You’ve probably heard of these monsters – you know, the Westboro Baptist Church. Started in 1955 by Fred Phelps, this group has been on a crusade against homosexuality for over half a century. They currently have about 40 members…most of which are members of Mr. Phelps family. Now, for purposes of neutrality I won’t comment on the issue of homosexuality; instead, I will focus on the vehemently hateful way in which this group communicates their message.
The stance of the WBC is basically that everything bad that happens to America and Americans is God’s punishment for those in our population and government that engage in or tolerate acts of homosexuality. These days they can be seen protesting at almost any event that will gain them publicity, and most notably at the funerals of servicemen killed overseas. But I digress; my purpose is not to give any more attention to their message of hate, but instead to profile the astonishing duality brought about by the activities of the WBC. And that duality is found in a group called The Patriot Guard Riders.
WARNING – This story may touch you.
Formed in 2005 as a response to the protests of the WBC, the Patriot Guard Riders were initially a motorcycle club with a single mission: protect the families of the fallen from the terrible protests of the WBC, and show the profound respect they have for those who have died in service of our country. But before you let images of Sons of Anarchy form in your head, consider this: The Riders are 100% volunteers. They have members young and old, both male and female, Democrat and Republican, black, white, and almost any other color you could think of. You don’t even need a motorcycle – just a “deep respect for those who serve our country; military, firefighters, or law enforcement.”
Although the Respect for Fallen Heroes Act prevents protesters from coming within 300 ft of a funeral, their shouts can still be heard during these painful and solemn ceremonies. To combat this, the Riders form a human wall between the protesters and the families, holding American flags and even signing patriotic songs in order to completely negate the presence of the Westboro Baptist Church. They refuse to use violence and vow to completely ignore the protesters, relying instead solely on the power of respect and patriotism.
Today, the Riders have nearly a quarter-million members in all fifty states. They have expanded their activities to the funerals of all uniformed public servants such as police and firemen – but they will never come to the site of any funeral unless they are invited by the families of the fallen. Joining is free of both cost and obligation. I have a deep appreciation for what these great Americans are doing, and hope that you may decide to support them in any way if given the opportunity in the future.
It is beautiful to see something so pure and loving born out of something so filled with hate.