Bikers protest Westboro Baptist demonstrators at Arlington burial
Monday, October 4, 2010; 8:06 PM
A group of motorcyclists staged a counter-demonstration Monday at the Arlington National Cemetery burial of a local Navy SEAL, parking motorcycles and revving engines to oppose a protest by members of the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas.
The motorcyclists, many clad in boots and leather, lined up along Memorial Drive in front of the small group of protesters, opened the throttles of their engines to drown their singing and saluted as the funeral cortege passed.
The church protesters, who contend that God is killing members of the military because of the nation's sins, sang over the din and held signs that read "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "Thank God for IEDs."
Members of Westboro, who often demonstrate at military funerals, are the subjects of a Supreme Court case that seeks to decide whether they have a right under the Constitution to stage such inflammatory demonstrations.
The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case Wednesday.
The counter-demonstration, staged by a group of local bikers, some of whom said they were veterans, came at the start of the 1 p.m. burial service for Lt. Brendan Looney, 29, a native of Silver Spring.
A 2004 Naval Academy graduate and 1999 graduate of DeMatha Catholic High School, in Hyattsville, Looney was among nine service members killed Sept. 21 in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
His burial service was closed to the news media at the request of his family.
About a half-hour before the service, three members of the church arrived by Metro, their protest signs concealed in a large bag.
They stationed themselves in a cordoned-off area on the drive just outside a Metro entrance and then displayed their placards, some of which read: "God Is Your Enemy," "America Is Doomed" and "Don't Worship the Dead."
Moments before the funeral procession appeared, the bikers arrived with a roar, several flying large American flags from their motorcycles. As they lined up and revved their engines to ear-splitting levels, occupants of cars in the procession gave a thumbs-up sign.
"I'm a vet myself, and I think what these people over here are doing is horribly wrong," said motorcyclist Clyde Fleming, 62, who said he lives on the Eastern Shore.
"If you want to protest a war, you do it with government officials, not with the soldiers who died for you," he said. "You don't disrespect them and their families with such hatred."
He said the church "absolutely" had a right to its protest - "just as we have a right to block their noise and their rhetoric."
Margie Phelps, one of the protesters and the church's attorney, said: "We came here to say the soldiers are dying for the sins of this nation. You want them to stop dying? Stop sinning. This is a fool's errand, all this patriotic carrying on. . . .Obey God."