Why I’m Grateful To The Westboro Baptist Church

It didn’t take long for America’s favorite terrorists congregation, Westboro Baptist ‘Church’, to begin their online smear campaign against the country’s latest shooting victims:

GodSmack: Vengeance On Islam!

God sent another shooter

@60Minutes blathers about sugar while evil WI puts preachers in prison,causing God to send the shooter & kill 7. #ShameOnU #TempleShooting

Beautiful work of an angry God who told Wisconsin to keep their filthy hands off his people (WBC)! #godsenttheshooter!

[There will be no links to WBC in this article, only quotes; I strongly encourage everyone to resist the temptation to speak to these people, please ‘don’t feed the animals’.]

By now, we expect the boils on the ass of humanity to come crawling out of the woodwork whenever we’re struggling with a new tragedy. They get the media attention they so desperately crave, we all gawk in horror and get to feel pretty good about ourselves for being less horrible better than these hateful monsters. In a day or two, everyone’s focused on the next celebrity divorce and bitching about gas prices. Business as usual.

While the hate and vitriol always captures national attention, once the initial shock passes, the only details about the community itself are usually handled locally. Which is a damn shame, because the purposeful, peaceful unity I experienced when WBC threatened my state this year overshadows any gathering I’ve attended before or since.

The morning of March 3rd was brutally cold and windy, but nobody gathered outside The Church of Saint Mary seemed to notice the thirty-three degree temperature. A fellow activist – we became friends at a D.C. rally for reproductive rights the year before – and I decided to drive up from Cleveland and lend a hand with the human barricade that was to protect mourners from the WBC protesters. Upon arriving, we quickly learned that we were far from the only outside attendees; people from all over the state of Ohio (and even some from Pennsylvania) came to mourn the lives of three young students, gunned down in the latest school shooting.

There were reports of various WBC sightings in Chardon, OH that day – some claimed to have seen them try to check into a hotel only to be refused a room; others said they appeared briefly in the town square with their hyperbolic signs, but quickly left when confronted by community members. I’m not going to bother digging into the news archives and trying to parse out the various rumors. They’re irrelevant to this article.

Small children, teenagers, parents and grandparents stood shoulder to shoulder from approximately 6:30am – 10:00am, ever watchful and determined to keep Danny Parmertor’s friends and family from catching even the smallest glimpse of hate on their day of mourning. The police worked with all of us, peacefully, as we all reiterated that nobody was to speak to any members of the WBC. Even the press acknowledged they had no intention of interviewing them, and were there to ensure focus was on the victims and the solidarity of the community, not the protesters.

The environment on that sidewalk was electric, but soothing at the same time. Donuts, granola bars, bottles of water and other small items were shared up and down the line. Someone began circulating a thank-you card for the police, not exactly a common occurrence, which made us all smile. Conservative-appearing older white ladies initiated a conversation with us about reproductive justice and congress, as a motorcycle procession rode solemnly past us. Our fingers were numb, but not for long, as hand warmers began to make their way down the line, too.

The idea that someone would harm these families, even with only their words, brought us all together in an almost defiant way. Damned if that was going to happen on our watch – absolutely not. Let them show. We will hold hands, sing, and look right through them.

View from the church door – just a glimpse of the hundreds who stood guard that morning

As I read over the hymns that we were encouraged to sing if the WBC showed up and attempted to speak, I wondered if anyone would care that I’m an atheist?

Probably not, I decided. Not today.

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