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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 4, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 22
Hate vs. hate: KKK pickets Fred Phelps
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Hate vs. hate: KKK pickets Fred Phelps

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

In an even more bizarre scene than people have come to expect from Fred Phelps, the Ku Klux Klan picketed Westboro Baptist Church members as they picketed Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery.

Three Westboro members, led by Fred's daughter Abigail, took up positions at a designated protest area near the Tomb of the Unknowns, where President Obama was scheduled to lead the ceremony honoring deceased service members.

Phelps and his 'Church' - made up mainly of members of his own family - have made themselves notorious for picketing military funerals. They claim that God kills U.S. troops to punish the country for tolerating Gay sex.

They were challenged by 10 members of a group calling itself 'The Knights of the Southern Cross' and claiming to represent the KKK in Virginia.

They were cordoned off in a separate protest area, and handed out small American flags behind 'POW-MIA' banner.

The Klansmen said they were there to object to the Westboro Baptist Church's anti-troop message.

'It's the soldiers that fought and died and gave them that right to free speech,' said Dennis LaBonte, the self-identified 'Imperial Wizard' of the KKK group that he said he formed several years ago.

'That's fine,' said Abigail Phelps, the daughter of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps. 'They have no moral authority on anything.

'People like them say it's white power ... white supremacy,' Phelps said. 'The Bible doesn't say anywhere that it's an abomination to be born of a certain gender or race.'

Phelps said her trio was there to tell people they should not 'idolize' the dead, especially those who died for an 'unrighteous cause.'

LaBonte told reporters that he is not a racist or a 'hate-monger,' but said he believes the white race is 'slowly and most assuredly being denigrated.'

A larger group of about 70 protesters - separate from the Klansmen - stood across the street and waved pro-USA signs. They took turns shouting down the Phelps group.

Some of the counter-protesters then stood in front of the Westboro group in an attempt to block them from public view.

'I think they're twisted and confused, and we're just here to show them there are people who think they're completely wrong,' protester Malaika Elias told reporters at the scene.

Mounted police officers were on hand, although they did not have an occasion to intervene.

Phelps' tactic of trying to disrupt military funerals began in 2006, when Westboro members appeared at the funeral of a young Marine killed in Iraq carrying signs reading 'Thank God for Dead Soldiers' and shouting at mourners.

The family of the Marine sued Phelps in 2007, alleging invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy.

The trial jury awarded the Marine's family $2.9 million in compensatory damages plus $8 million in punitive damages, which were reduced to $5 million.

That verdict was reversed on appeal, however.

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted review of the case. The court is being asked to address how far entities such as cemeteries and churches can go in restricting demonstrators' right to free speech.

Ironically Phelps first came to public attention in the 1960s as a crusading civil rights lawyer who took cases that even African American attorneys refused.

Phelps was disbarred in 1979 by the Kansas Supreme Court after he became the subject of a complaint alleging witness badgering.

Eleven of Phelps' 13 children are also attorneys.

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