(RNS) The estranged son of a Kansas pastor famous for protesting the funerals of soldiers and AIDS victims has condemned his family’s plans to picket the funerals of the 26 people — including 20 children — who were killed when a gunman stormed a Connecticut elementary school.
In the wake of Friday’s massacre in Newtown, Conn., members of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., posted Twitter messages saying they would picket outside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The messages provided no information on the time of the planned picketing.
“Westboro ‘God hates Fags’ Baptist Church is planning to picket at Sandy Hook, to praise ‘God’s judgment,’” was posted by Margie Phelps, the daughter of Westboro leader Fred Phelps Sr. Her sister, Shirley Phelps-Roper, tweeted Saturday that the group would “sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment.”
Church members also released a video titled “God Sent the Shooter,” in which members state that the shootings were God’s retribution for gay marriage.
In response, Nate Phelps, the sixth of pastor Fred Phelps’ 13 children, condemned the protest plans but says local leaders should allow the protests to continue by “calling their bluff” and exposing the group to public anger.
“My sincere hope is that the Sandy Hook community is able to grieve and mourn privately, and with whatever peace can be had in knowing the rest of the world mourns with you,” Phelps said in a statement.
Nate Phelps, 56, left his father’s church at age 18. He is now executive director of the Center for Inquiry Canada and is on the board of directors of the group Recovering from Religion. He is also an activist for gay rights.
Westboro members have protested the funerals of shooting victims before. In January 2011, they planned to picket outside the funeral of Christina Green, the 9-year-old killed in the Tucson shooting outside a shopping center. The group canceled those plans in exchange for radio air time.
In his statement, Nate Phelps asked local leaders to “let them show up” to protest the Newtown funerals. He said his father’s church is “running out of money,” its reach is “limited,” and providing it with free media only helps the group.
“By allowing them this luxury, they get free publicity with no effort or expense on their part, while potentially traumatizing a much wider audience than those strong enough to stand against them in silent but effective counter-protest,” he said.
The hackers group Anonymous also reacted to Westboro’s proposed protest by posting the names, addresses and telephone numbers of Westboro members — of which there are less than 100 — online.
Anonymous also launched a petition on the White House webpage to have the group officially recognized as a hate group. As of Monday afternoon, the petition had more than 118,000 signatures.