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A show of force supports troops


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A show of force supports troops

By Laura Arenschield

Staff writer

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Members of the Westboro Baptist Church congregation wave signs supporting their view that God is punishing the United States.

On one side of Bragg Boulevard on Wednesday, American flags whipped in the wind, from toothpicks, from veteran s hands, from the top of a pole attached to a pickup.

On the other, American flags were being dragged on the ground.

On one side, Army wives, veterans and bikers held signs that read I Love My Soldier, Our Husbands, Our Heroes, and God Loves The World.

On the other, four members of Westboro Baptist Church including a 22-year-old woman and 7-year-old boy held signs that read God is Your Enemy and America is Doomed. The child s read: God Hates the U.S.A.

The two sides were there for just an hour, but it was clear that more than six lanes and a median separated them.

The church sent a handful of members from its headquarters in Topeka, Kan., to Fort Bragg to preach that the death of Spc. Megan Lynn Touma, the pregnant soldier found in her hotel room last month, was prompted by God s wrath against the United States.

The church, a small group made up almost entirely of a single family, believes that natural disasters and murders are God s way of punishing the U.S. for the country s acceptance of homosexuality, the war in Iraq and the worship of symbols such as the American flag. The church has attracted national publicity for picketing the funerals of homosexuals and of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dannell Shafer, whose husband is a combat medic in the 82nd Airborne Division, wanted the members of Westboro Baptist to know they were not welcome here.

She posted messages on the Internet and sent out e-mails. The word spread. Her friends Army wives, mostly in their early or mid-20s, got together and painted signs. They had T-shirts printed with Enjoying your freedom of speech? on the front and My husband says you re welcome on the back.

And by 10:30 a.m., more than 200 people had stretched into a line along Bragg Boulevard, near a check cashing business and the Knox Street entrance to Fort Bragg.

At that moment, in the gravel parking lot across Bragg Boulevard, a middle-aged woman wearing a red T-shirt stepped out of a sedan. She pulled an American flag around her waist and tied it like a sarong, then fished two posters out of the car.

Dannell whipped her sign over her head.

She s wrapped in the freaking flag, she said. Sorry, but they need to see they don t need to be here.

Another middle-aged woman climbed from the car, and a younger woman, and a young boy. The older woman tucked one end of an American flag in her pocket and let the other end trail behind her on the ground.

The woman wearing the flag started shouting: They re not heroes! They re murderers!

Across Bragg Boulevard, the military wives, veterans, bikers, friends and gays chanted back: U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Tractor trailers, minivans and motorcycles flew by, beeping their horns and waving in support of the pro-troops demonstrators.

Westboro Baptist, which has sent demonstrators to Fayetteville twice before, is headed by Fred W. Phelps. The protesters in Fayetteville on Wednesday were two of his daughters and grandchildren.

When a nation refuses to obey God, you re cursed, said Elizabeth Phelps, one of Fred Phelps daughters. You ve got worse and more coming.

Her niece, 22-year-old Megan Phelps-Roper, said she began picketing when she was 5 years old.

This is our religion, she said. These are our religious beliefs.

She looked across the boulevard to the people protesting her protest.

It kind of amazes me that they re standing there in opposition to this, she said. Because these are women our age who are being killed by their soldier husbands and we re here to tell them: You ve raised your daughters to be a generation of whores and God is punishing you for it.

Westboro Baptist s message might have been divisive, but the protest brought people together.

Until they started making signs for their counterprotest, most of the Fort Bragg wives had only chatted on the Internet. Middle-aged bikers stood next to young military wives, who stood next to a gay man, who stood next to Vietnam veterans.

Jessica Nicholson and Stephen Sugg drove to Fort Bragg from Goldsboro to join the protest. Sugg, who is 21 and gay, wore a light blue shirt with the word SODOMITE printed across it.

But the Phelps family s opposition to homosexuality was not the only thing that brought Nicholson to Fayetteville with her friend. Her husband is an Army Reservist and she comes from a family of veterans.

They re against everything that matters to me, Nicholson said.

Biker groups roared up around 10:30 a.m. to raise a 28-foot flag pole and fly an equally long American flag.

When the members of Westboro Baptist Church arrived, Dale Neal was there in a leather vest, standing protectively over the Army wives, holding a sign that read three times: God Is Love.

Neal is part of Bikers for Christ. His shift a the Goodyear tire plant ended at 7 a.m., but he didn t mind missing sleep.

These people don t know what God is, he said. God s not hate. God s love. And all they re showing is hate.

By 11:30 a.m., 250 people had gathered and Dannell was bouncing on her toes and smiling.

I m so excited, she said. I had no doubt in my mind that Fort Bragg wives would be here to support this. I said that, when I heard (Westboro Baptist) was coming, I said, Dare them. Dare them to come here.

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There was alot of people out there. Westboro only had four people picketing.

What the report doesn't mention is that a few people started throwing rocks at the Westboro people until the Rolling Thunder biker dudes made them stop.

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How are these people not dead and why have we not seen any attempted murders against them?  All these crazy #####ing people out there, and not one of them has gotten the urge to maul one of the Phelps?

Do they not realize while they drag the flag in the dirt and shun the soldiers, that they are cursing the people that fight for their rights to do what they are doing?  Any other country besides Europe wouldn't tolerate this #####.  I'm all for freedom of speech, but you don't mess with someone at a funeral.  That is WAY past the line.

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Beau J (7/17/2008)
How are these people not dead and why have we not seen any attempted murders against them? All these crazy #####ing people out there, and not one of them has gotten the urge to maul one of the Phelps?

Do they not realize while they drag the flag in the dirt and shun the soldiers, that they are cursing the people thatfight for their rights to do what they are doing? Any other country besides Europe wouldn't tolerate this #####. I'm all for freedom of speech, but you don't mess with someone at a funeral. That is WAY past the line.

You don't see Phelps out there do ya? He sends his lackies. I bet he knows someone wants to send him to his maker.

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We should make up some signs for protesters

WESTBORO BAPTIST IS THE ANTICHRIST

SATANS SPAWN, WESTBORO BAPTIST

WESTBORO BAPTIST IS THE CHURCH FROM ****

WESTBORO BAPTIST MEMBERS SERVE SATAN

WE LOVE SATAN AT WESTBORO BAPTIST

COME GET BRAINSTAINED AT WESTBORO BAPTIST

SATAN IS LORD AT WESTBORO BAPTIST

SATAN HATES YOU BUT HE LOVES WESTBORO BAPTIST

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Biloxifalcon (7/17/2008)
You don't see Phelps out there do ya? He sends his lackies. I bet he knows someone wants to send him to his maker.
Exactly, he's a #####ing coward! ##### him and all of his minions!

Would a bullet in all of their brains be too much to ask?

I wish the bikers would of let them thrown the stones at them.

Phelps'll get his on the other side, except it won't be the purely gates, it'll be this:

flames.jpg

Enjoy that for eternity you hate-mongering, Soldier hating piece of #####!

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keithbrooking56 (7/17/2008)
I am an Orthodox Christian but I honestly have to admit if someone were to do a drive by on those idiots I wouldn't feel an ounce of pity for them except for the small kids who are just there because of the parents.
Me too brother, and I say this as a practicing Christian/Catholic.
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SteelerDawg6481 (7/17/2008)
caliber (7/17/2008)
Someone needs to take one for the team and just veer their car off the road when they see these people.
I would seriously consider paying some gang members to take those jokers out via a drive-by.

No need to make them martyrs.

The fact that they're willing to show their stupidity out in the open is enough. They'll get theirs in the end.

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