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Funeral Draws Protestors, Raises Questions

Edwin Wood was killed in combat July 5 in Afghanistan
Edwin Wood Funeral in Omaha draws crowds
Published on July 17, 2010 : 11 comments

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*note - many thanks to Roberta Vander Zwaag for the timely photographs in this story. Read more about Roberta’s work helping children in Haiti.

At this time last year, Edwin Wood had just graduated, a member of the 2009 class of Omaha North High. Saturday, Pfc. Wood was laid to rest at Dundee Presbyterian. He was 18 years old.

Wood was killed in combat July 5 in Afghanistan, but his funeral revealed that his true home was here in Omaha, as hundreds lined the streets to pay their respects. However, the service was made newsworthy not only by Wood’s age, job, and the many mourners he touched, but by the protests of Westboro Baptist Church.

  • Flags at the Edwin Wood funeral in Omaha
  • Many folks came out to show their support
  • Westboro Protestors: "You hate your kids"
  • Westboro Protestor: "America is doomed"
  • WBC Protestor: "God hates fags"
  • Patriot Guard members
  • Nebraska Veterans
  • The Patriot Guard rolls out
  • Patriot Guard escorting the procession
  • Edwin Wood funeral service
  • Large American Flag


This is not new for Westboro Baptist. WBC specializes in grabbing attention, and, to be fair, they’re very good at it. The Topeka, Kansas based church has protested at funerals across the country, grabbing headlines and segments on the local news at each stop.

They stand on the dividing line, partly an example of the wonderful freedoms we enjoy in this country, and partly an example of how freedom can so easily be abused and made subservient to the needs of fringe extremists. Their website address, which makes prominent use of a homosexual slur, pretty much sums up their main thesis. Through a rambling logic they relate this to the over 40,000 protests the group claims to have made since 1955.

And if you guessed that this has virtually nothing to do with the deceased, you would be correct. Westboro Church attacks the system of American politics, militarism, and morality, and often the family, friends, and memory of fallen soldiers are left to stand and suffer these attacks.

On Saturday, hundreds of Omahans came out and lined the streets to make sure that the Wood family did not have to stand alone. The Patriot Guard, a motorcycle group formed in reaction to the Westboro Baptist Church, were on hand to shield the victim’s family from the sight of the protestors. In the past, they’ve been known to rev their motorcycle engines to drown them out.

In an orderly fashion, the Patriot Guard rolled their flags, and helped escort the family to their son’s final resting place, fulfilling their role in the funeral. The WBC, numbering 10 at most, stood with their signs and their slurs, fulfilling theirs.

In a perfect world, neither group exists, not a church that thinks our country is doomed, nor a group founded specifically to counter them. But in our world, they do exist. Do they have a right to? Legally, apparently they do.

It seems, though, at least to me, that the men and women who have died to help protect our freedoms have become the victims of those freedoms.

What do you think?

jordyAn Omaha.net writer since 2008, Jordy freely admits he's waiting for his golden parachute "anxiously." He microblogs @jordyclements + macroblogs jordyclements.com

Comments

Michael (not verified) says:

July 18, 2010 : 6 years 10 weeks ago

Michael's picture

I think the media should ignore these groups. Attention is what they want. It was sad seeing news stations and other media staff seeking these people out at yesterdays funeral. What a disrespect it is to the fallen soldier’s legacy and his family to sensationalize this tragic event.

jordy says:

July 18, 2010 : 6 years 10 weeks ago

jordy's picture

I have to admit, I did feel like I was potentially contributing to the problem merely by writing about them at all. They want headlines; we create them.

However, this has to be balanced with the support the family can receive if the community is more informed. Westboro Baptist will exist with or without us, but groups like the Patriot Guard might not, and that’s where I think the media plays a vital role.

Shawn Finch (not verified) says:

July 18, 2010 : 6 years 10 weeks ago

Shawn Finch's picture

I thought of that too guys, but you know what? Everyone is reacting in outrage and support of the military, the family, the soldier - the handful of people who agree with Westboro IS Westboro and they have since slunk home. It is as if they are being told “What you meant for evil, God used for good…”

Michael (not verified) says:

July 19, 2010 : 6 years 10 weeks ago

Michael's picture

I agree with you both. I just wish media sources, particularly the big four in Omaha, would stop sensationalizing tragedy and focus their attention on the important things. This young man’s tragic death is important. The number of supporters and the Patriot Guard are important. Westboro is the opposite of important. Jordy, I admire your style of writing and your approach, and I understand the “point” of reporting on the Westboro group. I just think that media should exercise discretion in cases like this when they know reporting about small fringe groups is somewhat encouraging to them.

jordy says:

July 19, 2010 : 6 years 10 weeks ago

jordy's picture

@Michael Thank you, I appreciate your kind words amidst what is an otherwise cruel topic. I think traditional media are a little bound in cases like this. Because they can’t often exercise a true “opinion,” their impartiality sometimes renders as tacit support. Even I held back from saying what I really, really feel about Westboro Baptist, but hopefully stopped short of, as you put it, seeming “encouraging to them.”

Jim Reime (not verified) says:

July 19, 2010 : 6 years 10 weeks ago

Jim Reime's picture

The Patriot Guard Riders is NOT a “motorcycle group” anyone is welcome to join. You don’t have to be a biker or a veteran, all that is required is respect. There are no dues or meetings you only do what you can when you can. I know this because I am neither a biker or a veteran but I am a Ride Captain in the Patriot Guard Riders in Colorado so if you think it’s something you might want to do please join us… www.patriotguard.org

Jim Reime
Colorado Ride Captain
Patriot Guard Riders

jordy says:

July 20, 2010 : 6 years 10 weeks ago

jordy's picture

@Jim I apologize for my inaccuracy with regard to the Patriot Guard Riders. I definitely substituted a description of the group—many of whom are motorcycle riders—for an actual definition of the members. The Patriot Guard’s inclusiveness is perhaps its strongest weapon against the divisive segregation of groups like the WBC, and I apologize for mis-characterizing that. Thank you for the correction.

Anonymous (not verified) says:

July 22, 2010 : 6 years 10 weeks ago

Anonymous's picture

When the local TV channels covered the funeral they made NO mention of Westboro, they only reported the large amount of support the family received. If more media outlets would do this perhaps Westboro will stay home!

jordy says:

July 22, 2010 : 6 years 10 weeks ago

jordy's picture

@Anonymous Sadly, I think they would enjoy the attention. I think it’s increasingly become policy at many major media outlets to ignore the protesters. Hard to say what strategy in dealing with them is best.

Pam (not verified) says:

July 25, 2010 : 6 years 9 weeks ago

Pam's picture

I believe that pictures of these nasty people should not be glorified by putting them on any website that the families can see!

jordy says:

July 25, 2010 : 6 years 9 weeks ago

jordy's picture

@Pam While I agree that the images are nasty, I think this portrayal stops short of glorifying. I’m also very happy that the pictures are balanced by showing images of the Patriot Guard Riders. I’m not worried that anyone is going to be convinced to join the WBC through this article, but perhaps someone will join the PGR, and that would be a small victory.