Despite threats to picket his funeral, the Westboro Baptist Church was apparently absent as thousands gathered in Corvallis, Oregon, on Sunday to remember Army Ranger Cody Patterson, who died in Afghanistan while on a mission to stop a suicide bomber.
The Westboro church is a small, mostly single-family operation based in Topeka, Kansas, whose public profile far exceeds its numbers due to its members' status as the most vocal and unrepentant hatemongers on the American scene.
The group is known for picketing the funerals of soldiers slain in battle, while carrying placards with the group’s slogan, “God Hates Fags.” The tiny group believes that the death of U.S. soldiers and other such tragedies are God’s punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality.
After the church announced plans to picket the funeral of Patterson (pictured), who was 24 years old and on his second tour of duty when he died in a Kandahar Province battle, veterans groups rallied to the cause of keeping the protesters away from the soldier’s memorial service.
But the picketers never showed up. According to a report in The Oregonian newspaper, there were rumors that the group did appear, but quickly left when it was clear they were unwelcome.
Lacking a friendly welcome has never stopped the Westboro Baptist Church protesters before. On its web site, GodHatesFags.com, the church claims to have staged over 51,000 pickets since 1991, which it describes as “daily peaceful sidewalk demonstrations opposing the homosexual lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth.”
On its site, the church also says it “thanks God” for the deaths of U.S. soldiers and prays for more soldiers to die.
While the church may have skipped the Patterson memorial service, it has a busy schedule in the coming days. It sats it will protest a speech scheduled for tonight in Charleston, South Carolina, by Judy Shepard. The mother of Matthew Shepard, whose torture-killing 15 years ago in Laramie, Wyoming became a rallying point for opposition to anti-gay hate crimes, Shepard has become a prominent gay rights activist.
A St. Louis production of a play about Shepard's death, The Laramie Project, has also been targeted for protests by the church. "Thank God for Matt Shepard's killers!" the church says on its site.
The Church also plans to protest the third and fourth games of the World Series in St. Louis as well as a concert by The Eagles in Kansas City.
SOURCES: Oregon Live, KVAL TV, WIST TV, Westboro Baptist Church Web Site