Members of a small Kansas group that proclaims hatred for homosexuals plan to show up with protest signs outside a service for the Sago miners this Sunday at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon.|
The fringe group is circulating fliers announcing the protest, reading: "Judgment in West Virginia! Thank God for His Outpoured Wrath and for 12 Dead Miners."
Buckhannon Police Chief Matt Gregory has called for residents to ignore the group.
Gregory said "From a professional stance and point of view, I will put aside my personal feelings concerning this, however, I would like to extend some thoughts to the community. First and foremost, I understand clearly that this is easier said than done, especially given the emotional intensity of last week, but the best response to this group is no response at all."
"Logistically, we'll be ready," said Chief Gregory.
The organized group, which has been around for many years, is known as the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka. They sponsor a campaign and website called "God Hates Fags."
They have gained national notoriety for picketing at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, 48, an attorney and member of the group, said the church believes the miners perished because the people of West Virginia aren't living by God's laws.
Since news of a hate group broke, the Herald and other media outlets have received numerous comments and letters regarding the groups efforts. (See We Get Letters).
A motorcycle group called Patriot Guard Riders is very familiar with the Westbrook Baptist Church, according to Chris Brocksmith, a ride captain for Illinois and Missouri.
"The WBC receives their money to operate through lawsuits.
They want someone to hit them," he said.
"We know how they operate," Brocksmith said. "My job is to make sure they are running out of money."
"The small town I have seen handle them better than anyone was Inola, OK," according to Patriot Guard rider Lynn Long. "Inola passed a city ordinance the required all protesters to get a permit and had to be 500 feet away from the church."
Dr. John Warner, professor emeritus at West Virginia Wesleyan College and a Methodist minister, is familiar with WBC. His hometown is Topeka, Kansas where the group operates.
"They bring shame to my hometown and the Christian religion," said Warner.
"They certainly do not represent the teachings of Jesus," he said.