Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Patriot Guard Riders, February 23, 2006


As a species, humans are capable of so much. Both good and bad. Lately though, it seems like every time I turn around there's another story about some evil perpertrated by someone devoid of any trace of humanity. But every once in a while you come across a story that restores your faith in the human race. A story that reminds us that there are still some decent, ordinary, everyday kind of people standing shoulder to shoulder with veterans and other genuinely grateful Americans just trying to do the right thing. What follows from the Associated Press is just one such story.

Patriot Guard Riders oppose protesters
Motorcyclists shield families from chants, signs of radical group

Associated Press
FORT CAMPBELL — Wearing leather chaps and vests covered in military patches, a band of motorcyclists rolls from one soldier's funeral to another in hopes that their respectful cheers and revving engines will drown out the insults of protesters.

Calling themselves the Patriot Guard Riders, they are made up of motorcycle club members who could no longer tolerate a Kansas-based fundamentalist church picketing military funerals with signs that read, "Thank God for IEDs." The bikers shield the families from the protesters, and overshadow the jeers with their own patriotic chants and a sea of red, white and blue flags.

"The most important thing we can do is let families know that the nation cares," said Don Woodrick, the group's Kentucky captain. "When a total stranger gets on a motorcycle in the middle of winter and drives 300 miles to hold a flag, that makes a powerful statement."

Across the nation, Patriot Guard riders number more than 5,000 and at least 14 states are considering laws aimed specifically at the funeral protest group led by the Rev. Fred Phelps, who believes American deaths in Iraq are divine punishment for a country that harbors homosexuals.

During a protest at a recent memorial service at Fort Campbell, which is about 50 miles northwest of Nashville, church protesters wrapped themselves in upside-down American flags and waved neon-colored signs. They danced and sang impromptu songs peppered with vulgarities that condemned homosexuals and soldiers.

The Patriot Guard was also there, waving up a ruckus of support for the families across the street as community members came in the freezing rain to chant "U-S-A, U-S-A" alongside them.

"This is just the right thing to do. This is something America didn't do in the '70s," said Kurt Mayer, the group's national spokesman. "Whether we agree with why we're over there, these soldiers are dying to protect our freedoms."

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a daughter of Fred Phelps and an attorney for the Topeka, Kan.-based church, said neither state laws nor the Patriot Guard can silence their message that God killed the soldiers because they fought for a country that embraces homosexuals.

"The Scriptures are crystal clear that when God sets out to punish a nation, it is with the sword. An IED is just a broken-up sword," Phelps-Roper said. "Since that is his weapon of choice, our forum of choice has got to be a dead soldier's funeral."

The church, which is not affiliated with a larger denomination, is made up mostly of Phelps' extended family members. A small group of them appeared last month in West Virginia outside a memorial for the 12 men killed in the Sago Mine disaster. They held signs reading "Thank God for Dead Miners" and "Miners in Hell."

During the 1990s, church members were known mostly for picketing the funerals of AIDS victims, and they have long been tracked as a hate group by the Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Pov-erty Law Center's Intelligence Project.

The project's deputy director, Heidi Beirich, said other groups have tried to counter Phelps' message, but none has been as organized as the Patriot Guard.

"I'm not sure anybody has gone to this length to stand in solidarity," she said. "It's nice that these veterans and their supporters are trying to do something. I can't imagine anything worse, your loved one is killed in Iraq and you've got to deal with Fred Phelps."

Kentucky, home to Fort Campbell along the Tennessee line, was among the first states to attempt to deal with Phelps legislatively. Its House and Senate have each passed bills that would limit people from protesting within 300 feet of a funeral or memorial service. The Senate version also would keep protesters from being within earshot of grieving friends and family members.

The bills were written to protect families of soldiers such as Pvt. Jonathan R. Pfender, 22, of Evansville, Ind., a soldier from Fort Campbell's 101st Airborne Division who was killed in January by a roadside bomb in Beiji, Iraq.

Westboro church members protested at Pfender's funeral, screaming at mourners and the pastor as they passed. The rumble of Patriot Guard motorcycles shielded family members from the profanities.

"We were glad that the Patriot Guard Riders were there," said Jackie Pfender, the soldier's stepmother. "This group of protesters wanted to put something negative on Jonathan's funeral. In actuality, it became a positive thing because of the support we had."

Patriot Guard members only show up at funerals if invited by family

The Patriot Guard Riders have a website where you can learn more about what they do, read their mission statement, view photos of their "missions", plus they have details on how you can help. The website is www.patriotguard.org .

Til next time...........

(originally posted 2-23-06 on Yahoo 360)

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