Tuesday, May 23, 2006


If any group of people deserve to be punched out, it's the bigots from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka who have made a living out of "protesting" at the funerals of gays and now veterans.

Five people face criminal charges after a weekend confrontation with members of the Kansas group that pickets military funerals and believes U-S casualties in Iraq are God's retribution for America's embrace of homosexuality. The Kansas group was met by a crowd of about one-thousand angry counter-demonstrators shouting as well as various taunts and obscenities. Some counter-demonstrators hurled eggs, stones and water bottles.

The Kansas group, carrying signs reading "God Hates Fags," "Fags Doom Nations" and "Vengeance is Mine, Sayeth the Lord," was met by a crowd of about 1,000 angry counter-demonstrators.

The following is from the Cape Gazette (Delaware).

Marine's funeral sparks confrontation in Seaford
By Jim Westhoff

A protest in Seaford ended in a near riot as local residents faced off against people demonstrating during the funeral of a fallen soldier.

Marine Cpl. Cory Palmer, a 2002 graduate of Seaford High School, was a standout soccer player and one of the leaders of his graduating class.

He was struck May 1 by a roadside bomb near Fallujah, Iraq, and died May 6 as he was being transported to a hospital in the United States.

Hundreds lined the streets Sunday, May 21, near the church where a funeral service was held for the popular young soldier. Lined with people holding American flags, the street was silent except for the state police helicopter flying over the nearby protest site.

About 10 members of the Westboro Baptist Church based in Topeka, Kan., had a permit to protest about four blocks away, in Seaford’s Gateway Park from 2:15 to 3 p.m.

According to the church website, the protestors believe that soldiers are dying in Iraq because God is punishing America for tolerating homosexuality.

They were greeted by more than 1,000 local residents who said the protestors were dishonoring Palmer. The protestors were circled by angry local residents who screamed, gestured and raced the engines of cars and motorcycles.

Keeping the two groups separated were about 30 officers from Seaford Police Department and Delaware State Police. Five people were arrested following the protest on charges ranging from assault to criminal mischief.

Protestors from Kansas
The protestors stood in a roped off area in Gateway Park, holding signs with messages like “Thank God for IEDs,” referring to the improvised explosive devices, or homemade bombs, used by Iraqi insurgents, one of which killed Palmer.

Protest organizer Sidney Phelps-Roper, reached the day after the protest, said one of her group was punched during the demonstration and another was injured when someone smashed the window of the van that was taking them away from the protest site.

“Our people are gleeful,” Phelps-Roper said. “I can’t tell you how overjoyed they are that God found them worthy to shed blood for him.”

She said that in the 15 years her church has been holding protests, the Seaford event was in the top 5 percent of the most violent. “That was an evil, angry mob,” she said. “They showed that Seaford is an evil place.”

Timothy Phelps stood in the park, holding his protest signs. “This is conclusive proof why this town has a disproportionately high number of dead in Iraq,” he said. “Look at the violence and the hatred in their eyes.”

Locals break the line
For most of the 45 minutes allotted for the protest, the demonstration was relatively uneventful. People stood across the street from each other and hurled insults.

But as the deadline approached, some locals began to press against the police barriers, attempting to get at the protestors. “I thought we were going to make it,” said Capt. Gary Flood of the Seaford Police Department. “About three or four minutes to three, that’s when they broke the line.”

To the cheers of the crowd, a handful of people ran across the street toward the protestors, and one person is charged with striking a protestor. Police quickly arrested those who assaulted the protestors and pushed the crowd back behind the barriers.

“My hat is off to the public,” Flood said. “I think they showed a lot of restraint. When we pushed them back, everybody complied.”

Flood said it was the first time he has seen anything like that in Seaford. “We’ve had some big crowds before but we never had them break through the barriers before,” he said. A few minutes after the line was restored, police rushed the protestors to a van borrowed from Seaford Volunteer Fire Department.

When the residents realized the protestors were leaving, they quickly circled the van. As police threw people out of the path of the vehicle, several windows of the vehicle were smashed. With police cars in front and back, the van sped away from Gateway Park. Flood said the police department had to borrow the van from the fire department because a boy allegedly slashed the tires on the protestors’ van. Police have charged a Seaford teen with slashing the tires.

Angry residents
Standing shirtless, Rodney Murphy of Laurel shouted insults, curses and challenges at the church group. “These people have no respect,” he said. “They have no concept of the word. Why are they even in America? Can you tell me that?”

Chuck Windersheim of Seaford sat in his wheelchair, shocked at the fervor of people on both sides. “I’m here to support the family,” said the former Merchant Marine who served in the first Gulf War. “I don’t understand those people - God loves us. He doesn’t hate.”

Seated away from the confrontation, near the steps of City Hall, was Lisa Bergstrazer of Seaford. “My daughter went to school with Cory,” she said. She looked at the protestors from Kansas and shook her head. “These people are crazy.”

Anti-gay protests have no place in a town mourning the loss of a soldier, said Steve Elkins, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, which supports gay rights. “I can’t imagine anyone who would be so insulting as to protest a person who gave his or her life in service to the country,” he said.

Quiet memorial
Four blocks away from the shouting, at the church service for Palmer, flags lined the road, and hundreds of mourners stood outside, silently paying tribute.

“We’re in the honor business,” said Paul Fisher of the Patriot Guard Riders, one of hundreds of motorcycle enthusiasts who attended the memorial service. “We are here at the invitation of the family,” he said. “We want to show respect and honor for all of our fallen soldiers.”

David and Brenda Carmean rode to Seaford from Princess Anne, Md. “We came out of respect of the family,” he said.

Tom Purchase of Salisbury is an Army veteran who served in Kuwait. “I came because I heard that those people were going to protest. I want to show some respect for the family,” he said.

Seaford police arrested four adults and one juvenile for actions related to the protest.

Arrested were:

• David Jones, 29, Bridgeville, was charged with disorderly conduct and two counts of third-degree assault. He was released on a $1,500 unsecured bond.

• Christopher Daudt, 19; Stephen Carson, 19; and Allen Dunn 56; all of Seaford, were charged with criminal mischief and disorderly conduct. They were each released on $1,000 unsecured bond.

• A 16-year-old from Seaford was charged with criminal mischief and disorderly conduct in connection with slashing the tires of a van owned by the protestors. He was committed to Stevenson House in lieu of a $1,000 bond.

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