Apparently, down in Houston, some people have been lucky enough to go through life oblivious to the famous Topeka minister and his sign-toting, fag-hating, fake-religion-vomiting clan from the Westboro Baptist Church. The Phelpses' latest message is "Thank God for IEDs" improvised explosive devices, the roadside bombs blowing up U.S. soldiers all over Iraq and their new strategy is protesting at the funerals of Americans killed in the line of duty.
"I felt like I had my head in the sand," says Kurt Mayer, spokesman for the Patriot Guard, a 6,000-strong collection of motorcyclists who heard about the Phelpses' recent attention-grabbing tactic and decided to attend military funerals in counterprotest. On the phone from Houston, Mayer tells the Strip he first heard about the Phelps family's antics from a newspaper story a friend sent him in November. "I thought, this can't be happening in America. I'm not opposed to someone having a message, no matter how controversial, because that's what America is about. But the venue he [Phelps] picked is just totally inappropriate."
Which prompts this meat patty to wonder, where the hell has the Patriot Guard been? They don't allow televisions at Sturgis? Nobody reads newspapers down at the Harley shop? Can the wind whistling in your ears make you deaf to dozens of documentaries, even a 60 Minutes segment, on the old man and his protestin' progeny?
Long before they picketed military funerals, Phelps and his sign-carrying whelps were ruining the memorials of people who died of AIDS ("AIDS Kills Fags") and victims of gay bashing such as Matthew Shepard ("Matt in Hell") and anyone even remotely associated with anything allegedly pro-gay (Bill Clinton's mother). The family has been in the funeral-protesting business for at least 15 years. That figure comes from Jonathan Phelps, one of the minister's 13 children, who takes credit for the funeral-picketing idea so enthusiastically, you'd think he invented cookie-dough ice cream.
"I didn't know what fun was, till 15 years ago, when I decided to pick up a sign that said 'God Hates Fags,'" Jonathan Phelps tells the Strip. "I came up with some real doozies, like 'Thank God for IEDs,' because I thought, damn that's really something. There's no practical way to stop 'em.... They're God's weapon of choice on a sodomite nation."
These days, when Mayer attends soldiers' funerals with the Patriot Guard, it's to honor American war dead. The group no longer wants to be thought of as counterprotesters, he tells us. Either way, we offered Mayer a hypothetical: What if the Strip's mother were gay, dead and about to be visited at her funeral by the Westboro Baptist Church? Mayer says he himself would personally stand with the Strip as a friend. But the Patriot Guardsmen really have time only to support our fallen military heroes, he says.
The Patriot Guardsmen aren't the only ones who didn't care about Phelps as long as he reserved all his hate for homos.
Recently, the Missouri Senate passed Bill 578, sponsored by Sen. Charlie Shields and not so subtly aimed at Phelps' church. The bill would limit protests to one hour before and one hour after any funeral service. The Missouri House is considering a similar bill, sponsored by Rep. Martin Rucker, which is likely to pass.
The Strip rang up Rep. Rucker to congratulate him on his sudden interest in gay issues.
He was quick to set us straight. "This has nothing to do with gay rights," he said. "This bill has nothing to do with what he [Phelps] is protesting."
In his next sentence, he promptly contradicted himself. "It's about his protest of soldiers' funerals, that's what this is all about.... I'm indirectly helping anyone who has to go through a funeral, anyone who is left living and grieving for a loved one and who has to watch that loved one's last rite be desecrated by someone who doesn't have the decency to let someone be laid to rest in a decent manner."
Sen. Shields' legislative aide, Ann Stock, seemed equally eager to correct any impression that her boss might be taking a stand in defense of gays. Not that he's unsympathetic to those who endure protesters at gay funerals, she said. But Shields finally got interested in the matter after all these years, she said, when the Phelpses protested the funeral of a soldier in St. Joseph, which is in the senator's district.
This bleeding-heart burger isn't the only one puzzled by this late legislative action. Can't someone just drop a giant, ether-soaked American flag over the Phelpses to quiet them during these funerals? Should we really pass a law to stop the free speech of a handful of certifiable, if despicable, nut jobs?
"I think it's ironic that people are getting all worked up now, when we used to picket an AIDS person or a pro-homosexual's funeral," Jonathan Phelps says. "Now they're just coming out of the woodwork, saluting the flag and thinking they're righteous because some of their precious soldiers are blown to bits from IEDs set up by a dirt-scratch farmer in Iraq."
Oh, dear reader, words can't express how much it pains the Strip to find itself agreeing with Kansas' No. 1 family of shitheads.
"It's encouraging when the rest of the world sees what we go through every day," says Amy Hart, who until recently was president of the local chapter of the gay political caucus Log Cabin Republicans. "And it's also a message to everyone out there that you have to pay attention to these issues. When Fred was beating up on gays, it was like, 'OK, let him go.' Now he's beating up on soldiers and soldiers' families, and they're appalled. Well, they should have been appalled when it was anybody. You can't discriminate against one group and expect it not to bleed over."
Gramps may be crazy, but he's no fool.