The SUV parks in the lot across from St. Mary's Catholic Church in Independence. As the Samoan family exits the vehicle, Shirley Phelps-Roper says, "Oh, I've got a customer here," then snaps into a loud song to the tune of "The Army Goes Rolling Along."
First to fight/For the fags/Now they're coming home in bags/And the army goes marching to hell.
Her voice is worthy of a church choir and carries across the lot.
The grieving family glares at Phelps-Roper with looks of hurt and disgust.
"Now, see, they'll never be able to take those words away," she brags.
Fred Phelps' daughter is right. Her words stick to the memory like bubblegum to a shoe. She picks up the song in midverse.
Proud of all of your sin/No more battles you will win/And the army goes marching to hell.
Now it's IEDs/The army's on its knees/Count off the body parts all gone Two! Three! and where e'er they go/The dying soldiers show/The army keeps marching to hell.
Army National Guard Sgt. Michael Fuga was killed in action in Afghanistan on September 9. But his memorial will be anything but peaceful, thanks to the members of the Westboro Baptist Church. To them, Fuga is just another soldier burning in hell. His is just another funeral in need of gospel preaching, Another chance to mock the lawmakers who have tried to shut them up.
Those lawmakers can't silence the Phelpses, although 30 states, including Missouri, have passed legislation to restrict picketing at funerals. In the Phelpses' home state of Kansas, lawmakers have yet to pass legislation, but at a late-September press conference, Attorney General Phill Kline announced plans for legislation next session. The U.S. Congress also moved to hush the church's followers, passing a ban on pickets within 300 feet of the entrance to a national cemetery and 150 feet from a road into a cemetery. President Bush signed it into law on Memorial Day.
Today, nine members of the Westboro Baptist Church have made the trip from Topeka to picket Fuga's funeral. Shirley Phelps-Roper brought her oldest daughters, Megan and Rebekah; her mother, Marge; her sister Margie; and her brothers Fred Jr. and Jonathan and their wives.
There to confront them are the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of bikers acting as a human shield, showing up at military funerals to block the Phelpses' signs with American flags and drown out their chants and songs with revving motorcycles.
Phelps-Roper spots a rider heading her way.
"Watch this," she says.
The biker tries to smoke her out by backing up his cycle and kicking out exhaust fumes.
But just as the engine blasts with a vroom, Phelps-Roper darts up the sidewalk, leaving the leather-clad man alone.
"I am so in charge of these guys," she says.
Phelps-Roper wears a purple "GodHatesFags.com" hooded sweatshirt and holds three signs "America Is Doomed," "God Hates Fag Enablers" and "God Hates the USA" in one hand. An American flag stuffed in her khaki pants drags on the concrete.
See Phelps-Roper in action at a different funeral that day here.
For an hour, the members of the Phelps family bounce from sidewalk to sidewalk, frustrating the bikers. Jonathan Phelps walks on a pair of American flags in the street. Megan and Rebekah taunt the bikers. Fred Jr. holds a "Fags Doom Nations" sign. Marge's sign reads "God Is Your Enemy."