Anti-Gay Hate Group Plans Montgomery Demonstration

Published: Sep. 8, 2004 at 9:23 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 15, 2004 at 7:32 AM CDT
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Westboro Baptist Church Demonstrators
Westboro Baptist Church Demonstrators
Fred Phelps at the RNC in New York
Fred Phelps at the RNC in New York
Mark Potok of the SPLC
Mark Potok of the SPLC

A national anti-gay group has chosen Alabama as its next target. Demonstrators are expected in Montgomery next month to "celebrate" the murders of two Alabama gay men. And while in town, they'll pay a visit to their long-time rival, the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that monitors hate groups.

Westboro Baptist Church is an independent church in Topeka, Kansas which is known for its demonstrations using signs with offensive anti-gay slogans. The organization gained national attention six years ago, following the murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man from Wyoming, when it picketed outside Shepard's funeral.

More recently, church members brought their message to the Republican National Convention in New York. They maintain that gays and lesbians deserve to die because they are violating Biblical teachings. The group is led by Fred Phelps.

"It is difficult to imagine any person in this world thinking more about gay sex more than Fred Phelps and his followers," says Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Potok describes Phelps' organization as a hate group. In fact, he says Phelps released a statement following 9/11, explaining that the victims of the terrorist attacks were killed because of their "fag-enabling" ways.

According to a press release from church members, their upcoming trip will celebrate the sixth anniversary of Shepard's murder and the recent murders of two gay men in Alabama. "It's plain and simple. It's another victory," explains Potok. "God has struck down another gay man. If that's not cause for celebration, what is? That's the attitude of Westboro Baptist Church."

Westboro will stage the first of the demonstrations outside the SPLC's headquarters in Montgomery October 16th. Security will be tight, as usual. But Potok says it's not likely to be a very large group.

Demonstrators will also picket the following day in Bay Minette. That's where Scotty Joe Weaver is from. Weaver and Rodderick George of Montgomery are the two men who were murdered recently, allegedly because they were gay.

Potok says gays and lesbians are now considered the most vulnerable minority in the United States. And he believes the demonstrations are proof. He says Alabama's legislature should take a more proactive role in protecting gays and lesbians by including them in the state's hate crime legislation.

WSFA 12 News contacted the group, PFLAG, which stands for "Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays about the demonstrations. They say they're "horrified" that any group calling itself Christian would celebrate the murder of a young man.

Reporter: Mark Bullock