It’s a new and twisted world when the Ku Klux Klan takes on the Westboro Baptist Church, the famously rabid anti-gay group founded by Fred Phelps in Topeka, Kan. Needless to say, most Klan groups despise gays and lesbians only slightly less than black and Jewish people.
But over Memorial Day weekend, about 10 members of a tiny Powhatan Va.-based Klan group called the Knights of the Southern Cross Soldiers of the Ku Klux Klan joined a counterprotest against Phelps’ church held by about 70 people waving pro-U.S. signs. Like the other counter-protesters who came to denounce the Westboro hate group, the Klan tried to screen funeral services being held at Arlington National Cemetery from the “God Hates Fags” signs that have come to define the Phelps family and its church. Phelps claims that U.S. soldiers are being killed by a God angered at America’s “fag-enabling” ways.
Dennis LaBonte, the self-described imperial wizard or national leader of the Klan group, said the Phelps family should understand that it is the military that protects free speech rights — the very rights preserved by the U.S. Supreme Court in ruling in March that found the Westboro protests were protected speech. “It’s the soldier that fought and died and gave them that right,” LaBonte said.
Since 2005, the Phelps family has maintained that picketing military funerals is justified because God is punishing the nation for tolerating homosexuality. The Phelpses also have claimed that God chose to use improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, to kill soldiers because the church’s Topeka compound was once bombed with a similar device. “God is visiting the sins upon America by killing their kids with IEDs … and the more the merrier,” church founder Fred Phelps once said.
Abigail Phelps, one of Phelps’ daughters who was at the protest, told CNN that the nation it should not “idolize” the dead, especially those who died for an “unrighteous cause.” As for Klan members joining the protest against Westboro and its message, Phelps said, in one of the few statements from her congregation that most Americans would agree with, “They have no moral authority on anything.”