Protesters claim they’ll attend soldier’s funeral
Appeal Staff Writer
A Kansas-based group, notorious for staging protests at the funerals of servicemembers killed overseas, announced Wednesday they intend to picket at the funeral of a Gardnerville man killed last week while serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, attorney and daughter of the Rev. Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., said Wednesday “no more than 10” members of the extremist group will be at the funeral for Pfc. Phillip Brandon Williams, 21.
Williams is a Douglas High graduate and son and nephew of South Lake Tahoe Police sergeants Brad and Brian Williams.
“Everyone has a never-dying soul that hangs in the balance. What we want to accomplish is to deliver this message from your God – he is raging mad,” Phelps said.
Carrying signs which read things such as “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “The World is Doomed,” Phelps said, the “70 souls” in her church have protested at funerals in all but 13 states in the nation, with Nevada being one of those states they’ve yet to visit.
She said their mission is to show people they have sinned and will pay for that sin.
She said she sees the protests as God’s will.
In response to the suggestion on the Westboro Web site that “God Almighty killed Army Pfc. Williams,” the Rev. Jerry Foster, of Cavalry Chapel in South Lake Tahoe said on behalf of the Williams family, “God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son. Yes God hates sin, but he doesn’t kill people.”
Foster said the ideology of the Westboro Baptist Church is irrational.
“Brandon was a Christian, and they are supposed to be Christians and they are attacking him,” he said. “The only standard God uses for eternal judgment is a person’s faith in Jesus Christ. Brandon placed his faith in Jesus Christ, and that sealed his eternal place in Heaven. Because a fringe religious group has a problem with America, gives them no right to judge another person’s eternal place with God.”
The Williams family said they will ignore the protesters. But according to a Web site from counter-protest motorcycle club, Patriot Guard Riders, the Williams family may not even know the protesters are there.
A statement on patriotguard.org announces club members from California and Nevada are planning to attend the funeral.
“Our main mission is to attend the funeral services of fallen American heroes as invited guests of the family. Each mission we undertake has two basic objectives: show our sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families, and their communities and shield the mourning family and friends from interruptions created by any protester or group of protesters. We accomplish the latter through strictly legal and non-violent means,” the Web site proclaims.
Bruce Compton, of Redding, Calif., a Vietnam vet and retired environmental analyst for the state of California, said he will be at Williams’ funeral along with other members of the Patriot Guard.
He said doesn’t hold much faith members of the Westboro Baptist Church will show.
“One of their favorite tactics is to threaten to show up, and then they don’t just to cause stress for the families,” he said. “But they play no part in our mission anymore. We go to honor the fallen service member. It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to show the families that we care for their servicemember and we appreciate the sacrifice.”
The group intends to meet up in the parking lot of the World Gym in Minden at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. Williams’ funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Douglas High School with a graveside service to follow at Eastside Memorial Park in Minden.
Williams, a 101st Airborne Division soldier, died when his patrol came under small arms fire in Baghdad on Oct. 9.
• Contact reporter F.T. Norton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1213.