As expected, members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. showed up in Beebe today to protest at the funeral of Army Spc. Bobby R. West, who recently died in Iraq.
This is the group led by Pastor Fred Phelps, who believes that God is killing U.S. soldiers as a punishment for our nation's deviant ways. His followers show up at military funerals with signs that say "God Hates Fags," for example.
According to our photographer Brian Chilson, who took the images that accompany this item, Jonathan Phelps (not sure of the relation to Fred) was among six people protesting today, including four young boys and a woman. Phelps' group stood about 200 yards away and catercorner from the First Baptist Church in Beebe, where the funeral service took place.
Approximately 322 bikers from various motorcycle gangs lined the church parking lot and driveway and stood across the street from the protesters, emblazoned in American flags. Chilson said, "At one point, on Highway 164, you couldn't see the end of the line of bikes."
The bikers and protesters exchanged words at one point. Phelps then tied an American flag to his foot and antagonized the bikers by walking back and forth to step on the flag (see photo above). One of the bikers was arrested when he crossed the street to confront Phelps. Eventually, the bikers turned their backs on the protesters as sign of disrespect.
Law enforcement officials forced the protesters to leave at the beginning of the funeral, in accordance with a new state law banning protests at military funerals. They did not return, but the bikers stayed through the end of the funeral and escorted the hearse to the gravesite.