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Westboro Baptist Church to picket Seattle shooting victim’s funeral

Gabriel Spitzer

The St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Seattle has been told that members of the anti-gay church known for its belligerent protest tactics plans to be present at the funeral of Gloria Koch Leonidas on Thursday. Leonidas was one of the shooting victims in last Wednesday's massacre in Seattle.

A St. Demetrios administrator confirmed that a Seattle police officer and another church pastor told them the protest has been scheduled by the Westboro Baptist Church. And a Facebook page dedicated to shielding the funeral from the protesters, known for signs saying “God Hates Fags” and blaming crimes on passages of gay rights laws, is up and running.

The Westboro church is also known for saying its members will protest events and then not show up or attempt to pressure other media coverage. Recently, the group backed off its threat to picket the funeral of Charlie and Braden Power, murdered by their father Josh Powell, in exchange for airtime.

“… hours after a Seattle-based Catholic talk radio show offered the church a segment in exchange for not picketing the funeral, a leader of the WBC said they would ‘stand down,’ “ The Washington Post reported.

Ian Stawicki shot and killed Leonidas, a Bellevue mother of two, in a downtown Seattle carjacking after shooting five people at the Café Racer on Roosevelt Way in North Seattle. Stawicki later shot and killed himself in a West Seattle street as police surrounded him.


In seeking ideas for shielding Leonidas' funeral from the picketers, one person on the Facebook page suggested:

1) Big white sheets between the picketers the mourners, which will enable counter-protesters to shield in front of hateful signs without needing to physically or even verbally engage; 2) White armbands for those involved in the counter-protest which means that we can convene together easily without making a lot of noise and still be separate from the picketers.

One commenter wrote on the page:

“whenever I read releases from the Fred Phelps and his family (the Westboro Church is almost enteirly one nuclear family) I feel nothing but sadness for them. I didn't know Gloria Koch Leonidas and my heart breaks for her family and I don't know if it's better to ignore the WBC all together (obviously they are over offensive just to get attention) or to show up and give the WBC a heartfelt hug and tell them eveything is going to be all right. What I do know is that you can't fight crazy with crazy and confronting anger with more anger isn't going to help anyone.”

Not all in favor of counter-protests

When the Westboro church threatened to picket the high-profile funeral of Charlie and Braden Powell in February, Pastor Dean Curry of the Life Center Church asked counter-protesters to stay home.

“We had the same problem, and I called all of those people personally and said, I know you’re trying to help, but I don’t think you are … It takes the attention off of the victim,” he said. “It’s a distraction from the point, and the point is, here’s some lives that were lost tragically, and we need to remember that.”

Right to protest

In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the First Amendment protects the right of the Westboro church to hold anti-gay protests outside military funerals, NPR reported. The 8-1 ruling backed an appeals court decision to throw out a $5 million victory for Albert Snyder, who sued the fundamentalist church after its members picketed his son's funeral.

Bobby D explains agreement with picketers

In a Feb. 10 blog post, Bobby D of the The Bobby D Show explained his reasons for making the agreement to air an interview with Fred Phelps Jr. from Westboro church:

“Many emails and calls have some in, (even a death threat) asking us why in the world we would ever give this guy a venue to spew their hate. That answer is simple; it’s about the family. It’s not about you, it’s not about WBC, it’s not about this show and it sure isn’t about me. You think I WANT to have these people on a show that I have worked so hard at perfecting to my liking? NO way. Having said that, I care about people and I DO NOT want them at a place that needs to be peaceful and a time ONLY for grieving and remembering.”

Lindsay Lowe is an intern at KNKX. She attends the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in New York, and plans to pursue a career in public radio after graduation.