During Newtown funerals, new calls to limit Phelps family protests


The hactivist group Anonymous has issued a stern warning to the Fred Phelps founded Westboro Baptist Church. The church has been protesting against gay people since the early 1990s in Kansas City. It has also protested at celebrity and military funerals. Anonymous says threatening to protest at a Sandy Hook Elementary funeral today has triggered its declaration of war on Westboro. 

Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka has announced plans to picket at today’s funeral of Sandy Hook Elementary Principal Dawn Hochsprung, one of the victims of a school shooting that took 26 lives.

The WBC is no stranger to Midtown, where funeral protests by the Topeka church founded by Fred Phelps have been controversial since the 1990s. But the church went too far for many people when it announced it would picket in Newtown, Connecticut. Now the hacker-activist group Anonymous has issued a stern warning that it is “coming after” Westboro, and thousands of people are urging the White House to revoke its tax exempt status and declare it a hate group.

The current controversy began when Shirley Phelps-Roper of Westboro tweeted plans to protest a vigil in Newtown. At first, reports said that Westboro would picket at a vigil held last Sunday, the day President Barrack Obama addressed the families of victims and the nation in Newtown. That vigil was later canceled due to a bomb threat. Now Westboro’s website says it will picket the funeral of Hochsprung today.

Members of Westboro have implied that they are protesting because Connecticut allows gay marriage. “The blood of the Newton dead is on the hands of every preacher, teacher, parent and leader in Connecticut,” its website says.

Anonymous, which has tangled with Westboro before, has now threatened the church in the widely-circulated video. “We will not allow you to corrupt the minds of America with your seeds of hatred. We will not allow you to inspire aggression to the social factions which you deem inferior. We will render you obsolete. We will destroy you. We are coming,” Anonymous says at the end of the video.

The hacker group also hacked into the WBC website and released personal information such as names, addresses, and emails of its members.

Meantime, thousands of people have signed several petitions that would classify WBC as a hate group and strip it of its tax-exempt status. At the White House website  anyone can now initiate or sign a petition. President Barack Obama has said that any petition that receives 25,000 signatures will receive White House review. Currently five separate petitions regarding WBC are active on the site and all have enough signatures to meet the threshold for review. They ask for Westboro Baptist Church to be classified as a hate group and/or for its tax-exempt status to be revoked.

But WBC has shaken off attempts to limits its activities in the past. Several states have restricted it from protesting at funerals, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Westboro after the father of a soldier objected to picketing at his son’s funeral.

Kansas City first tried to limit the group’s local activities in 1993, after WBC announced plans to show up at the funeral of a composer who died from complications of AIDS. The city council passed, and then repealed, an ordinance after threats of a lawsuit.

Last month, the council again passed an ordinance requiring protesters to be at least 300 feet from a funeral or burial. It is based on a similar Manchester, Missouri ordinance which has been upheld by the courts.

Westboro picketed a Foo Fighters concert in Kansas City in 2011. And according to its website, it plans to picket an International House of Prayer convention at Kansas City’s Convention Center December 28.

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