Hate-Mongering Group Protests Soldiers' Funerals

ByABC News via logo

March 20, 2006 — -- Nearly 2,300 soldiers have been buried across the country in the last three years. More than 100 of those funerals in the last nine months have been interrupted by what some call nasty and vile protests.

In the shadow of Colorado's Rocky Mountains, war widow Christina Misner was consoling her children and hoping to honor her husband with a small family funeral. She didn't expect protesters screaming things like:

"America is doomed. God is your enemy. You can't wave enough flags to bring that boy back."

Sgt. Gordon Misner started his second tour of Iraq after appearing on the History Channel. A month ago, he was killed in a roadside bomb attack. He was 23 years old and a father to three little girls, Marisa, 1; Haley, 2; and 4-year-old Natashia.

"He has three beautiful children that he'll never see grow up," said his mother, Charlene McCartin. "Part of my heart's gone and always will be. I mean, your children -- just not supposed to pass away before you do."

Misner's family never knew its private grieving would become part of a public spectacle.

Members of a small Kansas church purposely tries to disrupt funerals -- but this is not an anti-war protest.

They say the soldiers are evil, because they died defending a country that tolerates homosexuality. The congregation does not mind interrupting a grieving family's private time.

"Well, that's too bad, isn't it?" said Fred Phelps, pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church. "They think I can't preach at times like this? I think I can preach at times like this."

If a widow asked him to stay away, Phelps said he would respond, "No. Some maudlin widow. Look, you're partly to blame for him being dead, woman."

Phelps' congregation of mostly family members has picketed gay parades and events for years.

Nine months ago, it started targeting soldiers' funerals -- crisscrossing the country with signs and American flags to step on.

"It angers me that they would disrespect somebody like that -- especially a soldier," Christina Misner said.

"Our hearts are all broken," McCartin said. "We're distraught. We're in shock. These people are trying to invade on something very personal to you."

Some motorcycle-riding veterans have gotten involved. Calling themselves the Patriot Guard, they now shield the grieving families. In just five months, 16,000 have joined the effort.

"Each one of us holding a 3-by-5 American flag -- really letting the family know and providing some comfort that yes, America really does care about their loss," said Jason Wallin, a member of the Patriot Guard.

In Colorado, 200 flags created a red, white and blue curtain between the family and protesters. Engines revved to drown out chanting.

"It's pretty despicable for people … not to honor the sacrifices that our military people have made," said Brian Galligan, a member of the Patriot Guard.

But Phelps believes all this only helps his efforts.

"Don't you love it?" Phelps said. "I love it. I mean, how many times do you have to say, 'God Hates America' before you got the message out?"

Phelps' message disgusted Rep. Michael Rogers, R-Mich., who just saw a funeral protest.

"These people are so vile, so hateful, that it didn't take long before I decided: Listen we have to do something," he said.

Rogers is introducing federal legislation to severely restrict the protests, as a few states have already done.

Colorado has no such law -- so the Patriot Guard takes on the mission.

Misner's family never saw the protesters at the funeral, but it saw the 200 flags saluting the sergeant on the trip to his final resting place.

Phelps' group says it won't violate new state laws restricting protests, but may challenge those laws in court.

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