January 12, 2011

January 12, 2011
Arizonans Rally Against Westboro Church

Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Wednesday and we have almost made it through the middle of another work week. I hope you are having a safe and great week so far.

It is another busy week for Dab the AIDS Bear and me. This evening, we are making an appearance at the Broward House Spirit of Hope Society Reception at Mojo Restaurant. We are looking forward to seeing all our friends from Broward House. Stay tuned for a slide show featuring pictures from the event.

Arizona residents are locking arms to stop the Westboro Baptist Church from disrupting the funerals for victims of Saturday's shooting in Tucson, with bikers and others organizing a massive counter protest and state lawmakers fast tracking a bill to hamstring the group.

The Kansas-based Westboro church is notorious for showing up at the funerals of dead soldiers and other high-profile gatherings wielding anti-gay signs.

But when the church announced it would picket the funeral Thursday for the 9 year old girl fatally shot over the weekend at a Tucson grocery store by a gunman who allegedly killed five others and injured 14 others attending a town hall session by Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Tucson and Phoenix area residents started organizing immediately.

They may not be able to stop them, but they plan on giving the grieving family as much of a buffer as possible between the protesters and the service.

"It makes me sick to my stomach," said Glen Littell, who is bringing a pack of bikers from the Phoenix Motorcycle Rider Group to Tucson on Thursday. "They are a stench from a slaughterhouse. We are just going to block the stench so the family can catch their breath."

Arizona state lawmakers are also scrambling to pass a bill that would order protesters to stay 300 feet away from the funeral. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the lead sponsor on the bill, said in an e-mail to colleagues that the plan is to suspend the rules Tuesday and fast track the bill to protect the victims' families from the hateful protest from the Westboro Baptist Church.

She said she has the support of the Senate president and Gov. Jan Brewer, and the bill will go into effect immediately once it is signed.

"It is gonna happen," Sinema said. The senator said she was real upset after learning that the Westboro church planned on protesting but had a visceral reaction after reading their press release and sprung into action.

"It is the most disgusting thing I ever read in my entire life," she told FoxNews.com. "I literally threw up after I read it. I am like, 'I am gonna fix this.'"

Littell said his riders are not looking for any violent confrontations. But he told FoxNews.com that Arizona bikers are going to do whatever we have to do to cordon off the family from the protests. A group called the Patriot Guard Riders often does this when the Westboro church pickets military funerals, but Littell said that group is not traveling to Tucson, so we are stepping in."

"Our sole purpose will be to allow that family some dignity and respect i without having to worry about the a--holes," he said.

It is not clear whether the Westboro church intends to picket the funerals of all the victims of Saturday's attack. One press release from the group declared, "Thank God for the shooter," and said the group would picket the funerals. Another release announced plans only for the protest on Thursday.

"God sent the shooter to deal with idolatrous America," the group said in a statement.

The Westboro church, led by Fred Phelps, believes that tragic events like the deaths of soldiers are punishment for tolerance of homosexuality.

The Supreme Court last fall heard arguments in a case brought against Phelps by the father of a soldier killed in Iraq whose funeral was protested by the group in 2006. The father, Albert Snyder, had won a multimillion dollar verdict against the church, claiming invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court is expected to issue a ruling soon on whether free speech can be curbed at specific locations and events.

Sinema said the bill she was introducing is modeled on an Ohio law that has withstood court challenge. It would technically apply to protesters at any Arizona funeral, though Sinema was clear that it is directed at Westboro.

She said she hopes the protesters and counter-protesters avoid any violence at the service. Meanwhile, several grassroots groups have popped up on Facebook calling on Tucson residents to intervene.

"We will create a wall of humanity to allow the families who've lost their love ones to hold their funerals in peace, held with dignity, and surrounded in love," one of the Facebook groups says in a statement.

Another calls for a peaceful protest of the church at the funeral Thursday for 9 year old Christina Green.

Littell has notified the Pima County Sheriff's Department and has reached out to several other biker groups notifying them of their planned presence at Green's funeral. He crossed his fingers that the Hells Angels would join them.

"Nothing says stand back and be silent like a Hells Angels presence," he said.

Littell added that if the church moves on to picket other funerals, his riders will follow.

"We are getting word there is gonna be a pretty large presence of bikers," he said. "Word is spreading. And spreading quickly."

This reminds us that all of us need to be careful about the words we put out there. Just a thought can provoke anger, violence and hurt.

Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab