Westboro Baptist Church has arrived in Orlando to picket outside memorials for victims of this weekend’s shooting, but the controversial church has some company waiting for them outside the funerals.
After the anti-gay church announced on Twitter that they were “headed to Orlando,” a number of counter-protest groups began forming in an effort to block the church protesters, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.
Within hours of the Westboro Baptist Church announcing on Twitter that they would come to Orlando, a group called Westboro Counter Protesters formed in an effort to protect funerals for the 49 victims of the terrorist attack early Sunday morning.
The group is known for protesting the deaths of gay celebrities and gay allies and even claims that massacres unrelated to homosexuality were punishments from God for the United States accepting homosexuality. The attacker in the Orlando massacre, Omar Mateen, targeted a popular gay nightclub known as Pulse. And in an ironic twist of fate, employees at the club said Mateen was a regular at the club himself.
The counter protesting group sent announcements of the Westboro Baptist Church’s plans to protest and reached out to allied groups that could help prevent family members of the deceased to see the anti-gay signs that the Kansas-based church has been known to bring to funerals that they picket.
In a message on Facebook, the counter protesters also created its own organizational structure, with outreach to coordinate when groups will be meeting.
“Tonight we were informed by a DHS and FBI liaison in town who stated Westboro always says they’re going to show but whether they do or not we will never know until we’re there. With that, we still need to be prepared. We know of funerals planned beginning tomorrow and each day for the rest of this week. We we will be reaching out to biker groups, car clubs, and other community organizations who can activate their members privately to be on site many hours before the funeral begins. Once the organizations are in place we will know what type of needs there are space available for counter protesters and will post that here publicly.”
The counter protest group urged its members to remain non-violent, and updates from the first wave of funerals on Wednesday showed that they were following through on that wish. Pictures shared on Facebook show counter-protesters holding signs promoting peace and love, with one man carrying a stack of pizza boxes to hand out to those in attendance.
The Westboro Baptist Church had praised the shooting in the hours after it unfolded, claiming that “God sent the shooter” and reveling in the deaths of 49 people.
There was initially some doubt as to whether the Westboro Baptist Church would actually show up to the Orlando shooting memorials. Though the church has famously protested after high-profile tragedies — gaining a national stature in the late 1990s for picketing outside the funeral for Matthew Shepherd, a gay man murdered in Wyoming — they often fail to follow-through on other announces plans. The church often threatens to picket events like funerals for soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars but failed to show up.
But the church did show up to several memorials this week, with at least a small group of picketers holding signs claiming that God hates homosexuals and blaming the massacre on America’s acceptance of gay lifestyles.
— abdul (@Advil) June 13, 2016
Westboro Baptist Church: Orlando Massacre Has Bikers, Counter-Protest Protecting Shooting Victims’ Funerals https://t.co/Sex5UiMnae
— Inquisitr News (@theinquisitr) June 14, 2016
But any further protests from the Westboro Baptist Church in Orlando will continue to be met with counter protesters, as the group arranging the response has been active in directing allied groups to head off the church members.
[Image via Facebook]