Food Fight Among the Phobic Fringe Right

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday May 31, 2011

It was a verbal smack down between two elements of the fringe right when the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church and the Ku Klux Klan got into a war of words via the press on Memorial Day, CNN on May 31.

Though Westboro Baptist Church is best known for its anti-gay stance and homophobic messages--the group's slogan is "God Hates Fags"--the congregation has made more on an impact socially and legally by demonstrating at the funerals of slain U.S. patriots who have fallen in battle. When Westboro was sued by the grieving father of one Marine whose funeral the group picketed, the anti-gay congregation--which consists mostly of the extended family of Rev. Fred Phelps--the case was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found for the congregation on the basis of First Amendment rights.

The Ku Klux Klan might well agree with Westboro about gays--the KKK has backed anti-gay figures before, as when they spoke up in support of an Augusta State University graduate student, Jennifer Keeton, who was punished for saying she would not counsel homosexuals. But the racist group takes issue with what it sees as Westboro's disrespect toward America's fighting forces.

For its part, Westboro targets military funerals because, some say, it generates headlines and draws attention to the group and its fundamental message: In this case, that God is punishing America for its relative tolerance of GLBTs. Westboro Baptist Church insist that troop casualties and natural disasters are triggered by God's displeasure with gays.

The CNN article reported that the clash took place at Arlington Cemetery, where President Obama attended a memorial at the Tomb of the Unknowns a few hours later. Westboro Baptist Church had sent three of its congregants to demonstrate, and various others had shown up to counter-demonstrate--the KKK among them.

"About 10 members of a group that claims to be a branch of the Ku Klux Klan from Virginia called the Knights of the Southern Cross," the CNN article said. "They were cordoned off separately in a nearby area, but drew little attention as they gave out small American flags behind a banner that read 'POW-MIA.' "

The article went on to report, "Members of the group declined to say whether they were armed."

"We are here in protest of Westboro Baptist Church," KKK Imperial Wizard Dennis LaBonte said in a video posted at the CNN site.

"I'm a veteran. I spend nine and a half years in the military," LaBonte's voiceover continued, as footage showed Westboro protestors holding up signs reading, "You Eat Your Kids," "Obama Killed Them," and "Shame."

"I've got brothers and sisters that are buried in this cemetery and I think that it's an absolute shame that they show up and disrupt people's funerals," LaBonte continued. "We're just here in support of the troops."

The article's text contained a response from Fred Phelps' daughter Abigail, who said of the KKK counter-demonstrators, "They have no moral authority on anything." Phelps went on to decry the idea that some races are superior to others.

"The Bible doesn't say anywhere that it's an abomination to be born of a certain gender or race," Phelps said.

In addition to the two groups, about 70 others also showed up. Like the KKK, they were there to protest Westboro.

The May 31 faceoff was not the first time the KKK has spoken out against Westboro. In April of 2010, the Klan posted a statement online saying that it and the anti-gay church were not in any way in partnership.

"The Ku Klux Klan, LLC. has not or EVER will have ANY connection with The 'Westboro Baptist Church,'" the Klan posted, GLBT website JustOut reported on April 8, 2010. "We absolutely repudiate their activities.

"As part of their anti-gay activism, Westboro Baptist Church has also organized picketing of Lady Gaga concerts, Catholic churches, the funerals of the Sago Mine Disaster victims, productions of The Laramie Project, the funeral of Mormon prophet Gordon B. Hinkley, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the United States Marine Corps--basically, anywhere that won't chase them away," the JustOut article noted.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.