Last disrespects

Hate mongers darken Munns service

GOD’S WORD?<br>Members of a Topeka, Kan., church infamous for picketing Iraq soldiers’ funerals showed up Saturday

Members of a Topeka, Kan., church infamous for picketing Iraq soldiers’ funerals showed up Saturday

Photo By Christy Lochrie

Most people attend a funeral to pay their respects. But for three members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., a memorial service Saturday (April 12) at Anderson-Cottonwood Neighborhood Church became a pulpit to spew a message of hate.

Family and friends had gathered to mourn Joshua Munns, a 25-year-old Anderson man who was kidnapped more than a year ago and later murdered in Iraq. The former Marine was working as a security contractor when he and three other contractors were stopped at a fake checkpoint. His body was found on March 21 near where he had been kidnapped in Basra.

Timothy Phelps, Deborah Hockenbarger and Luci Drain, all from the Westboro church, heaved up signs reading “God Hates Fags,” “God is Your Enemy,” and “God Hates Your Idols,” as the bereaved drove and walked past for Munns’ service. The women draped upside-down American flags from their waists.

“Go to hell!” a passerby yelled at the trio, who didn’t respond. “Go back to the hole you crawled out of. Have some respect.”

“Pieces of shit!” another passerby yelled from her car window, while a woman walked past, shooting the finger at the trio under the watchful eye of half a dozen police officers, who shooed off anyone who stopped to taunt the protesters. Authorities spray-painted a 300-foot marker in the street and ordered the protesters to stay beyond it.

Jonathan Phelps, Timothy’s brother and a Westboro church spokesman, said they’d been picketing at soldier funerals for three years. He called the funerals “patriotic pep rallies” and said the soldiers and the United States are doomed because of their immorality, which includes loose morality and the tolerance of gays and lesbians.

When asked why they would picket a funeral, when loved ones are grieving a loss, Phelps sniffed at the question and offered, “They’re just whoring this body out for a patriotic pep rally. … Don’t pretend that this is about their mourning.”

Enter the Patriotic Guard Riders, a motorcycle group that organized as a response to the Westboro church. At the request of a grieving family that is threatened with protest, the Riders will escort and attempt to drown out and screen the protesters, said Bruce Compton, a 57-year-old Shasta Lake man who’d anticipated 100 riders would show for the service; estimates are that 300-400 showed.

“It is not the appropriate time or place,” Compton said.

The Westboro church members left as the funeral service started. More than 1,000 people attended. Munns’ body was buried at the Northern California Veterans Cemetery in Igo.