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] Nathan Phelps will later say that his father routinely files frivolous lawsuits in the hope that his targets will settle out of court rather than face the expenditures of a bench trial. (One extreme example is a 1974 class action suit demanding $50 million from Sears over the alleged delay in delivering a television set. In 1980, Sears will settle the suit by paying Phelps $126. Another, more lucrative example is a 1978 civil rights case that earns Phelps almost $10,000 in legal fees as part of the settlement of a discrimination case.) [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001]
Reviling Homosexuality - One of the central tenets of the church’s practices is the vilification of homosexuality, which the church will use to propel itself into the public eye (see June 1991 and After, 1996, June 2005 and After, September 8, 2006, October 2-3, 2006, and April 2009). The church’s official slogan is “God Hates Fags.” The church will begin its anti-gay crusade in the late 1980s with the picketing of a Topeka park allegedly frequented by homosexuals. In the early 1990s, WBC will launch its nationwide anti-gay picketing crusade. The church will win international notoriety with its picketing of the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay student brutally murdered in Wyoming (see October 14, 1998 and October 3, 2003). After the 9/11 attacks, the church will begin claiming that God brought about the attacks to punish America for its tolerance of homosexuality (see September 8, 2006). The church will also begin picketing the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2005, claiming that God is punishing America for tolerating homosexuality and persecuting the WBC (see June 2005 and After). The church will win notable victories in court regarding its right to protest at funerals (see March 10, 2006 and After and June 5, 2007 and After). Nations such as Canada and the United Kingdom will ban WBC members from entering their borders to engage in protest and picketing activities (see August 2008 and February 2009). [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] Phelps will write in an undated pamphlet detailing the “message” of the WBC: “America is doomed for its acceptance of homosexuality. If God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for going after fornication and homosexuality then why wouldn’t God destroy America for the same thing?” In 2001, a Topeka resident will tell an SPLC researcher: “I’m so tired of people calling him an ‘anti-gay activist.’ He’s not an anti-gay activist. He’s a human abuse machine.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL): “Though the group’s specific focus may shift over time, they believe that nearly all Americans and American institutions are ‘sinful,’ so nearly any individual or organization can be targeted. In fact, WBC members say that ‘God’s hatred is one of His holy attributes’ and that their picketing is a form of preaching to a ‘doomed’ country unable to hear their message in any other way.” [Anti-Defamation League, 2012]

Entity Tags: Fred Waldron Phelps, Matthew Shepard, Kansas Supreme Court, Mark Phelps, Dortha Bird, Marge Phelps, Anti-Defamation League, Nathan Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church, Southern Poverty Law Center

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Nine federal judges in Kansas sign a disciplinary complaint against Reverend Fred Phelps, the head of the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka, Kansas (see November 27, 1955 and After). Phelps, as are many of his children and in-laws, is a lawyer. The judges add five of his children and a daughter-in-law to the complaint. The complaint alleges that the seven Phelps family members made false accusations against the judges. In 1987, Phelps’s position is weakened when he is censured for writing abusive letters to potential defendants threatening lawsuits if his demands are not met. In 1989, Phelps agrees to stop practicing law entirely in federal court, in return for his family members’ continuing privilege to practice law in those courts. His daughter Margie Phelps is suspended for practicing law in federal and state courts for one year, and his son Fred Phelps Jr. is suspended from those courts for six months. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001]

Entity Tags: Fred Phelps, Jr, Westboro Baptist Church, Margie Phelps, Fred Waldron Phelps

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

An unusual relationship forms between the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka, Kansas (see November 27, 1955 and After), and the political organization of Senator Al Gore (D-TN). In 1988, WBC head Fred Phelps provides rooms in his compound for Gore’s presidential campaign workers. In 1993, Phelps’s oldest son Fred Phelps Jr. is invited to the first Clinton-Gore inauguration. But by 1998, Gore is seen as such an enemy by the WBC that its members picket the funeral of his father. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001] In 2000, Phelps Senior will say that the relationship between himself and Gore is “not what it used to be,” but he will say that he still receives Christmas cards from Gore. Phelps will attempt to explain the relationship between Gore and the WBC, saying: “He was strong pro-life, and he said he wasn’t going to accept any money from homosexual groups, and things of that nature. But there’s no question in my mind that approximately in the late 1980s or the early 1990s he made a conscious decision that he wanted to be a successful national candidate, and he sold out on some of those critical social issues, because that’s what he had to do to succeed nationally in the Democratic Party.” [Topeka Capital-Journal, 11/4/2000]

Entity Tags: Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Fred Phelps, Jr, Fred Waldron Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church

Timeline Tags: Elections Before 2000

Lawyer and ordained minister Fred Phelps, the leader of the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka, Kansas (see November 27, 1955 and After), runs for governor of Kansas as a Democrat. He disseminates flyers attacking other gubernatorial candidates, as well as other state politicians, in what the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) will call “unusually personal terms.” He loses in the primary, winning 6.7 percent of the votes cast. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001]

Entity Tags: Southern Poverty Law Center, Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Waldron Phelps

Timeline Tags: Elections Before 2000

Signs held by a WBC picketer at the funeral of a fallen soldier.Signs held by a WBC picketer at the funeral of a fallen soldier. [Source: Eagle I Online (.com)]The virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka, Kansas (see November 27, 1955 and After) begins what it calls its “picketing ministry,” holding controversial protests to raise awareness of the church and gain media attention. The first protest is held at Gage Park, a Topeka park that the WBC claims is a “meeting place” for homosexuals. The protests continue well into 2001. In 2012, the church will claim to have held over 40,000 protests. WBC members attend these protests bearing signs with such slogans as “God Hates Fags,” “God Hates Jews,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Thank God for IEDs” [improvised explosive devices], and “Thank God for AIDS.” Protesters often shout vulgar and obscene epithets at mourners. The church protests many local businesses and individuals in Topeka, including picketing one restaurant every day for three years because the owner knowingly hired a lesbian employee. Jerry Berger, the owner of the restaurant, will later say that church leader Fred Phelps promises to “put you out of business” if he does not fire the employee. When Berger refuses, Phelps and the WBC hound him and the restaurant for three years until he sells the restaurant and the employee quits. Phelps and the WBC find the woman in her new job and protest her there, also. The WBC also continues to protest at the restaurant. At least one member, Shirley Phelps-Roper, often brings American flags to protests and allows her children to trample the flags during those protests, engendering even more media attention. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001; Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012; Anti-Defamation League, 2012] The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) will later write that it believes the group’s overriding purpose is to garner publicity for itself. “Every mention of WBC in the media is considered a victory by the group,” it will observe. [Anti-Defamation League, 2012]

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church, Anti-Defamation League, Fred Waldron Phelps, Jerry Berger, Shirley Phelps-Roper

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Lawyer and ordained minister Fred Phelps, the leader of the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka, Kansas (see November 27, 1955 and After), runs for the US Senate. Though he calls his opponent a “bull dike” (a missppelled accusation that his opponent is a lesbian), Phelps wins almost 31 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001] Phelps ran for governor of Kansas in 1990, and won less than seven percent of the Democratic primary vote (see 1990).

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Waldron Phelps

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism, Elections Before 2000

Members of the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) of Topeka, Kansas, are charged with eight counts of criminal defamation and other charges by Shawnee County District Attorney Joan Hamilton, charges stemming from a number of what Hamilton says are abuses and crimes committed during protests held by WBC members (see June 1991 and After). WBC leader Fred Phelps, himself a lawyer (see 1985-1989), responds by filing three lawsuits against Hamilton alleging wrongful prosecution. A court invalidates the state defamation statute, blocks further prosecution of the WBC members in the cases, and awards the church $43,000 in legal fees. Years later, an appeals court will reinstate the defamation statute, but the statute of limitations will preclude most of the charges from being refiled. All of Phelps’s lawsuits against Hamilton will eventually be thrown out of court. A second set of defamation charges filed by Hamilton in 1996 will be dropped for technical reasons. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001] The church takes revenge against Hamilton in a more personal way, somehow securing a copy of a private email from her to her husband discussing both of their extramarital affairs and making the email public. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001]

Entity Tags: Fred Waldron Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church, Joan Hamilton

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Protesters from the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) in Tokepa, Kansas, become part of a riot when angry passersby take umbrage at the extreme rhetoric of the protesters. Eight WBC members are hospitalized with a variety of minor injuries. The riot takes place outside the Vintage Restaurant. The WBC dubs the event “The Vintage Massacre” and begins picketing the restaurant every day, as well as places of business where Vintage employees go after leaving the restaurant in an attempt to escape the picketing. The WBC will hold a “memorial service” every March 26 hereafter in honor of the “massacre.” [Global Oneness, 2011]

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church, Vintage Restaurant

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Benjamin Phelps, the grandson of Fred Phelps, the leader of the notoriously anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After), spits on a passerby during a protest by the church (see June 1991 and After). Benjamin Phelps is convicted of a charge of misdemeanor battery. Other WBC members found innocent in two similar cases file lawsuits against the original complainants. Another Phelps family member, Jonathan Phelps, is convicted of disorderly conduct after verbally assaulting passersby at another protest; he stood outside a theater waving a sign proclaiming “Fags: The pr_ck goes up the _ss” and screaming at passing children, “Did your daddy stick his pr_ck up your _ss last night?” His original conviction is overturned due to a legal technicality, but he is convicted in a second trial. Fred Phelps is also convicted of disorderly conduct in related incidents, when he spoke in an abusive manner to members of a birthday party hosted by local attorney John Hamilton. All of the incidents occurred outside a local restaurant in Topeka, Kansas (see March 26, 1993). Benjamin Phelps is given 12 months of probation and is required to write an essay about legally acceptable language. Fred Phelps is fined $1,000 and sentenced to 60 days in jail, but the sentences are suspended. All of the Phelpses unsuccessfully claim that they were victimized by selective prosecution and by judicial bias. [Topeka Capital-Journal, 5/24/1997; Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001; Global Oneness, 2011]

Entity Tags: John Hamilton, Benjamin Phelps, Fred Waldron Phelps, Jonathan Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka, Kansas (see November 27, 1955 and After), which conducts what it calls its “picketing ministry” against churches, businesses, organizations, and individuals it does not like (see June 1991 and After), defames the rabbi of a Topeka synagogue at which it is protesting. In a press release, the WBC’s Fred Phelps says: “Rabbi Lawrence Karol is an apostate Jew who denies the faith of his fathers, militantly promotes the anal-copulating agenda of Topeka’s filthy fag community, and persecutes the Lord’s people just as his vermin ancestors did in killing the Lord Jesus Christ and their own prophets and persecuting the apo[s]tles of Christ. Hence they live filthy lives of sexual perversion, greed, violence, and oppression of the Lord’s people. This is why the vile Jews of Temple Beth Sholom promote sodomy and persecute Baptists.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012]

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church, Temple Beth Sholom (Topeka), Fred Waldron Phelps, Lawrence Karol

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

1997: Anti-Gay Church Launches Hate Web Site

The virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) puts up its first Web site. It is mostly devoted to defaming and besmirching homosexuals. The site will become the well-known “God Hates Fags” site. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001]

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Darrell Lewis, the head of the planning department for Duluth, Minnesota, turns down an offer to serve as the director of the Topeka-Shawnee County Metropolitan Planning Agency because of what he calls the “atmosphere of oppression” in Topeka, Kansas. Lewis specifically cites the efforts of the Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After), which loudly condemns homosexuality and other practices with which it disagrees. “Because of the public nature of the job, I think I would become a target of Fred Phelps,” he says, referring to the pastor of the WBC. “I can’t subject my children to that.” Lewis is openly gay, though he says he is quiet about his sexual orientation and denies being a “gay activist.” Lewis says he was ready to take the job until December 8, 1997, when he saw a Phelps protest during a visit to Topeka. He is also concerned with the city’s failure to pass an anti-discrimination law based on sexual orientation. “Frankly, in Minnesota it [homosexuality] is not much of an issue,” Lewis says. Phelps says if his church helped persuade Lewis not to come to Topeka, then he and his church have done the city a public service. The church is serving a larger purpose, he says, by helping persuade homosexuals not to come to Topeka. Gays “can’t think straight about anything,” Phelps says, and should not be allowed in important positions. Shawnee County Commission chairman Ted Ensley says he is stunned by Lewis’s decision. He did not know about Lewis’s sexual orientation and says it would not have been an issue in deciding whether to offer Lewis the position. Topeka Mayor Joan Wagnon agrees with Ensley, saying: “It just doesn’t make any difference to me. His ideas and his credentials were wonderful. I don’t think his sexual orientation is anybody’s business but his own.” However, Commissioner Mike Meier says he is glad Lewis has decided not to take the position. Meier says he is opposed to homosexuality, and notes, “I’m not Fred Phelps, but I’m pretty damn straight.” [Topeka Capital-Journal, 12/14/1997; Topeka Capital-Journal, 12/14/1997] The WBC will stage protests in Duluth in response to Lewis’s decision. [Topeka Capital-Journal, 3/23/1998]

Entity Tags: Ted Ensley, Darrell Lewis, Fred Waldron Phelps, Mike Meier, Topeka-Shawnee County Metropolitan Planning Agency, Westboro Baptist Church, Joan Wagnon

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Anti-gay activist Fred Phelps, pastor of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka, Kansas (see November 27, 1955 and After), announces his candidacy for governor. Phelps intends to run as a Democrat. Phelps ran for governor of Kansas in 1990 and won less than seven percent of the Democratic primary vote (see 1990). In 1992, he ran for Senate, again unsuccessfully, and used anti-gay slurs against his opponent (see 1992). He has also run unsuccessfully for mayor of Topeka. Phelps says Governor Bill Graves (R-KS) is wrong for allowing thousands of tax dollars to be wasted at state universities on “seminars taught by militant homosexual activists spreading gay propaganda.” Phelps says, “As governor, I would promptly close down all illegal gay and lesbian activity in Kansas, beginning with the regents schools.” He says he would eliminate all property taxes and close Washburn University’s School of Law. Aside from being a minister, Phelps is a disbarred lawyer. [Topeka Capital-Journal, 3/26/1998] Phelps is given little chance of winning the Democratic primary against challenger Tom Sawyer, a longtime member of the Kansas House of Representatives. [Associated Press, 7/20/1998] Sawyer will indeed defeat Phelps in the Democratic primary, and lose to Graves in the general election. [Kansas Secretary of State, 12/1/1998]

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church, Bill Graves, Fred Waldron Phelps, Tom Sawyer

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

James Byrd Jr.James Byrd Jr. [Source: EbonyInspired (.com)]James Byrd Jr., an African-American resident of Jasper, Texas, is murdered by three white men in what appears to be a racially motivated incident. Jasper County District Attorney Guy James Gray calls the killing “probably the most brutal I’ve ever seen” in 20 years as a prosecutor. Within hours of the attack, John William “Bill” King, Lawrence Russell Brewer, and Shawn Allen Berry are arrested and charged with murder and kidnapping. All three men have prison records and room together in a local apartment; King and Brewer are members of the white supremacist groups Aryan Nations and Confederate Knights of America, the latter an offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan. The police find racist literature in their apartment [New York Times, 6/10/1998; CNN, 7/6/1998] , including documents written by King and Brewer indicating that they intended to start a new white supremacist group of their own. [New York Times, 2/17/1999] Local Klan organizations quickly disavow any connection to the crimes. [New York Times, 6/17/1998]
Last Ride - Byrd, walking home from a bridal shower, accepts a ride from the three; by all accounts, he does not know the men. Instead of taking Byrd home, the three drive him to a wooded area, beat him, chain him by the ankles to Berry’s truck, and drag him down a rough logging road east of Jasper. The dragging tears Byrd’s body into pieces; his severed head, neck, and right arm are discovered about a mile from where the three finally dump his mangled torso. During the trial, a doctor testifies that he believes Byrd is alive and perhaps conscious until his body strikes a culvert, where his head and arm are torn from his body. Dr. Thomas Brown tells the court, “He was alive when the head, shoulder, and right arm were separated.” The local sherriff, tipped off by an anonymous phone call, finds Byrd’s remains. A trail of blood, body parts, and personal effects stretches for two miles down the road. Berry, who cooperates with police and leads them to King and Brewer, later tells investigators that Brewer sprays Byrd’s face with black paint before he and King chain him to the back of the truck. [State of Texas, 7/1/1998; CNN, 7/6/1998; CNN, 7/8/1998; CNN, 2/22/1999] Investigators find a cigarette lighter dropped at the scene, inscribed with a Klan insignia, that belongs to King. [New York Times, 6/10/1998] Experts also tie blood on the truck, and on the three men’s clothes and shoes, to Byrd. [New York Times, 2/19/1999; New York Times, 9/24/1999] Berry’s involvement surprises many area residents, who characterize him as a petty criminal who they believed was incapable of being involved in such a brutal crime. A friend says: “I never heard Shawn say anything racist. I have a lot of black friends. He has a lot of black friends. All this news has just shocked me and everyone he knows.” Friends are less surprised at the involvement of King and Brewer, both of whom they say had their racial hatred intensified during their prison terms. “The level of racism in prison is very high,” says Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The truth is, you may go in completely unracist and emerge ready to kill people who don’t look like you.” [New York Times, 6/17/1998]
Funeral Draws National Attention - Dozens of civil rights leaders and national politicians join area residents at Byrd’s funeral, and call for an end to racial hatred and intolerance (see June 13, 1998).
Father Apologizes - King’s father, Ronald L. King, also a Jasper resident, releases a letter apologizing for his son’s actions. The letter reads in part: “My sympathy goes out to the Byrd family. There is no reason for a person to take the life of another, and to take it in such a manner is beyond any kind of reasoning. It hurts me deeply to know that a boy I raised and considered to be the most loved boy I knew could find it in himself to take a life. This deed cannot be undone, but I hope we can all find it in our hearts to go forward in peace and with love for all. Let us find in our hears love for our fellow man. Hate can only destroy. Again, I want to say I’m sorry.”
Clinton: Town Must 'Join Together across Racial Lines' - President Clinton calls the murder shocking and outrageous, and says the residents of Jasper “must join together across racial lines to demonstrate that an act of evil like this is not what this country is all about.… I think we’ve all been touched by it, and I can only imagine that virtually everyone who lives there is in agony at this moment.” [New York Times, 6/11/1998]
Indications of Klan Activity in Area - The mayor of Jasper, R. C. Horn, an African-American, says that the city is relatively peaceful from a racial aspect, and says the city “has a strong bind together, both black and white.” But Gary Bledsoe of the Texas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) says the area of east Texas that contains Jasper has been a center of Klan activity for years. Bledsoe points to serious problems in the nearby town of Vidor, for years a de facto “white town,” that centered around integrating a housing project. Lou Ann Reed, a local cashier, says she deplores the killing: “I don’t think anybody should be treated that way, I don’t care what color they are. Not even an animal.” Reed, who is white, refuses to answer when asked if she has heard that some white residents might have sympathies with white supremacist groups; when asked if the killing surprised her, she says, “Nothing surprises me anymore.” Black residents tell reporters that harassment and physical abuse from whites is not uncommon, and there are areas in and around town they have learned not to frequent for fear of being attacked. [New York Times, 6/10/1998; New York Times, 6/11/1998] A New York Times editorial calls the murder a “lynching by pickup truck.” [New York Times, 6/14/1998] Both local Klan organizations and black militant organizations march in Jasper shortly after Byrd’s murder (see June 27, 1998).
Hate Crime - Texas authorities charge King, Brewer, and Berry with a variety of felonies, including murder and kidnapping; the addition of hate crime charges makes them eligible for the death penalty. During their trials, both Brewer and King are depicted as unrepentant white racists. King’s former supervisor, roofing contractor Dennis Symmack, says that though a quiet man, King harbors strongly racist views. “Bill was a quiet man, not a talker,” Symmack testifies, and recalls King expressing “an intense dislike of blacks.” Symmack says that according to King, “[B]lacks are different from whites and are taking over everything—taking over welfare.” Tattoo artist Johnny Mosley, a former inmate who served time with King, says that King asked for an array of racist tattoos—including one depicting the lynching of a black man and another reading “Aryan Pride”—in large part to intimidate other inmates and to avoid being sexually assaulted. [CNN, 7/6/1998; New York Times, 7/7/1998; New York Times, 2/19/1999; CNN, 2/22/1999; New York Times, 2/24/1999] During the trial, King claims that the crime was not racially motivated, but was impelled by Berry’s desire to buy drugs from Byrd; additionally, he claims that Berry’s abuse of steroids prompted the brutalization of their victim, and that he himself had nothing to do with assaulting Byrd. Authorities find King’s claims entirely baseless [New York Times, 11/12/1998] ; instead, prosecutors tell the court that King wanted to start his own white supremacist group, and targeted Byrd as a way to shine attention on himself and gain members. [New York Times, 2/17/1999; CNN, 2/22/1999] During his trial, Brewer attempts to blame Berry for the actual murder, an argument that the jury disregards in favor of a letter written by Brewer bragging about his role in the murder and saying: “Well, I did it. And no longer am I a virgin. It was a rush, and I’m still licking my lips for more.” [New York Times, 9/24/1999] All three are found guilty; King and Brewer are sentenced to death, and Berry receives life in prison with no chance of parole until 2039. Both King and Brewer later write racist graffiti on the walls of their jail cells. In a jailhouse letter to Brewer, King will write of his pride in the crime, and accepts the fact that he may die for it. “Regardless of the outcome of this, we have made history,” King says in the letter intercepted by jail officials. “Death before dishonor. Sieg Heil!” [New York Times, 11/18/1998; New York Times, 2/17/1999; New York Times, 2/19/1999; New York Times, 2/24/1999; New York Times, 9/24/1999] During the closing arguments of King’s trial, Gray discusses the concept of violent racism: “It’s something that’s a virus. It’s something that’s dangerous. It’s something that spreads from one person to another.” [New York Times, 2/24/1999]
Murders Sparks Hate-Crime Legislation - The murder of Byrd and a subsequent murder of a gay Colorado student, Matthew Shepard (see October 9, 1998 and After), will be a catalyst for the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (see October 28, 2009).

Entity Tags: Thomas Brown, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Shawn Allen Berry, James Byrd, Jr, Confederate Knights of America, Gary Bledsoe, Dennis Symmack, Ronald L. King, Aryan Nations, Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, James Gray, Ku Klux Klan, Lawrence Russell Brewer, Lou Ann Reed, Mark Potok, John William (“Bill”) King, R.C. Horn

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Matthew Shepard.Matthew Shepard. [Source: BilEric Project]Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old college student, is murdered on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming. Shepard, who is openly gay, is found brutally beaten, burned, and tied to a fence, where he hung, comatose, for some 18 hours before being found. He is rushed to a local hospital, but dies five days later. Local residents Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson are quickly charged with Shepard’s death. Because of the extreme brutalization they inflicted on Shepard, prosecutors chararcterize the murder as a hate crime: according to the charges, the two killed Shepard because of their hatred of homosexuals. [New York Times, 10/10/1998; ABC News, 11/26/2004] The girlfriends of the two accused murderers are also arrested and charged as accomplices after the fact, but the charges are mitigated after they cooperate with the investigation. [New York Times, 10/10/1998] Investigators quickly learn that Shepard had been beaten twice in recent months by other Laramie residents who, he said, attacked him because of his homosexuality. [CNN, 10/12/1998] “He was very open about his sexuality,” says a friend, anthropology student Tina LaBrie. “I admired him for that because it is very courageous to be yourself even when others disagree.” [New York Times, 10/10/1998]
Fatal Truck Ride - Henderson and McKinney approach Shepard at a bar with the intention of robbing him. According to the two, Shepard, unaware of their plans, tells them he is too drunk to drive and asks for a ride. In some versions of the events, McKinney and Henderson represent themselves as gay in order to entice Shepard into the truck. The three climb into McKinney’s pickup; Henderson drives. McKinney will claim that at some point during the ride Shepard places his hand on McKinney’s leg. It is then that McKinney strikes Shepard with a .357 Magnum pistol. However, McKinney later says, “I was getting ready to pull it on him anyway.” (In 1999, Henderson will admit that McKinney lied about the sexual advance from Shepard, and say that Shepard never touched either man. And tapes of McKinney’s post-arrest confession bear out Henderson’s denial.) McKinney tells Shepard: “Guess what? I’m not gay—and you just got jacked.” McKinney forces Shepard to give him his wallet, which only has $30 in it. McKinney continues pistol-whipping Shepard; prosecutors will say that McKinney continues beating Shepard because of his hatred for gays, but McKinney will later claim he loses control of himself because he is high on methamphetamine, saying: “Sometimes when you have that kind of rage going through you, there’s no stopping it. I’ve attacked my best friends coming off of meth binges.” McKinney and Henderson drive to a secluded spot outside Laramie where they can dump Shepard and flee. They stop at a wooden fence, where Henderson ties Shepard to the fence with a length of rope while McKinney continues to beat Shepard. Henderson later claims McKinney strikes him in the face when he tries to stop McKinney from continuing to assault Shepard. After tying Shepard to the fence, Henderson returns to the truck, leaving McKinney alone with Shepard. McKinney later says he believes it is his final blows to Shepard that ultimately kill him. [New York Times, 10/18/1998; Salon, 11/6/1999; ABC News, 11/26/2004] Sergeant Rob DeBree, the chief investigator in the case, will later say, “That is one thousand percent torture, what occurred to that boy.” [Salon, 11/6/1999]
Altercation in Parking Lot Alerts Police to Murder - McKinney takes Shepard’s wallet and shoes, gets back in the truck, and tells Henderson to return to Laramie. McKinney later says his intention was to burglarize Shepard’s apartment. However, McKinney and Henderson meet up with two other young men whom police say are vandalizing cars; McKinney attacks the two men, attracting police attention. Police Sergeant Flint Waters runs down Henderson; after apprehending him, he sees several incriminating items in the bed of Henderson’s truck, including a bloodied large-frame revolver, a coat, a shoe, and a length of rope. Waters later says, “Seeing that the gun covered in blood, I assumed that there was a lot more going on than what we’d stumbled onto so far.” [ABC News, 11/26/2004] The two assailants’ girlfriends attempt to cover for them, inventing an alibi for them and throwing Henderson’s bloodied clothing into a trash bin. McKinney’s girlfriend, Kristen Price, says of Henderson after the murder: “He was crying, and he kept throwing up. He just came in and hugged me, and said, ‘I’ve done something horrible. I deserve to die.’” [New York Times, 10/16/1998]
Discovery - Aaron Kreifels, a fellow University of Wyoming student, finds Shepard by chance after struggling to get his mountain bike through the sandy, rugged terrain. He later tells a Denver Post reporter: “I got up and noticed something out of the corner of my eye. At first I thought it was a scarecrow, so I didn’t think much of it. Then I went around and noticed it was a real person. I checked to see if he was conscious or not, and when I found out he wasn’t, I ran and got help as fast as I could.” Kreifels reaches a house in the nearby Sherman Hills subdivision and calls police. As to Shepard’s condition, he will say, “I don’t really want to go into details about that.” Of the two assailants, Kreifels will say: “I can’t even grasp what these people were thinking, how they could do such a thing. There’s no excuse for it. Whatever their excuse is, it’s meaningless, because there’s just no excuse for taking another’s life.” [Denver Post, 10/15/1988] McKinney’s girlfriend briefly attempts to blame Shepard for the attack, claiming Shepard had made a pass at her boyfriend in recent days, and embarrassed him in front of his friends. [New York Times, 10/12/1998]
Father of Assailant: Gay Victim Caused Increased Media Coverage - The father of one of the assailants, Bill McKinney, condemns the attack, but also complains about the attention Shepard’s murder receives in the media. The national press “blew it totally out of proportion because it involved a homosexual,” McKinney tells a Denver reporter. “Had this been a heterosexual these two boys decided to take out and rob, this never would have made the national news.” [New York Times, 10/12/1998]
Funeral - Anti-gay protesters will picket Shepard’s funeral, displaying signs such as “God Hates Fags” and “Matt Shepard Rots in Hell” (see October 14, 1998).
Hate Crime - The question of whether Shepard’s murder qualifies as a “hate crime” is hotly debated in the weeks following the murder (see October 9, 1998 and After).
Multiple Life Sentences - McKinney and Henderson are found guilty of murder, kidnapping, and, in McKinney’s case, aggravated robbery. They accept double life sentences, in a plea deal agreed to by Shepard’s family, in order to escape the possibility of a death sentence. They waive their right to appeal as part of their plea deal. “Bottom line, Aaron was afraid he was going to die,” DeBree later says. [Salon, 11/5/1999; Salon, 11/6/1999; ABC News, 11/26/2004] Dennis Shepard, the father of the victim, speaks for the family in court. “I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney,” he says. “However, this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy. To use this as the first step in my own closure about losing Matt.… Mr. McKinney, I give you life in the memory of one who no longer lives. May you have a long life and may you thank Matthew every day for it.” [Salon, 11/5/1999]
Triggers Legislation - Shepard’s death will be a catalyst for the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (see October 28, 2009). Shepard’s mother will create a foundation in her son’s name dedicated to promoting tolerance and diversity. And Shepard’s story will be retold in documentaries, television movies, and a play called “The Laramie Project,” which will often be performed in schools to address the issues of hate and prejudice. [ABC News, 11/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Dennis Shepard, Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, Matthew Shepard, Flint Waters, Bill McKinney, Aaron McKinney, Aaron Kreifels, Tina LaBrie, Russell Henderson, Rob DeBree

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Reverend Fred Phelps, holding a sign outside Matthew Shepard’s funeral service.The Reverend Fred Phelps, holding a sign outside Matthew Shepard’s funeral service. [Source: Slate]The funeral for Matthew Shepard, a gay college student brutally murdered by three white supremacists (see October 9, 1998 and After), is held in St. Mark’s Church in Casper, Wyoming. The service is led by the Reverend Anne Kitch. [CNN, 10/13/1998; Louie Crew, 10/14/1998] The Reverend Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, leads a small delegation of church members in a raucous denunciation of homosexuality at Shepard’s funeral. Phelps and his congregation members have picketed the funerals of gay men for years across the country, holding “God Hates Fags” signs and harassing family members. Governor Jim Geringer (R-WY) says he cannot prevent Phelps from attending the funeral, but vows that the protesters will not be allowed to disrupt it. Phelps’s group, Geringer says, is “just flat not welcome. What we don’t need is a bunch of wing nuts coming in.” For his part, Phelps, who claims he has received multiple death threats after announcing his journey to Laramie, says: “We’re not going to tolerate any violence from these homosexuals. They are the most violent people in the world. Here they are talking about what happened to this poor boy, and they turn around and make death threats against us.” Geringer, the Casper City Council, and several groups of gay activists succeeded in passing a regulation that keeps Phelps and his protesters 50 feet away from church property during the funeral. “[I]t was the best we could accomplish without risking an immediate court injunction for violating constitutional free speech,” reads a statement by the local chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans. “Such an injunction might have allowed Phelps to walk right up to the church property line.” [CNN, 10/13/1998; Log Cabin Republicans, 10/16/1998] Phelps and his fellow church members picket the funeral with signs reading, “Matt Shepard Rots in Hell,” “AIDS Kills Fags Dead,” and “God Hates Fags.” [Fact-Index, 2004] Five years later, Phelps will attempt to erect a marker emblazoned with inflammatory statements about Shepard in a local park, to “commemorate” his death (see October 3, 2003).

Entity Tags: St. Mark’s Church (Casper, Wyoming), Log Cabin Republicans, Jim Geringer, Fred Waldron Phelps, Anne Kitch, Matthew Shepard, Westboro Baptist Church

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

An impromptu rally on New York City’s Fifth Avenue to mourn and protest the recent murder of a gay college student in Wyoming, Matthew Shepard (see October 9, 1998 and After), ends with at least 96 arrests and several injuries after demonstrators face off with police in riot gear and on horseback. No one is seriously injured during the confrontation, which features several short charges by police officers wielding billy clubs and plunging their horses into the crowd. Rally organizers did not secure a permit to march from the city. Over 4,000 people attend the march, billed as a “political funeral” to protest Shepard’s murder. The rally turns confrontational after police refuse to allow the marchers to take to the street. Organizers and marchers will accuse the police of overreacting, and say that the rally would have remained peaceful had they been allowed to complete their march. “The police refused to negotiate with us,” says organizer Sara Pursley. “The police refused even to talk to us. And by doing so, they created far more havoc in the city than we had ever planned to create.” She calls the police response “cruel and brutal.” Police say that the marchers endangered public safety by walking in the street. Police Commissioner Patrick Kelleher says of the police response: “They had a right to gather. But once they left the sidewalk, they were endangering the motorists, they were endangering the pedestrians. And we were forced to make arrests.” Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who usually takes a hardline stance against civil disturbances, says he understands the marchers’ feelings. “It’s a very worthy cause,” he says. “I can understand why they are so outraged and upset.” However, Giuliani supports the police response. Organizers later say they were surprised to see how many people joined in the rally. Pursley later says she and the other organizers expected 500 people at best. [New York Times, 10/20/1998; New York Times, 10/21/1998] The New York Times editorial board is highly critical of the police response. Marchers should have secured a permit, the editors say in an op-ed, but the police response was excessive. [New York Times, 10/21/1998]

Entity Tags: Patrick Kelleher, Sara Pursley, Matthew Shepard, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, New York Times

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Roy W. Menninger, the chairman of a citizens’ rights group in Topeka, Kansas, writes a column for the local press condemning the anti-gay protests held by Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) at the funeral of a murdered gay man (see October 14, 1998). Menninger calls Matthew Shepard’s murder (see October 9, 1998 and After) a “shocking” example of “unspeakable brutality… intentionally and… blatantly aimed at a member of a minority.” The WBC’s derogatory protest at Shepard’s funeral (see October 14, 1998) “surely express[ed] the same fear and the same bitter hatred right here that motivated the killers of the Wyoming youth: These very attitudes are the substructure of such acts of violence.” Menninger writes that almost everyone harbors some capacity for hatred, fear, and brutality just as Shepard’s killers and the WBC protesters do, but they generally do not act on that capacity. Too often, he continues, those feelings cause people to “look away from the unbelievably obscene signs carried by local picketers pillorying homosexuals in the name of Christianity. We cluck our dismay, we are distressed by their behavior, and we regret the sad image of Topeka that these picketers project—but we do not protest; we do not object. Where is our outrage? Why do we not mobilize the healthy sentiment in this community that would force these behaviors to stop?… The plain fact of the matter is that our silence conveys tacit approval of the mean and ugly things that are done by others in the name of righteousness. Our silence encourages the shameful unChristian behavior that this picketing really is. Our failure to speak out against those who commit hateful acts of prejudice and injustice makes us silent accomplices and secret supporters. In fact, our silence gives permission to the openly hateful few to act out their fear and anger against others; our silent acquiescence encourages their violence, which then becomes our violence and our hate crime. We cannot escape the guilt that this kind of collusion brings: When we are silent, we are as guilty as the perpetrators.” [Topeka Capital-Journal, 11/18/1998]

Entity Tags: Matthew Shepard, Westboro Baptist Church, Roy W. Menninger

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Conservative Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell, who speaks out against the anti-gay rhetoric of the Westboro Baptist Church.Conservative Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell, who speaks out against the anti-gay rhetoric of the Westboro Baptist Church. [Source: New York Times]People from the left and right of the social and political spectrum join in condemning the actions of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) during its protest at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was beaten to death a month earlier (see October 9, 1998 and After and October 14, 1998). The Reverend Jerry Falwell, a far-right Christian evangelist, says of the WBC’s protest, “I found it almost impossible to believe that human beings could be so brutal and vicious to a hurting family.” Of the WBC’s leader, Fred Phelps, he says, “He’s a first-class nut.” Phelps says he is proud to be labeled as such by Falwell because “[i]t means I’m preaching the truth.” Phelps then labels Falwell a “Judas” and says WBC members will picket Falwell’s church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Robert H. Knight of the conservative Family Research Council says he asked Phelps to call off the church’s protests against gays (see June 1991 and After) a year ago, and says he told Phelps that his actions “misconstrue… the message of Christ, which was one of love.” Arne Owens of the Christian Coalition says that anti-gay Christian organizations oppose the homosexual lifestyle while loving gays and lesbians: “You must be loving toward all human beings while recognizing the role of sin in the world.” But Cathy Renna of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) says that Phelps only expresses the hatred other anti-gay groups feel but do not so bluntly demonstrate. The Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative lobbying group, joins the Christian Coalition and other anti-gay organization in accusing GLAAD and other gay rights groups of capitalizing on Shepard’s murder for their own purposes, a charge Renna calls ludicrous. She says that Shepard’s friends “told me that Matthew would have wanted something good to come out of this. If [a murder] energizes and makes us fight to educate people about the kind of violence lesbians and gays face every day, that’s not using Matthew.” Instead, she says, groups like the Christian Coalition are using Phelps to promote their agenda: “They can point to him and say: ‘He’s a bad guy. We’re compassionate.’” For his part, Phelps says his organization brought “a little sanity” to Shepard’s funeral, and claims it was “the homosexuals” who “turned it into a Cecil B. DeMille propaganda mill.” [Associated Press, 11/24/1998]

Entity Tags: Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation, Cathy Renna, Arne Owens, Christian Coalition, Fred Waldron Phelps, Jerry Falwell, Matthew Shepard, Westboro Baptist Church, Robert H. Knight, Traditional Values Coalition, Family Research Council

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Charles Hockenbarger, an elderly activist for the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) of Topeka, Kansas, is badly beaten by an unknown assailant while carrying a sign that reads, “Thank God for September 11.” WBC members routinely praise the 9/11 attacks as being part of God’s vengeance on America for tolerating homosexuality. The church claims that Hockenbarger’s assailant is a homosexual and the beating is part of a larger murder conspiracy. Hockenbarger’s assailant will remain unidentified. [Global Oneness, 2011] Hockenbarger was convicted of assaulting a Lutheran minister in 1996 (see 1996). It is not known if the two incidents are connected.

Entity Tags: Charles Hockenbarger, Westboro Baptist Church

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Reverend Fred Phelps, minister of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, announces plans to erect a monument in the Casper, Wyoming, City Park to “commemorate” the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard five years ago (see October 9, 1998 and After). According to Phelps, the marker would bear a likeness to Shepard and read: “MATTHEW SHEPARD, Entered Hell October 12, 1998, in Defiance of God’s Warning: ‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination.’ Leviticus 18:22.” Few Casper City Council members support Phelps’s plans. Councilwoman Barb Watters says: “When Phelps puts on one side his picture with the thing about killing all the gays, and they put on the other side of the thing a picture of Hitler that says ‘Kill all the Jews.’ That is what you are opening yourself up for.” Councilman Paul Bertoglio notes: “I think the hate language will find a very cold reception in this community. I think this community’s backbone is going to come up and say, ‘We are not going to accept it.’” Of Shepard, Phelps says: “It all comes back to Casper, Wyoming. That is his home, that is where he was born, where that church is, where those institutions… conspired in a confluence of evil resulting in a Zeitgeist that is extraordinarily evil. He [Shepard] was not a hero. This is a great monster sin against God. It is not an innocent alternate lifestyle. And all that has come down in that one little evil town called Casper, Wyoming. And we can’t ignore that.” The city will not allow the monument to be erected. [Casper Tribune, 10/3/2003] The WBC soon builds a virtual “monument” to Shepard on its Web site (see 1997), which depicts him burning in hell. A photo of Shepard is wreathed in animated flames, and mousing over the photograph triggers an audio response of recorded screams and a voice shouting, “For God’s sake, listen to Phelps!” A counter on the site displays how many days Shepard has “Been in Hell.” The site claims: “WBC does not support the murder of Matthew Shepard: ‘thou shalt not kill.’ Unless his killers repent, they will receive the same sentence that Matthew Shepard received—eternal fire. However, the truth about Matthew Shepard needs to be known. He lived a Satanic lifestyle. He got himself killed trolling for anonymous homosexual sex in a bar at midnight.” [Global Oneness, 2011; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012]

Entity Tags: Matthew Shepard, Westboro Baptist Church, Barb Watters, Fred Waldron Phelps, Paul Bertoglio

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

ABC News reporter Bryan Robinson prints a retrospective of the impact the 1998 murder of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard (see October 9, 1998 and After) has had on some of those involved in its aftermath. The murder is generally perceived to have been a hate crime, perpetuated by two assailants who hated Shepard because he was openly gay. One of the people whose lives were profoundly changed is Police Chief Dave O’Malley of Laramie, Wyoming. O’Malley, who was deeply involved in the investigation of Shepard’s murder, says at the time he was intolerant of gays. “I was conservative. I bought into many of the stereotypes and I told many of the jokes associated with someone who is gay,” O’Malley says. “I was close-minded. It’s something I’m really ashamed of today.… I was raised in a conservative, Irish-Catholic family in Kansas. My father would joke around, saying: ‘There are no gays in Kansas. And if there are, they sure as hell ain’t Irish.‘… I lost my ignorance [after Shepard’s slaying].” O’Malley has become a gay rights activist, and in 2002 won the Equality Award from the Human Rights Campaign for his work on behalf of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered) citizens. Romaine Patterson, a friend of Shepard’s from college, says she had always been an outspoken gay activist, but after Shepard’s murder, she became much more active. She currently produces and co-hosts the Derek and Romaine Show on Sirius Radio. “I was no longer just a girl from Wyoming,” she recalls. “I did a lot of interviews [during media coverage of Shepard’s slaying] and worked for GLAAD [the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation]. One of the things I learned after doing interviews and working on the other side as part of the media is that you do have the power to reach people and influence public opinion.… I don’t think there’s been a day since where I don’t talk about Matthew. As far how his death affected me, I guess it really made me think about what kind of person I wanted to be, how I wanted to be the kind of person who makes the world a better place.” Robinson writes that, because of Shepard’s murder, many Americans have come to the same realization that O’Malley has reached: that gays and lesbians are targets for hate crimes. Cathy Renna of GLAAD says: “Matt’s murder made people realize that it was time to change laws, that attacks on gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders are happening, that this an issue. In a sense, it was a watershed moment. It took the topic of gay and lesbian people and turned it into dinner table conversation.” However, the number of reported hate crimes against LGBT citizens has increased since Shepard’s murder, according to the FBI. [ABC News, 10/10/2003]

Entity Tags: Cathy Renna, Bryan Robinson, Dave O’Malley, Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation, Romaine Patterson, Matthew Shepard

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) issues a press release condemning the presidential candidacy of General Wesley Clark. The church declares: “Gen. Clark opposed fags and dykes in the military BUT when he decided to run for President on the Democratic ticket he groveled like a mangy dog to the FagiNazis running the Democratic Party, and promised to lift the ban on gays in the military. His Christ-rejecting, God-hating Jew blood bubbled to the surface. Yes, like his boss [Senator John] Kerry [the leading Democratic presidential candidate], Clark is a Jew. That these two turds are Jews would not matter except when they ask for supreme political power and spit in the Face of God, pushing for same-sex marriage, threatening to bring down God’s wrath on us as on Sodom then some inquiries are in order. Beware! Jews killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men; forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always; for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost. Apostate fags and Jews certains [sic] to bring God’s wrath.” [Anti-Defamation League, 2012]

Entity Tags: John Kerry, Wesley Clark, Westboro Baptist Church

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections, US Domestic Terrorism

Members of the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) picket a revival meeting held by the famous Christian evangelist Billy Graham. WBC members target conservative evangelists such as Graham for not joining them in espousing their “God Hates Fags” message. The protesters call Graham a “Hell-bound false prophet.” [Global Oneness, 2011]

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church, Billy Graham

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) begins picketing the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, displaying signs such as “God Hates Fags” and “Fag Navy” that insult both homosexuals and soldiers. The church says that God is punishing America for tolerating homosexuality and persecuting the church. The church even claims that God chose to use improvised explosive devices—IEDs—to kill American soldiers because of an August 1995 attack on the WBC compound by someone wielding a small explosive device. Fred Phelps, the leader of the WBC, tells Fox News: “God is visiting the sins upon America by killing their kids with IEDs… and the more the merrier. Seventeen hundred so far, to 17,000. We will be ecstatic about [further deaths].” The first funeral picketed by the WBC is that of Corporal Carrie French of Boise, Idaho, who was killed on June 5 in Iraq. Phelps says of French and other slain soldiers, “Our attitude toward what’s happening with the war is [that] the Lord is punishing this evil nation for abandoning all moral imperatives that are worth a dime.” In 2006, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) will observe: “As a result of his amazing vitriol, Phelps has managed to do something few others have—unite Americans from the far right all the way over to the liberal left. Several anti-gay organizations have wondered aloud if he was some kind of plant designed to sully their cause. Be that as it may, the funeral picketing has prompted a number of patriotic groups to create motorcycle escorts to shield mourners from the Phelps crew, and to drown out their anti-gay chants with their engines. Numerous municipalities are weighing laws to prevent funeral pickets. But nothing has stopped Phelps, whose message, ‘Thank God for Dead Soldiers,’ remains unchanged.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2006; Global Oneness, 2011; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] In 2006, Phelps will say, “Military funerals are pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy where they pray to the dunghill gods of Sodom and play taps to a fallen fool.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012]

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church, Southern Poverty Law Center, Fred Waldron Phelps, Carrie French

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Angry community members in Smyrna and Ashland City, Tennessee, chase protesters from the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After), which has recently announced its intention to protest at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan (see June 2005 and After). The WBC says God is punishing America for tolerating homosexuality by killing its soldiers in war, and its protests are designed to highlight that assertion. About 10 WBC members picket near the funerals of Staff Sergeant Asbury Fred Hawn II and Specialist Gary Reese Jr. Both were members of the Tennessee National Guard. Local residents have little sympathy for the WBC position; many chase the protesters’ cars down a highway, waving flags and shouting, “God bless America.” Local resident Connie Ditmore tells a reporter: “My husband is over there, so I’m here to show my support. To do this at a funeral is disrespectful of a family, no matter what your beliefs are.” The 10 WBC protesters are countered by hundreds of local residents, including many family members of other soldiers serving overseas. Sheriff’s deputies and state troopers are on hand to protect the protesters. As counter-demonstrators shout, “Get out of our town!” and “Get out of our country!” resident Danny Cotton says: “If they were protesting the government, I might even join them. But for them to come during the worst time for this family—it’s just wrong.” [Associated Press, 8/27/2005]

Entity Tags: Connie Ditmore, Asbury Fred Hawn II, Gary Reese, Jr., Danny Cotton, Westboro Baptist Church

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Albert Snyder.Albert Snyder. [Source: Associated Press]The virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) pickets the funeral of Matthew Snyder, a Marine slain in Iraq (see June 2005 and After). WBC protesters display signs with slogans such as “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “You’re Going to Hell,” and “Semper Fi Fags,” while another signs depicts two stick figures engaging in what appears to be sodomy. The church also posts derogatory statements about Snyder and his father, Albert Snyder, on its Web site. In response, Albert Snyder sues the church in a Baltimore court for defamation, invasion of privacy, and emotional distress. [New York Times, 10/26/2007; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] Snyder claims his First Amendment rights to the freedom of religious exercise and assembly were violated, and the WBC claims its right to freedom of speech is violated by Snyder’s lawsuit. Snyder names WBC pastor Fred W. Phelps Sr.; church officials Shirley Phelps-Roper and Rebekah A. Phelps-Davis, and other adult members of the church, including two of the elder Phelps’s daughters. The Phelpses and four of the pastor’s grandchildren picketed the funeral. [Topeka Capital-Journal, 10/2/2010] First Amendment expert Ronald K.L. Collins is leery of the case, saying: “The dangerous principle here is runaway liability in a way that would put the First Amendment in serious jeopardy. I dread to think what it would do to political protests in this country if it were allowed the win.” [New York Times, 10/26/2007]

Entity Tags: Ronald K.L. Collins, Matthew Snyder, Fred Waldron Phelps, Albert Snyder, Rebekah A. Phelps-Davis, Shirley Phelps-Roper, Westboro Baptist Church

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Fred Phelps, the pastor of the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After), posts a video entitled “9/11: God’s Wrath Revealed” on YouTube. During the video, Phelps tells his viewers: “Thank God for 9/11. Thank God that, five years ago, the wrath of God was poured out upon this evil nation. America, land of the sodomite damned.… We told you, right after it happened five years ago, that the deadly events of 9/11 were direct outpourings of divine retribution, the immediate visitation of God’s wrath and vengeance and punishment for America’s horrendous sodomite sins, that worse and more of it was on the way. We further told you that any politician, any political official, any preacher telling you differently as to the cause and interpretation of 9/11 is a dastardly lying false prophet, cowardly and mean, and headed for hell. And taking you with him! God is no longer with America, but is now America’s enemy. God himself is now America’s terrorist.” [Westboro Baptist Church, 9/8/2006; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] In an earlier Web posting about the 9/11 attacks, Phelps had this to say about the attacks and one of the American Airlines pilots who died in the attacks: “The Rod of God hath smitten fag America!… At left is the filthy face of fag evil. [Hijacked American Airlines pilot] David Charlebois. One of the hundreds of fags and dykes and fag-/dyke-enablers working for American Airlines.… If the fags have a secret funeral for David Charlebois—in order to frustrate WBC’s plan to picket his funeral—WBC will picket his house.… The multitudes slain Sept. 11, 2001, are in Hell—forever!” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012]

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church, David Charlebois, Fred Waldron Phelps

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) announces its intention to picket the funerals of five Amish girls murdered in a Pennsylvania schoolhouse. The organization agrees to abstain from picketing in return for an hour of airtime on talk show host Mike Gallagher’s radio program. WBC leader Shirley Phelps-Roper tells Fox News host Sean Hannity that the Amish girls “did deserve to die.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] “The Lord your God is ramping up the issues, is smiting this nation,” she says. “What he did with one stroke on that day, sending a pervert in—because America is a nation of perverts—it’s appropriate he sent a pervert in to shoot those children. The Amish people were laid to an open shame because they are a false religion.” Phelps-Roper says that the girls also deserved to die because Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell had committed “blasphemous sins” against the WBC. Rendell had criticized the church for protesting at the funerals of soldiers killed overseas (see June 2005 and After) and has signed legislation restricting protests at funerals. [New York Times, 10/6/2006; Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2009]

Entity Tags: Sean Hannity, Edward Gene (“Ed”) Rendell, Mike Gallagher, Shirley Phelps-Roper, Westboro Baptist Church

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a leader of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After), is arrested during a protest in Bellevue, Nebraska. Today, as is her practice, Phelps-Roper wears an American flag around her waist, which she allows to drag the ground, and allows her son to stand on another American flag. Phelps-Roper is charged with desecrating the flag, negligent child abuse, disturbing the peace, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Three years later, the flag desecration and contributing to delinquency charges will be dropped, in part because a federal judge will have found the flag desecration statute unconstitutional. Bellevue will also pay Phelps-Roper $17,000 in return for her dropping of a lawsuit against the city. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012]

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church, Shirley Phelps-Roper

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The I-35W bridge collapse, four days after its occurrence.The I-35W bridge collapse, four days after its occurrence. [Source: Cobb Law Group]The anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) announces its intention to picket the funerals of the people who died in a recent bridge collapse in Minnesota. The Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, recently collapsed, killing 13 and injuring 145. The WBC released a statement after the collapse celebrating the deaths of the victims, saying that America, Minnesota, and Minneapolis are all being punished for tolerating homosexuality. Minnesota is the “land of the Sodomite damned,” the church states. WBC leader Shirley Phelps-Roper tells a reporter that the bridge collapse was an act of divine vengeance: “The bridge stood in place by the word of God and it fell by the word of God.… Each of these little events is just a harbinger of the coming destruction of this American experiment. We are delivering the final call of the doomed nation.” According to Phelps-Roper, signs at the protest will read, “God cast down the bridge,” “Thank God for 9/11” (see September 8, 2006), “America is doomed,” “God hates fags,” “God hates fag enablers,” and “God hates Minnesota.” [Minnesota Star-Tribune, 8/2/2007; Minnesota Monitor, 8/7/2007; Think Progress, 8/7/2007; MPR Archive, 2011] The announced protests never take place, and no local supporters turn out for any of the funerals. Local reporter and columnist Paul Schmelzer writes that the WBC is “notorious for no-shows,” and that the press releases are often issued to garner publicity and stir up controversy. Phelps-Roper implies that the protests are called off because the group feels threatened, saying, “When we have to divert a group because there’s something we need to get to more importantly, or we divert the group because we see the location where we’re headed to is so filled with rage that the gloves are off—they’re unabashedly breathing out threatening and slaughter—then we won’t come.” The ‘more important’ activities are protests at funerals of slain soldiers (see June 2005 and After): “[God] said, ‘I’ll drag you into a war you cannot win, and I will dash your children to pieces.’ Now how are we gonna connect that dot, if we don’t get to those dead soldiers’ funerals?… We’ve got all the time in the world. You’re going to be fishing bodies out of there for weeks. There will be more memorial services and there will be more funerals, and along the way we will pick some of them off.” [Twin Cities Daily Planet, 8/10/2007]

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church, Paul Schmelzer, Shirley Phelps-Roper

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A jury in the case of Snyder v. Phelps awards $11 million to Albert Snyder, finding that the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After), its leader Fred Phelps, and six other members had intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the Snyder family and violated its privacy. Snyder is the father of a slain Marine, and the members of the WBC had picketed his son’s funeral with signs featuring stick figures engaged in sex acts and messages such as “Semper Fi Fags,” and posted derogatory statements about them on the WBC Web site (see March 10, 2006 and After). The WBC has a history of picketing the funerals of dead American soldiers, claiming the soldiers’ deaths are God’s punishment for America’s tolerance for homosexuality (see June 2005 and After). [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2007; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] The judge will later reduce the judgment against the WBC to $5 million (see April 3, 2008).

Entity Tags: Albert Snyder, Westboro Baptist Church

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Judge Richard D. Bennett of the US District Court in Maryland orders liens against properties owned by the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) to secure damages awarded at trial. For decades, the WBC has protested against homosexuality and other “offenses,” and has since 2005 picketed soldiers’ funerals (see June 2005 and After), causing tremendous controversy. The church is being sued by Albert Snyder, whose son, Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, died in service. The WBC protested at the younger Snyder’s funeral, prompting the lawsuit (see March 10, 2006 and After). The jury awarded the Snyder family $11 million in compensatory and punitive damages (see October 2007), but Bennett reduces this to $5 million, which includes $2.1 million in punitive charges. One of Snyder’s lawyers says, based on his analysis of WBC financial records, that if the church is forced to pay even the lower amount, it would likely drive it into bankruptcy. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2007; Topeka Capital-Journal, 4/4/2008]

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church, Albert Snyder, Richard D. Bennett, Matthew Snyder, Phelps Chartered Law

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) issues a press release praising the loss of life resulting from the Sichuan earthquake that killed at least 68,000 Chinese. The WBC refers to the Chinese people as “slant-eyed b_stards,” and says that it praises God for the “Great Killer Earthquake that He sent to kill thousands of stiffhearted Chinese rebels against God.” According to the press release, WBC members are praying for “many more earthquakes to kill many more thousands of impudent and ungrateful Chinese.… God hates China.” Shanghai journalist Kenneth Tan writes in response: “Vile, vile words that could only have come from the pits of hell, and the devil himself. These guys know not who it is they are worshipping. Their words would all be very funny if their hatred were not so real.” [Shanghaiist, 5/16/2008; New York Times, 5/7/2009] In another response, Michael Standaert, a Western journalist living in China, challenges Chinese computer hackers to “take down” the WBC Web site (see 1997). [Huffington Post, 5/14/2008]

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church, Michael Standaert, Kenneth Tan

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) announces its intention to picket the July 17 funeral of former Bush administration press secretary and Fox News commentator Tony Snow. According to the WBC, Snow deserves condemnation because he was a “critic” of their group and “a high-profile representative of godless Big Media and Big Government.” A WBC press release reads as follows: “07/17/2008 10:00 AM - 11:00 AM Alexandria, VA Christ Episcopal Church (Lepor [sic] Colony) 118 N. Washington St. Tony Snow (Press Secretary for 6 ‘B’ George W. Bush) is dead, YES! He had a platform, he was given some small talent by his creator. He was an unfaithful steward, and is now residing in hell. Each opportunity he had to faithfully Report what the servants at WBC had to tell this country/world, Tony Snow besmerched and vilified the words of God and the people of God.” A blogger at the right-wing Newsbusters Web site asks that the Patriot Guard Riders, a group Fox News has described as made up of “veterans, soldiers, and civilians who often ride flag-bearing motorcycles accompanying funeral processions of soldiers killed in combat to shield the famil[ies] from unwanted attention,” intervene in the protest and “stop these fools.” The protest will take place without incident. [Fox News, 2/19/2007; Think Progress, 7/14/2008; Newsbusters, 7/14/2008]

Entity Tags: Tony Snow, Patriot Guard Riders, Westboro Baptist Church

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), a small, virulently anti-gay organization in Topeka, Kansas, led by pastor Fred Phelps (see November 27, 1955 and After), announces its intention to travel to Canada to protest at the funeral of a man murdered on a Greyhound bus in that nation. In response, Canada bars WBC members from entering the country. The funeral will proceed without incident. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] The WBC later claims to have evaded Canadian border patrol officials and successfully staged its protest. [Anti-Defamation League, 2012] WBC’s attempts to picket in Canada will result in Canada’s first hate-crime law, known informally as the “Fred Phelps Law.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012]

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Waldron Phelps

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Two members of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) debate Professor Jose Gabilondo on Amendment 2, a Florida Constitutional referendum, which, if passed, would ban same-sex marriages. The two WBC members are Shirley Phelps-Roper (see October 2-3, 2006) and Margie Phelps, accompanied by Shirley’s daughter, Megan. Phelps-Roper has become the church’s most prominent member now that church founder Fred Phelps, 79, has apparently succumbed to age and declining health, and no longer plays as prominent a role in church affairs. The debate occurs at Gabilondo’s school, Florida International University, where he is the faculty adviser to a gay group at FIU’s Colege of Law. When Gabilondo registered his dismay at the invitation, one alumnus suggested that he suffered from a “lack of testicular fortitude.”
Controversy over Invitation of WBC - Amendment 2 supporters complained that the two WBC members were invited in order to cast Amendment 2 in the worst possible light. Faith2Action leader Janet Folger says of the decision to invite WBC: “That’s the most heinous thing I’ve ever heard. They go to the most radical group. It’s a deliberate attempt to make the pro-marriage people appear to be something they’re not.” Another supporter accuses Gabilondo of trying to set up an unfair confrontation between himself and “some mentally inbred misfits from Kansas.” And a local newspaper columnist called the WBC “a bottom-feeding group,” and said the pro-amendment case should be made by someone else. However, Gabilondo said more mainstream proponents declined to attend the debate, and, moreover, he “think[s] it’s a mistake to distinguish between respectable homophobia and unacceptable homophobia.”
The Debate - On the morning of the debate, the WBC Web site (see 1997) declares that its two members would engage FIU’s “feces eaters” in debate. Two police officers are on hand at the event, and debate organizers warn the audience of some 50 members to refrain from clapping or booing during the discussion, and Gabilondo says privately that he will cut the event short if it becomes rowdy. He tells the WBC representatives that he supports their freedom of speech and appreciates their candor. “He’s a friendly fellow and a likeable fellow,” Margie Phelps later says, but that does not staunch their rhetoric. During the debate, Phelps admonishes the audience to follow the Bible’s teaching of being fruitful and multiplying. “It doesn’t matter how long you anally copulate, you will not bear children,” she says. Children of divorced parents or who have gay parents “would have been better off stillborn,” she adds. While she speaks, her sister displays photographs of drag queens, gay pride parades, death, and devastation. “You embrace fags, which God calls abomination,” Phelps-Roper says. “You teach your children to be whores. Now you sprint to your destruction.” After the discussion, the two sisters pose with Gabilondo for photographs. Phelps-Roper insists that she does not hate homosexuals, saying: “The standard of loving your neighbor is warning them their behavior can send them to hell. It’s only a kindness to tell them… they’re going to hell.” [Orlando Sun-Sentinel, 10/16/2008; Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2009]

Entity Tags: Shirley Phelps-Roper, Florida International University, Fred Waldron Phelps, Margie Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church, Jose Gabilondo

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), a small, virulently anti-gay organization in Topeka, Kansas, led by pastor Fred Phelps (see November 27, 1955 and After), announces its intention to travel to the United Kingdom to protest a performance of The Laramie Project, a highly respected play that documents the hate murder of gay student Matthew Shepard and how the incident impacted the Wyoming community (see October 14, 1998). The WBC protested at Shepard’s funeral, and tried unsuccessfully to raise a “monument” to Shepard vilifying him for being gay (see October 3, 2003). In response, the UK bans both Phelps and WBC church leader Shirley Phelps-Roper from entering its borders. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012]

Entity Tags: Fred Waldron Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church, Shirley Phelps-Roper, Matthew Shepard

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) begins actively targeting Jewish synagogues, Jewish community centers, Israeli consulates, and other Jewish organizations and individuals, in what the Anti-Defamation League will consider an orchestrated attempt to express anti-Semitic views. The WBC begins announcing planned protests at dozens of sites, as well as bombarding various Jewish institutions and individuals with anti-Semitic faxes and emails. [Anti-Defamation League, 2012] In an April 23 press release, the WBC declares its opposition to Jews, writing: “JEWS KILLED JESUS! Yes, the Jews killed the Lord Jesus.… Now they’re carrying water for the fags; that’s what they do best: sin in God’s face every day, with unprecedented and disproportionate amounts of sodomy, fornication, adultery, abortion and idolatry! God hates these dark-hearted rebellious disobedient Jews.” [Anti-Defamation League, 2012; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012]

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

President Barack Obama signs the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. The new law authorizes the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute violent attacks in which the perpetrator has targeted a victim because of his or her actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. The law is part of a larger defense authorization bill. “This law honors our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters whose lives were cut short because of hate,” says Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese. “Today’s signing of the first major piece of civil rights legislation to protect LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered] Americans represents a historic milestone in the inevitable march towards equality.” A statement released by 29 LGBT groups says, in part: “It took much too long, more than a decade. And it came at too great a price: the brutal killings of Matthew Shepard (see October 9, 1998 and After) and James Byrd Jr. (see June 7, 1998 and After) are just two among the thousands of crimes motivated by hate and bigotry.… [L]awmakers and the president have made an imperative statement to the country and the world: Our nation will no longer tolerate hate-motivated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.” The legislation has languished in Congress for nearly a decade, largely because of conservative opposition. Representative Mike Pence (R-IL), one of the harshest critics of the new law, accuses Obama of signing the bill as part of his “radical agenda” that puts his “liberal social priorities ahead of an unambiguous affirmation of our men and women in uniform.” Pence adds: “Every day, our armed forces stand in defense of freedom and our cherished way of life. It is deeply offensive to their service and to millions of Americans to pile so-called ‘hate crimes’ legislation onto a bill that authorizes critical resources for our troops. Hate crimes legislation is antithetical to the First Amendment, unnecessary, and will have a chilling effect on religious freedom.” [Fox News, 10/28/2009; New England Bay Windows, 10/28/2009] The law was included in the National Defense and Authorization Act of 2009 in part to weaken Republican opposition. Many Republicans such as Pence railed against the bill in both the House and Senate, but many voted for the legislation despite their opposition to the act. Many Republicans have criticized the placement of the law into the defense authorization legislation. Many conservative organizations, such as the Christian group Focus on the Family (FOTF), says the new law creates “thought crimes” by outlawing not just actions, but beliefs and attitudes. FOTF and Congressional Republicans such as Representative Steve King (R-IA) have also claimed that the new law legitimizes pedophilia and other illegal sexual practices, ignoring findings by legal and political analysts who called such claims “preposterous.” [St. Petersburg Times, 5/14/2009; Colorado Independent, 10/9/2009]

Entity Tags: Matthew Shepard, Steve King, Joe Solmonese, Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, Focus on the Family, Barack Obama, James Byrd, Jr, Mike Pence

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda

WBC leader Megan Phelps-Roper displays a sign outside the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC. Counter-protesters can be seen behind her.WBC leader Megan Phelps-Roper displays a sign outside the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC. Counter-protesters can be seen behind her. [Source: Think Progress]The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), a small, virulently anti-gay organization in Topeka, Kansas, led by pastor Fred Phelps (see November 27, 1955 and After), holds a protest outside the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, which is attended by President Obama’s daughter Malia. The WBC Web site (see 1997) labels Obama’s daughters, Sasha and Malia, “satanic spawn” of a “murderous b_stard.” The WBC protesters also picket the White House, the World War II memorial, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission field office, along with a number of other schools. The WBC also intends to protest outside the Bethesda campus of Sidwell Friends, where Sasha Obama attends. [Huffington Post, 11/9/2009] MSNBC host David Shuster posts on Twitter after the Washington protest: “Hopefully, some of the more rational conservatives/republicans will condemn this stuff today. It was beyond the pale.” Sidwell students and faculty stage a counter-protest, holding a banner with the Quaker phrase, “There is that of God in everyone.” A school official says none of the protesters try to enter the school. [Think Progress, 11/9/2009]

Entity Tags: Sasha Obama, Barack Obama, Malia Obama, Sidwell Friends School, Westboro Baptist Church, David Shuster

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

An appeals court overturns the verdict in Snyder v. Phelps, in which the father of a slain Marine was awarded $5 million in a judgment against the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After). WBC members had picketed the funeral of Matthew Snyder (see March 10, 2006 and After), and Snyder’s father Albert Snyder filed a lawsuit against the WBC claiming harassment and the infliction of severe emotional distress (see October 2007 and April 3, 2008). The appeals court rules that even though the WBC protesters displayed “utterly distasteful” signs at Snyder’s funeral, the signs commented on issues of “public concern” and were therefore constitutionally protected speech. The court also orders Snyder to pay the church over $16,000 in legal feels and court costs, a decision Snyder calls “a slap in the face.” Snyder will appeal to the US Supreme Court (see March 2, 2011). [Southern Poverty Law Center, 12/2007; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012; Anti-Defamation League, 2012]

Entity Tags: Matthew Snyder, Albert Snyder, Westboro Baptist Church, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) sends what the Anti-Defamation League calls “a virulently anti-Semitic DVD” to Jewish organizations and individuals around the nation, in what apparently is an escalation of its recent spate of attacks on Jews (see April 2009). The DVD also attacks President Obama, calling him the “anti-Christ,” and includes vehemently anti-gay and anti-Catholic rhetoric. [Anti-Defamation League, 2012]

Entity Tags: Anti-Defamation League, Barack Obama, Westboro Baptist Church

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Tim Ravndal, the head of the Big Sky Tea Party Association, makes comments on his Facebook page that many interpret as condoning the murder of homosexuals. Ravndal will apologize for the comments (see September 4-7, 2010), which he makes in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of same-sex couples by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). He will also remove the comments, but they will be preserved in a screenshot and documented by the Great Falls Tribune. Ravndal is described by the Tribune as “a prominent figure in [Montana]‘s tea party movement since its early days.” In an exchange with two others, Ravndal says the following:
bullet Ravndal: “Marriage is between a man and a woman period! By giving rights to those otherwise would be a violation of the constitution and my own rights.”
bullet Keith Baker: “How dare you exercise your First Amendment rights?”
bullet Dennis Scranton: “I think fruits are decorative. Hang up where they can be seen and appreciated. Call Wyoming for display instructions.”
bullet Ravndal: ”@Kieth, OOPS I forgot this aint (sic) America no more! @ Dennis, Where can I get that Wyoming printed instruction manual?”
bullet Dennis Scranton: “Should be able to get info Gazette archives. Maybe even an illustration. Go back a bit over 10 years.”
According to the Tribune, Ravndal and Scranton are apparently referring to the 1998 murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was beaten, tied to a fencepost, and left to die (see October 9, 1998 and After). During the trial of Shepard’s murderers, testimony proved that Shepard was killed because he was gay. [Great Falls Tribune, 9/4/2010]

Entity Tags: Dennis Scranton, Keith Baker, American Civil Liberties Union, Big Sky Tea Party Association, Tim Ravndal

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in the Middle East, warns that a plan to burn a Koran by Florida pastor Terry Jones (see July 12, 2010 and After and September 9, 2010) will endanger the lives and safety of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Petraeus says in a CNN interview that burning a Koran “is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems—not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community.” In a statement issued by his office, Petraeus adds: “It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan.… Even the rumor that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul yesterday,” referring to a protest by Afghan citizens against the news of the planned Koran-burning. “Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult.” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says that “any type of activity like that that puts our troops in harm’s way would be a concern to this administration.” NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen lambasts the plans, telling reporters that the planned Koran-burning violates NATO’s “values,” and adding, “There is a risk that it may also have a negative impact on security for our troops.” Lieutenant General William Caldwell, who oversees the training of Afghan security forces, says he was informed of Jones’s plans to burn a Koran a few days ago by a senior minister in the Afghan government. Caldwell says many Afghans do not understand Jones’s First Amendment rights to burn a Koran, or why President Obama cannot legally stop Jones from his demonstration. “There is no question about First Amendment rights; that is not the issue,” Caldwell says. “The question is: What is the implication over here? It is going to jeopardize the men and women serving in Afghanistan.” Jones has said he would go through with the burning no matter what kind of pressure he encounters: “We think the message is that important. We can not back down just because of fear, because if we back down, it won’t make Islam any more moderate,” said Jones, who has said he has the right to burn the Koran because “it’s full of lies.” Protests in Afghanistan, Indonesia, and other nations have followed news reports of Jones’s plans. An armed Christian militia called “Right Wing Extreme” has disassociated itself from the event, according to the blog Christianity Today. CNN had reported that the group was to provide security for the event, according to Christianity Today, and forum posters on the group’s Web site are engaged in harsh debate over the topic; one poster writes, “This could be the stupidest idea ever in the history of stupid ideas.” [Wall Street Journal, 9/6/2010; Christian Science Monitor, 9/7/2010; BBC, 9/7/2010] A senior defense official who asks to remain anonymous says Petraeus deliberately cast the issue first and foremost as a threat to US troops. “Then it no longer is simply a political issue,” he says. “That way you can get [Fox News talk show host] Glenn Beck and [Fox News commentator and former vice-presidential candidate] Sarah Palin and [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton to agree.” [Washington Post, 9/10/2010] Right-wing blogger Robert Spencer, who runs JihadWatch (.org), writes that although he opposes the Koran-burning—he would rather people read the Koran and learn “the ways that jihadists use those contents to justify violence”—he disagrees with Petraeus’s statement against Jones’s demonstration. “The idea that in wartime one should be careful not to do anything that the enemy is likely to respond to with irrational and even murderous anger may seem tactically wise at first glance, but ultimately it is a recipe for surrender,” he writes. “One is already accepting the enemy’s worldview and perspective, and working to accommodate it, instead of working on various fronts, not just the military one, to show why it is wrong and should be opposed.” Instead, Spencer writes, Petraeus should defend Jones’s right to free speech, and use his defense “as a teaching moment in Afghanistan to say, ‘We are going to defend our vision of society, no matter what you bring against us.’” [Robert Spencer, 9/7/2010]

Entity Tags: William Caldwell, Right Wing Extreme, David Petraeus, Barack Obama, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Robert Spencer, Robert Gibbs, Terry Jones (pastor)

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A photo of Terry Jones standing in front of a sign announcing ‘International Burn a Koran Day,’ originally planned for September 11, 2010.A photo of Terry Jones standing in front of a sign announcing ‘International Burn a Koran Day,’ originally planned for September 11, 2010. [Source: London Daily Mail]Terry Jones, the pastor of a small church in Gainesville, Florida, called the Dove World Outreach Center, calls off his announced plan to burn copies of the Koran, apparently in response to worldwide condemnation and pleas to abandon the idea (see July 12, 2010 and After and September 6-9, 2010). Among many voices raised against Jones is a stern adjuration from President Obama that to burn a Koran, as Jones had announced he would, amounted to placing American troops in danger and serving as a recruitment tool for al-Qaeda (see September 10, 2010). Jones and his associate pastor, Wayne Sapp, announce the decision on September 9, and on the morning of September 10, appear on NBC’s morning talk show The Today Show to discuss the situation. They are interviewed in the studio by Carl Quintanilla. Jones says he and Sapp have come to New York to try to talk with a local imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, about announced plans to build the Cordoba Center, a Muslim community center and mosque, a few blocks from the former World Trade Center. (The Center will later be renamed Park51.) Jones says he has already received assurances from Imam Muhammad Musri, the president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, that the Cordoba Center will be relocated. However, Musri tells the reporter that no such relocation deal has been struck, but he and Jones intend to meet with Rauf to discuss the proposed relocation. Rauf says he knows of no plans to meet with Musri and Jones, and has no intention of relocating the center. Jones tells Quintanilla: “We feel that we have somewhat of a common denominator in the fact that most people do not want the mosque near Ground Zero. And, of course, I assume all Muslims do not want us to burn the Koran.” Jones says the Koran-burning, scheduled for 6 p.m., has been called off. He says: “[W]e feel that whenever we started this out, one of our reasons was to show, to expose that there is an element of Islam that is very dangerous and very radical. I believe that we have definitely accomplished that mission. Even though we have not burned one Koran, we have gotten over 100 death threats, we see what is going around in the whole world even if we do it. We feel a little bit—if you’re familiar with the story of Abraham, we feel a little bit like—Abraham was also called to do something very crazy. I mean, God told him to go to the mountain and sacrifice his son. Of course, Abraham was much wiser than us. He told no one. Yeah. So he got to the mountain. He started to do it, and God told him to stop. So we feel—we feel we have accomplished our goal. We were obedient. We feel that God is telling us to stop. And we also hope that with us making this first gesture, not burning the Koran… to say, ‘No, we’re not going to do it.‘… Not today, not ever. We’re not going to go back and do it. It is totally canceled. We hope that through that maybe that will open up a door to be able to talk to the iman about—yeah, about the Ground Zero mosque.” Quintanilla presses Jones, asking, “[Y]ou can guarantee us today that there will never be a burning of the Koran at your church?” Jones replies, “I can absolutely guarantee you that, yes.” Sapp explains that he and Jones do not believe that the entire religion of Islam is extremist, as media reports have quoted them as saying: “I believe there are some teachings that are carried on throughout the entire religion. They are as—as there are in denominations in Christianity—there are facets in Islam as well that push one element more than others. But that element is still alive and well throughout the entire religion.” Jones denies that his announced Koran-burning was to garner publicity for himself and his church, calling the planned burning “a mission” and attacking Islam’s “radical” elements. He also denies that the death threats he says he and his church members have received had anything to do with their decision not to go through with the Koran-burning. A “Burn a Koran Day” banner outside the Dove World Outreach Center has been taken down. [Associated Press, 9/9/2010; MSNBC, 9/11/2010] Later in the day, Jones adds that his decision was swayed by a telephone call he received from Defense Secretary Robert Gates (see September 9, 2010), what he terms a promise by Rauf to meet with him, and what he calls a firm promise by Musri that the Cordoba Center will be relocated. He will later accuse Rauf of lying and by the evening, indicates that plans to burn the Koran may be again in the offing (see September 10, 2010). Jones will indeed renege on his promise to not burn a Koran “not today, not ever,” burning a Koran in a public ceremony in March 2011 (see March 20, 2011). The Koran-burning will trigger a protest in Afghanistan that kills 11 people, including seven UN staffers and guards (see April 1, 2011).

Entity Tags: Muhammad Musri, Barack Obama, Al-Qaeda, Carl Quintanilla, Feisal Abdul Rauf, Park51, Terry Jones (pastor), Dove World Outreach Center, Wayne Sapp, Robert M. Gates

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Florida pastor Terry Jones, who earlier in the day announced that he would “never” burn a Koran as he has previously threatened (see September 9-10, 2010), issues a new set of demands from his Gainesville church, the Dove World Outreach Center. He has announced his intention to meet with New York imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, in an attempt to dissuade Rauf and his colleagues from building the Cordoba Center, a Muslim community center and mosque, a few blocks away from “Ground Zero,” the site of the fallen World Trade Center. (The Cordoba Center will later be renamed Park51.) Jones, accompanied by Houston evangelist K.A. Paul, announces that he will give Rauf two hours to answer his questions about relocating the Cordoba Center to a different location. “This challenge goes to the imam in New York,” Jones says at a hastily called press conference. “We would like to make an announcement to give a challenge to the imam in New York.” Paul, the head of the evangelical Global Peace Initiative, says: “[T]here is a confusion going on. We want to clear that confusion to find out if he has agreed to move the mosque from Ground Zero.” Neither Jones nor Paul indicate what, if anything, they will do if they do not hear from Rauf. Rauf does not contact the two and Paul says in response: “The last two days I have been in much prayer with Pastor Terry Jones. I asked the pastor not to burn the Korans, and I ask the imam not to build the mosque at Ground Zero. The pastor has agreed in principle” not to burn the Korans. Paul confirms that Jones will not burn a Koran as he had originally planned. Jones’s son Luke Jones, a youth pastor at their church, tells reporters that Paul is only speaking for himself. “There will be no Koran-burning tomorrow,” he says. “I can’t speak for the future.” Jones did not make a meeting with Rauf a condition of not burning a Koran during a morning interview on NBC, but said then that “God is telling us to stop.” Luke Jones and assistant pastors Wayne Sapp and Stephanie Sapp appear at the press conference wearing sidearms. Luke Jones says they are armed to defend themselves from people who have issued death threats: “The FBI’s been here four times. They told us the threats are very severe and we need to take them very seriously.” After the press conference, the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, which routinely conducts anti-gay protests at the funerals of US servicemembers (see October 14, 1998), says it now plans to hold a burning of both a Koran and a US flag. [USA Today, 9/10/2010] Jones has also received calls from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in the Middle East, warning him that to burn the Koran would endanger US troops in combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq (see September 6, 2010 and September 9, 2010). [Christian Science Monitor, 4/1/2011] Jones will later blame Rauf’s failure to meet with him as the reason for his decision to go ahead and burn a Koran (see March 20, 2011). [Daily Mail, 4/2/2011]

Entity Tags: K.A. Paul, Dove World Outreach Center, David Petraeus, Feisal Abdul Rauf, Westboro Baptist Church, Stephanie Sapp, Terry Jones (pastor), Park51, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Luke Jones, Robert M. Gates, Wayne Sapp

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Members of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) ceremonially burn a Koran in Topeka, Kansas, while singing parodies of hymns and patriotic songs. The members also burn an American flag. The action draws relatively little reaction, unlike an earlier Koran-burning announcement from Florida that attracted condemnation from President Obama (see September 10, 2010) and heavy press coverage (see September 9, 2010). Only a few local reporters cover the event, and members of Topeka’s Islamic community deliberately avoid the event. “I’m glad it didn’t get a lot of publicity and it didn’t draw a lot of people to the church,” says Imam Omar Hazim, of the Islamic Center of Topeka. “It seemed people in Topeka ignored what they were doing.” Hazim says he asked local Muslims to stay away from the event during his sermon the day before. “If we had 40 or 50 of us there and they started getting angry, things could get out of control. So I told them to ignore it.” Topeka Mayor Bill Bunten stayed home to watch football, and says the antics of the WBC are drawing less and less national attention. Referring to the Reverend Terry Jones, who orchestrated the Florida Koran-burning, Bunten says: “The fool in Florida one-upped them. They were apparently tagging along on his idea, so the fellow in Florida had stolen the stage, so to speak.” WBC events are “kind of old hat now,” Bunten says. WBC leader Shirley Phelps-Roper explains that the church chose to burn the Koran and the American flag because both are “idols” that people worship. After the burning, she says: “I thought it was awesome. It was another 14 on a scale of 10.” Some counterprotesters demonstrate during the event. One, Shaun Crouse, later says: “There’s already a holy war going on overseas. Provoking it is not what we need to do.… I understand freedom of speech, but this is wrong. Burning the Koran—that’s somebody’s holy book. What would you do if someone burned the Bible, the holy book of Christianity? You’d be pretty upset, too.” Before the event, Phelps-Roper accused Jones, the Florida pastor, of “jumping on the bandwagon” and “serving himself” instead of God. Hazim said that the WBC leadership may be “jealous” of the media attention bestowed upon Jones. [Topeka Capital-Journal, 9/10/2010; Topeka Capital-Journal, 9/11/2010]

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church, Bill Bunten, Omar Hazim, Shaun Crouse, Terry Jones (pastor), Shirley Phelps-Roper

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Between two and three thousand people gather in what media reports call a “human buffer” to protect a military funeral from protesters sent by the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After). For at least five years, WBC members have picketed funerals of fallen soldiers, often using derogatory signs and catcalls during the proceedings (see June 2005 and After). The funeral is for Army Corporal Jacob R. Carver, and takes place in Harrisonville, Missouri, at the Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. Carver was slain in Afghanistan on November 13. Local resident Steve Nothnagel, who takes part in the event, says: “This soldier died so [WBC leader Fred Phelps] could do what he does, as stupid as that is. I’m so proud of what is happening here today. This is a community coming together. I know it’s not just Harrisonville; they’re coming from all over.” The protection event was organized by word of mouth and on Facebook, and was modeled on a recent, similarly successful event in Weston, Missouri. The protective protest is so large that the WBC protesters have to conduct their protest almost a third of a mile away. When the WBC protesters begin shouting that Carver and other American soldiers died because of the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality, the counter-protesters override their shouts with verses of “God Bless America” and chants of “USA! USA!” and “Go home! Go home!” One man says, “We can’t stop them, but we can be louder.” The WBC contingent leaves before the funeral procession passes them, perhaps because of an altercation that nearly breaks out between the two groups. Area firefighter John Yeager, part of the “human buffer,” says: “We’re here for the family. Nobody should have to hear that on this day.” A group of motorcyclists and US veterans known as the Patriot Guard Riders also takes part in the preventative buffer; the Riders appear when invited to military funerals to protect the funeral proceedings from the WBC protests. One of the Riders, Donna Byam, says: “Look at all those flags out waving out there. [Phelps is] responsible for that.” Her husband Brad Byam agrees, adding, “A silver lining in a dark cloud.” [Associated Press, 11/24/2010]

Entity Tags: Steve Nothnagel, Brad Byam, Donna Byam, John Yeager, Fred Waldron Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church, Jacob R. Carver, Patriot Guard Riders

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Arizona legislature unanimously passes legislation designed to keep protesters from the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) from demonstrating at the funeral of a nine-year-old girl murdered during an assassination attempt on Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). Governor Jan Brewer signs it into law almost immediately thereafter. Brewer says the law “will assure that the victims of Saturday’s tragic shooting in Tucson will be laid to rest in peace with the full dignity and respect that they deserve,” and praises lawmakers for what she calls “a remarkable spirit of unity and togetherness.” The bill, which does not mention the Tucson shooting of Giffords and others, prohibits protests at or near funeral sites. The bill is proposed and passed within 90 minutes. Christina Taylor Green will be laid to rest on January 13; she is one of six people killed in the shooting. Giffords and 13 others were wounded, some, like Giffords, gravely. The WBC said it plans to protest the funeral because “God sent the shooter to deal with idolatrous America.” State Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) says: “This is just horrific that people have to deal with this. We shouldn’t have to do this in time of great pain for our state.” Arizona’s law is modeled on a similar law passed by Ohio and upheld in a federal court of appeals. The Arizona law makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail to picket or conduct other protest activities within 300 feet of a funeral or burial service from one hour before the event to one hour after. WBC official Shirley Phelps-Roper says the church will go ahead with the protest, but at a location some 1,000 feet from the funeral. She says the church will also picket at the funeral of US District Judge John M. Roll, another victim of the shooting. State Senator Paula Aboud (D-AZ) says volunteers are organizing a “human shield” to block protesters from the view of family members. Senate President Russell Pearce (R-AZ) says the bill “is a good compromise that doesn’t trample our God-given rights.” [Associated Press, 1/11/2011] The next day, the WBC announces that its plans to protest the funerals are canceled. Church officials say the protests are canceled in return for an interview on a nationally syndicated radio talk show hosted by Mike Gallagher, a deal similar to one the church made in 2006 (see October 2-3, 2006), and other interviews on regional radio shows. Phelps-Roper says the interviews will give more publicity to the church than the protests would: “It’s always a question of where can you put the words in the most ears.” Gallagher says of his offer: “Believe me, I’m doing this show with a heavy heart. I don’t like the idea of giving them the satisfaction of this, but I believe my radio airwaves are less important than them hurting families.” [Topeka Capital-Journal, 1/12/2011]

Entity Tags: Mike Gallagher, Gabrielle Giffords, Christina Taylor Green, Jan Brewer, Kyrsten Sinema, Russell Pearce, Shirley Phelps-Roper, John M. Roll, Westboro Baptist Church, Paula Aboud

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The US Supreme Court finds in favor of the vehemently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) in a court case brought by the father of a slain Marine whose funeral was disrupted by a WBC protest (see March 10, 2006 and After and October 2007). A court initially rendered an initial judgment of $5 million against the group for causing “excessive” pain and suffering to the family (see April 3, 2008), but an appeals court overturned that verdict (see March 2010). Snyder appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that as a private citizen and not a public figure, he had an expectation of privacy that the WBC violated. “The [WBC protesters’] freedom of speech should have ended where it conflicted with Mr. Snyder’s freedom to participate in his son’s funeral, which was intended to be a solemn religious gathering,” Snyder’s lawyers argued before the Court. For their side, WBC lawyers, including church member Margie Phelps, argued that Snyder was indeed something of a public figure because he spoke to reporters after his son’s death and after the funeral, including giving quotes to reporters that excoriated the WBC. Additionally, the WBC denied interfering with or disrupting the funeral, and said that it was “well within the bounds of the law” when it picketed the funeral and used speech that was “hyperbolic, figurative, and hysterical.” The WBC pickets funerals, its lawyers argued, “to use an available public platform when the living contemplate death, to deliver the message that there is a consequence for sin.… It was about publicly-funded funerals of publicly-funded soldiers dying in an extremely public war because of very public policies of sin, including homosexuality, divorce, remarriage, and Roman Catholic priests molesting children.… The fact the speech was hyperbolic, figurative, and hysterical is why it should be protected. [It is] the essence of the kind of robust speech on critical public issues for which the First Amendment was written.” The Court rules 8-1 in favor of the WBC, saying that the group’s First Amendment rights protect it in debating public issues. Only Justice Samuel Alito dissents. The Court also notes that the WBC obeyed directions from local officials, kept a distance from the church where the Snyder funeral was held, and did not directly disrupt the funeral service. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts finds: “Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.” Many critics celebrate the reversal, saying that while the WBC’s actions were reprehensible, the original trial verdict, which found grounds for cause under the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress, could be used to suppress freedom of expression in a number of other venues. [Topeka Capital-Journal, 10/2/2010; Topeka Capital-Journal, 3/2/2011; Anti-Defamation League, 2012; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] Opponents of the WBC say they are relieved that the ruling does not impact laws designed to protect grieving families from the church’s protests at funerals (see January 11, 2011). Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt criticizes the Court’s ruling, saying: “Today’s decision is a disappointment for Kansans who have endured for so long the embarrassment brought upon our state by the shameful conduct of the Westboro Baptist Church. Our hearts go out to the Snyder family whose pain and distress were at issue in this case.” [Topeka Capital-Journal, 3/2/2011] Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, says the ruling is more positive than negative: “Our highest court has reinforced the belief that our individual rights to free speech and assembly are so critical that we all must be willing to tolerate even that which the majority might find abhorrent.… It doesn’t say that what the Phelps family does or says is right. It simply says that in the United States, it is protected speech. When we start regulating speech, we’re headed down a very slippery slope. The Supreme Court is to be commended for refusing to take that route.” Snyder says the ruling shows that “eight justices don’t have the sense God gave a goat.” [Topeka Capital-Journal, 3/2/2011]

Entity Tags: Derek Schmidt, Doug Anstaett, John G. Roberts, Jr, Samuel Alito, Albert Snyder, Margie Phelps, Matthew Snyder, US Supreme Court, Westboro Baptist Church

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A Koran burns in a firepit after being set alight by Reverend Wayne Sapp of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida.A Koran burns in a firepit after being set alight by Reverend Wayne Sapp of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. [Source: PI Bill Warner (.com)]An assistant pastor of a Gainesville, Florida, church ceremonially burns a Koran after a “mock trial” that finds the Koran “guilty” of promoting terrorism and crimes against women and minorities (see July 12, 2010 and After). The “trial” is conducted by the Dove World Outreach Center’s head pastor, Terry Jones; assistant pastor Wayne Sapp actually conducts the Koran-burning, setting the Koran afire using a grill lighter and allowing it to burn for 10 minutes. An imam from Dallas serves as the Koran’s “defense attorney” in the “trial.” Jones finds the Koran “guilty” of “training and promoting terrorist activities… death, rape, torture of people worldwide,” and crimes against women and minorities, and orders the book to be burned in what appears to be a preordained outcome. The church streams a video of the burning over the Internet. Luke Jones, Terry Jones’s son and the youth pastor at the church, says the burning is not disrespectful to Islam and is a “symbolic protest” of the “evil” religion. “It’s an act of demonstration,” he says. “Every day, Bibles get burned, flags get burned. Every day, there’s a protest against governments, politics, and some of those protests, some of those demonstrations… express concerns, they express worries, they express certain fears. That has nothing to do with actions and violence. You can’t use that as an excuse so someone can physically go around killing people.” At the time of the burning, signs outside the church read, “Protesting Sharia & jihad Dearborn, MI” (an apparent reference to the large Muslim community in Dearborn, Michigan), and “Islam is of the devil.” After the burning, someone defaces the signs to read, “Love all men.” [Gainesville Sun, 4/1/2011; Christian Science Monitor, 4/1/2011; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011] The incident sparks a bloody protest in Afghanistan that will result in multiple deaths, including the murder of seven UN staffers and guards (see April 1, 2011 and April 1-5, 2011). Jones and Sapp had publicly promised to never burn a Koran after canceling previous plans to do so (see September 9-10, 2010).

Entity Tags: Terry Jones (pastor), Dove World Outreach Center, Luke Jones, Wajid Khuddus, Wayne Sapp

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Members of the Patriot Guard Riders block Westboro Baptist Church protesters from the view of memorial proceedings in Joplin, Missouri.Members of the Patriot Guard Riders block Westboro Baptist Church protesters from the view of memorial proceedings in Joplin, Missouri. [Source: PoliticusUSA]A number of members of the vehemently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) protest at a memorial in Joplin, Missouri, where 125 people died in a recent outbreak of tornadoes. In a press release, the WBC said, “Thank God for 125 dead in Joplin,” and announced its plans to send protesters to the memorial service. WBC members claim Governor Jay Nixon (R-MO) has attacked them by promoting laws banning them from protesting at soldiers’ funerals (see June 2005 and After). President Obama speaks at the memorial service. According to one participant at the memorial service, some 300 members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a group composed largely of veterans who work to form “human shields” between WBC protesters and funeral services, almost completely block the view of the memorial participants from the WBC protesters. One WBC member attempts to walk through the “wall” of Riders toward the memorial, but is accosted and prevented from proceeding; apparently the WBC member is repeatedly pushed and has his shirt torn off. The police succeed in separating the WBC member and the Riders, apparently using pepper spray, and tell the WBC member to “run, you stupid motherf_cker.” A reporter later writes, “No one was injured and the confrontation lasted only seconds.” Allegedly, another group of WBC members is accosted by Riders at a nearby truck stop and prevented from going to the memorial service. [KARK-TV, 5/27/2011; PoliticusUSA, 5/30/2011; Ozarks First, 5/30/2011; Truth Wins Out, 5/30/2011]

Entity Tags: Patriot Guard Riders, Barack Obama, Westboro Baptist Church, Jay Nixon

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The FBI confirms that it allowed members of the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) to take part in training sessions normally provided to police officers and FBI agents. WBC members participated in training sessions at two Virginia FBI facilities in Quantico and Manassas. The FBI says that it will not allow WBC members to participate in future sessions. An FBI official says the bureau underestimated how strongly the public would react to the news of such participation once it was reported in the media. The bureau was trying to bring in a variety of viewpoints to the training, the official adds, saying that exposure to a wide variety of views was good for investigators in training. [Associated Press, 6/29/2011]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Westboro Baptist Church

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Margie Phelps, a leader of the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After), posts abusive comments to the parents of a Birmingham, England, boy who died from an inoperable brain tumor hours earlier. Eleven-year-old Harry Moseley had raised some £500,000 in donations during the last months of his life. Phelps posts three comments on Twitter berating Moseley and his family. One reads: “No #RIPHarry for Harry Moseley. Hating parents made him an idol; now you raise $$ on his dead body! #shame #nooneisinnocent.” Another strikes out at prominent area football (soccer) players who had supported Harry’s quest to raise money for charity before his death. Phelps says the “emotional tributes” of the over 70,000 messages of love and condolence sent to the Moseley family on Twitter were “phony” and the posters “[s]hould’ve told Harry Moseley to obey God!” Finally, she posts: “What Harry Moseley needed more than cancer treatment was the TRUTH about God, Heaven & Hell. He didn’t get that. Now it’s too late.” Moseley’s mother Georgie Moseley calls Phelps’s comments “vile,” and adds, “I am very, very angry that someone can say that about an 11-year-old boy who has just died.” [Birmingham Mail, 10/10/2011]

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church, Harry Moseley, Georgie Moseley, Margie Phelps

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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