Counter-protesters rally in response to Westboro Baptist Church

By Katherine Owen and Ryan Phillips

The Westboro Baptist Church, a religious group from Topeka, Kans., known for its extremist ideologies, led a picket on the University of Alabama campus Saturday, May 18, to remind Tuscaloosa residents of their message that the tornado of April 27, 2011 was a sign of the “wrath of God.”

The members of the WBC showed up, signs in hand, at noon and protested until 12:30 p.m. However, they were met with the noise of the opposing protesters and motorcycle engines as riders continuously circled the area until the picket ended.

Counter-protesters lined barricades along Hackberry Lane with signs that read “hug it out,” “look away” and “freak show.”

Ken Partridge Jr., a Birmingham native, attended the counter-protest, which UA designated to the Gallalee Hall parking lot.

“I was glad people came, period,” Partridge said. “This proves that it is alright so long as a protest is done nonviolently and in an organized way—to counter freedom of speech with freedom of speech is great.”

Additionally, students and community members also gathered at Canterbury Chapel for a silent protest organized by UA students Tyler Richards and Cassandra Kaplan with a Facebook group, The Silent Tide.

“This morning we had 129 confirmed attendees,” Kaplan said. “One of the reasons we wanted to do the silent protest was because WBC is known for spewing their hate and yelling—we wanted to do something different that still had the same impact.”

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a member of the WBC present for Saturday’s protest, said they felt undeterred by the opposition.

“Our medium is a visual medium,” she said. “You can make all that noise, you can make the ground shake — all you do is make everyone look over at the scene.”

Listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “hate group,” the WBC has garnered national attention for picketing celebrity and military funerals, public events and various locations and schools.

In a May 6 interview with The Crimson White, Margie Phelps, a member of the WBC, said they believe the tornado was prompted by the sins of Tuscaloosa residents, such as “fornication, adultery, sodomy, idolatry, greed and murder.”

“Our message was roundly rejected, but it was received,” Phelps-Roper said. “They have received the word. They’ll stand before God in judgment.”

Kristen Loney, a UA student, said she was taken aback by the WBC message but feels that their message had no negative impact on the community.

“I think that they’re crazy,” she said. “They are protesting the tornado and homosexuality, but, in essence, the tornado brought the people of this town and state together.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.stevens.9615566 Steve Stevens

    How sad that UA fell vicitim to real life trolling…

    As a former graduate, I would have hoped that everyone would have showed self restraint, went about their business, and this whole westboro protest would have been a bust and not worth their time (ie no media attention).

    Thanks for making their trip worth it for them. They were expecting you and hoped you turned out in order to bring attention to their message. You fell for it folks. You gave em what they wanted. And the next time they want media attention, rest assured they will come back to good ole TTown because they know who responds to trolling.

    • Guest

      That’s a narrow way to look at it Steve. Westboro has picketed in over 50,000 locations forver a span of many, many years. They were doing this before anybody ever paid them any attention, and they will continue to do so long afterwards.

      These counter-protests ARE working. It’s amazing to see so many different groups unite under the same cause. Soldiers, Bikers, Christians, Gay’s, Liberals…all working hand-in-hand for the same cause. When else do you ever see such varying groups unite? It’s wonderful, and its strengthens community pride.

      Also, counter-protests have been proven effective against Westboro. They have shortened their picket events to a measly 30 minute hit-and-run event. They have also cancelled over a dozen events recently due to pressure from community activists.

      It’s easy to say “ignoring them is the best answer”, but its coincidentally very easy to sit on your butt, do nothing, and criticize others for their efforts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/huckstah Steven Boutwell

    That’s a narrow way to look at it Steve. Westboro has picketed in over 50,000 locations for over a span of many, many years. They were doing this before anybody ever paid them any attention whatsoever, and they will continue to do so long afterwards. I assure you, if there is a busy street, or event, they will be there.

    These counter-protests ARE working. It’s amazing to see so many different groups unite under the same cause. Soldiers, Bikers, Christians, Gay’s, Liberals…all working hand-in-hand for the same cause. When else do you ever see such varying groups unite? It’s wonderful, and its strengthens community pride and is a great way to get involved in local activism.

    Also, counter-protests have been proven effective against Westboro. They have shortened their picket events to a measly 30 minute hit-and-run event. They have also cancelled over a dozen events recently due to pressure from community activists.

    It’s easy to say “ignoring them is the best answer”, and it’s even far easier to say that while you sit on your butt, do nothing, and criticize others for their efforts.