The Westboro Baptist Church has arrived in Orlando to protest the first wave of funerals for victims of last week’s shooting massacre, but counter-protesters will be ready with an ingenuous plan to block out the famously anti-gay church.
Church members were quick to capitalize off last week’s killing, when gunman Omar Mateen opened fire inside the popular gay nightclub Pulse in an attack that left 49 people dead. Within hours of the attack, the church had posted messages praising the killing and claiming that God sent the shooter to punish the victims for being gay.
The Westboro Baptist Church later announced that it would be sending members to Orlando to picket at the funeral with anti-gay signs, but several groups are now working together to stop them. One of these counter-protesters, the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, has a plan to stop them.
The Orlando Sentinel shared details of their plan.
“Orlando Shakespeare Theater has joined efforts to keep protesters from Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church from disrupting the funerals of those killed at gay nightclub Pulse. For the past two days, staff and others have used the theater’s costume shop to build 11 sets of ‘angel wings.’
“Volunteers will be wearing these large, white angel wings to show their support, proclaim love, and block the view of mourners from potential protesters,” said artistic director Jim Helsinger.”
That is actually a tactic used against the Westboro Baptist Church in the past. The church first gained fame in 1998, when members picketed the funeral for Matthew Shepard, a gay college student beaten to death in Wyoming. The protesters were met by a group known as Angel Action, which used costumes that had angel wings made of giant white sheets that blocked out the protesters.
“Our focus is to bring forth a message of peace and love,” said Romaine Patterson (via the Orlando Sentinel). “Hatred is running rampant through our everyday lives. But as a group, we choose to lift ourselves above that hatred. We feel as so many others do, that love and compassion for our community and our humanity are the answers that so many people are desperately searching for.”
There are other groups that have been preparing for the Westboro Baptist Church to arrive in Orlando, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported. Within a few hours of the church’s announcement, a Facebook group called the Westboro Counter Protesters formed to relay information to counter-protesters and organize events to meet the anti-gay picketers.
“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 groups have already worked to block protesters at events this week, some members shared on Twitter.
There had initially been some doubt as to whether the Westboro Baptist Church would actually show up to protest at the Orlando shooting victims funerals, as the church has been known to threaten pickets at various high-profile events and not show up. But when members do show up to the upcoming funerals, it appears that counter-protesters will be there to meet them.
[Image via Facebook]