Westboro to meet quiet counterpoint
Opponents said their protests will not try to confront Phelps' group.
10, 2007 — Alanna Berger said she and her group, Silent Witness, plan to
show those attending "The Laramie Project" play tonight at
The group of about 15 or 20 plans to stand between protesters led by the Rev. Fred Phelps, pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., and the school. They will carry rainbow-patterned umbrellas and wear bright-colored emergency vests, Berger said.
"Our mission is to provide a human, spiritual firewall between protesters and our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community," she wrote in an e-mail Thursday.
Westboro Baptist member Shirley
Phelps-Roper, who is also Phelps' daughter, has said the play - based on the
1998 murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard near
Berger said she has a history with Phelps' group.
About three years ago, the
church protested the showing of "Jim In
Bold," a documentary on Jim Wheeler, a gay high school student in
"For people who have never seen protesters, it can be quite a shock," Berger said. "We try to make sure people ignore the protesters ... A lot of people think they can reason with them."
But the protesters are steadfast in their beliefs and might even try to incite those who debate them, Berger said. That's when people tend to lose their tempers and get arrested, she said.
Greg Toupes, 23, who lived in
"We're not talking to them or looking at them," he said of the 3A Westboro group. "That's what they want, they want a reaction out of us - we're not going to do that."
Toupes said Saturday's demonstration will be his first. He was motivated to organize a group of counterprotesters once he heard Phelps would be there.
"It's upsetting, seeing Americans spread hate in God's name," he said.
For Berger, it will be a "good day" if Phelps and his group don't show up. But she doubts that. She said she learned he has obtained a permit to protest outside the school from 6:45 to 7:30 p.m.
"They are punctual, (but) their message is disturbing," she said.
THE PHELPS CONNECTION
The Rev. Fred Phelps, pastor
Shepard, 21, was brutally
beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead outside
Sources: The Anti-DefamationLeague and news reports