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Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church groups thought they would bring their message of hate to Oklahoma and to Tinker Airforce Base today - but they found out that a little love speaks much louder than they.
Initially, police had placed both sides behind barricades more than a half block apart. Police maintained a strong presence though not nearly as strong as that found at, let's say, a neo-Nazi rally.
Fred Phelps, notorious for picketing the funerals of our fallen soldiers brought his contingent to the heartland after a tragic shooting at Tinker Airforce Base claimed the lives of two small children and their father, a decorated war veteran, in a murder-suicide. Claiming that God is punishing America for allowing gays in the military and turning the country into a modern day Sodom and Gamorrah. On his website, announcement of the planned protest stated that God had put the gun in the father's hands.
While there were only 9 or 10 present in his group, they brandished different signs, all reprehensible, throughout the protest, most of which was expected. However there was a collective gasp among onlookers as signs reading "Kill More Kids" and "Pray For More Dead Soldiers" were displayed. But the real story in all of this is what happened in the street and on the sidewalk.
As I approached the anti-Fred Phelps group about 30 minutes prior to the start-time, there was something very special in the air. There were approximately 30 protestors already gathered and that number swelled to near 100 by the end of the event. But, the feeling of love and togetherness was almost palpable. They told me that, above all, they support the troops and that they were all about love not hate. But, they didn't have to tell me that - because amid the traffic and the noise, there was a peacefulness that you couldn't help but feel emanating from this group of very young people.
In contrast to the youth, a familiar sight rode in just as the drama was beginning to unfold...the Viet Nam Veterans group of bikers who have dogged Phelps and his hateful army ever since he started ingratiating himself into the private and somber burying of our war-dead. They came right down the middle of the street and everyone cheered knowing that they make an awesome presence for our side - and they didn't let us down.
As the Westboro Baptist Church spewed their venom, the bikers turned their backs. As the hideous words were shouted they were drowned out by the revving of engines. Wearing grim faces of determination and disgust, the bikers stood tall in the face of one of the most evil little group of haters ever to be seen in the likes of the heartland. Not only did their presence command attention and appreciation - their presence reinforced the message of love of both country and our people. Their presence signified the generations who have come before and brought with it a unification of the old and the young...a bridging of all gaps that might have once existed.
Even that wasn't the whole story, however. The street in front of the gates into Tinker Air Force base is a major thouroughfare as it is also a major artery onto and off of I40. It is also Midwest City's main shopping area and the protest was planned, probably by design, for the lunch-hour. While there about 100 protestors on the sidewalk - there were hundreds of cars on the street honking their horns, shouting, and making their displeasure with Phelps known. It was pretty incredible.
As Citizens Against Hate we were not kept behind the barricades and we mingled freely with the protestors, police, and press. Lacy Montgomery, head of Teens Against Hate, is responsible for most of the excellent photos displayed and we thank her for making the trip into OKC.
In closing, the Westboro Baptist Church met their match today in Oklahoma and the message of love not hate was communicated loudly and firmly. While Fred Phelps only controls a handful of members his message is particularly heinous. Watching young children - very young children - brandish placards announcing that "God Sent the Killer" or "Fags Doom Nations" caused a lot of mouths to drop and a lot of people to stop just to see if they head seen that right. One can only wonder what sort of life these children have and what sort of adults they will become.
There was one arrest today that we know of. An onlooker was so outraged by the signs and the message as well as the fact that one of the group was standing on the American flag, that he crossed over into the WBC area. Police spent a lot of time trying to calm him down and finally put him in a police car. Sadly, while I abhor violence, I can almost understand his rage. But, the rule of the day was love - you could feel it - almost taste it - and it was glorious.