Over 2,000 people have signaled an intent to join a human shield in an attempt to block a Westboro Baptist Church protest of the funerals of two Topeka, Kan., police officers killed in the line of duty.
Two grassroots-based movements, organized via Facebook, are planning to surround the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka on Saturday to block planned protests by the controversial group, which is based in Topeka. The funerals are for Topeka police officers David Gogian and Jeff Atherly, who were killed in a shootout in front of a Dillon's supermarket last Sunday evening. The planned shield comes as Westboro faces a national backlash and similar events have occurred in response to the group's plans to protest the funerals of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut.
"This isn't a counter-protest, it isn't a fight against Westboro," Jude Quinn, the organizer of one of the events, told The Huffington Post. "It is a rally for the police officers. You can use the same law Westboro Baptist Church uses against them."
Quinn and fellow Topeka resident Caitlin Yoho started the events through Facebook event pages earlier this week, and the plans have now gone viral in Kansas and the surrounding area. While the pair started their events separately on the social network, they have since spoken and plan to form one large shield. Both events have over 10,000 outstanding invitations on Facebook.
Quinn is an organizer with SilverbacksKS, a community service group, and Yoho said Take Back Topeka has also been helping to spread word of the events.
"The numbers will be shocking," Quinn said of how many people he anticipates.
The shield participants do not plan to picket or engage with Westboro, a controversial group that has gained notoriety for picketing military funerals in order to promote an anti-gay and anti-abortion rights agenda. The shield organizers said the plan is to protect the families of the two officers from the Westboro picket, while also making it difficult for Westboro to picket in close proximity to the Expocentre. Westboro member Jonathan Phelps tweeted earlier this week that the murders of Gogian and Atherly were in response to police "abuse" of Westboro. Westboro member Margie Phelps has blamed singer Carrie Underwood's support of gay marriage for the Newtown shootings.
Westboro spokesman Steve Drain told the Topeka Capitol-Journal that the group plans to "get to as many of these high-profile funerals as we can."
"We are telling the people of the world you ought not be mourning the loss of those children or those cops. What you ought to be mourning is our sins," Drain said.
Drain did not confirm a funeral protest to the Capitol-Journal, but said the group is "daily picketing the situation."
Topeka residents have gotten used to frequent Westboro pickets around the city. In response to the group's planned pickets in Newtown, Topeka Councilman Chad Manspeaker (D), who represents Westboro, apologized to the people of Newtown on behalf of Topeka residents. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) called the Newtown plans "horrible." Earlier this year, former Kansas state Rep. Sean Gatewood (D-Topeka) challenged Westboro to picket his house instead of picketing a military funeral.
The Topeka planning comes as the group Anonymous hacked Westboro's website and Twitter accounts earlier this week. Anonymous has also tweeted looking for information on Westboro's plans for the Topeka police funerals. Over 200,000 have signed a White House petition to have Westboro classified as a hate group.
Yoho said that she believes the current Westboro picket plans have galvanized Kansas' capital city.
"We've kind of been desensitized to this; they picket here daily unless they are out of town," Yoho told HuffPost. "People tend to not pay attention. It is hard to ignore when they do something as disgusting as picket a funeral. This is to show people that we are out here and don't agree with this. We will show our support of the city and the nation."
Also on HuffPost:
The Lack Of Guns In Schools
The idea that the tragedy wouldn't have been as bad if more guns had been available has emerged as a highly popular argument in pro-gun circles. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/louie-gohmert-guns_n_2311379.html">suggested on national television</a> over the weekend that if the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary had quick access to her own assault-style rifle, the situation could have been halted by her gunning down the shooter. A number of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/18/guns-for-teachers_n_2324095.html?utm_hp_ref=politics">state legislators</a> and governors have since announced plans to consider eliminating gun-free school zones in order to allow staff to come into work with their firearms. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2012/12/brady-group-arming-teachers-insane-85245.html">responded to this idea</a>, calling it an "insane" proposal that suggests "the only answer to violence is more violence. The only answer to guns is more guns.” A large <a href="http://blogs.suntimes.com/politics/2012/12/teachers_union_rips_idea_of_arming_teachers_asks_how_any_sane_person_could_suggest_that.html">Illinois teacher's union</a> and other <a href="http://www.reporternews.com/news/2012/dec/18/abilene-school-administrators-say-arming-not-the/">school administrators</a> have since scoffed at the suggestion.
The Lack Of God In Schools
Former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/14/mike-huckabee-school-shooting_n_2303792.html">became the spokesman for this argument</a> on Friday, saying that the crime was no surprise because we have "systematically removed God" from public schools. A number of religious leaders have since echoed this reasoning, claiming that the squelching of religion in school has helped create a culture where mass shootings are more frequent. In this argument, they also appear to suggest that free-flowing religious expression repels violence.
Violent Video Games
Reports that alleged shooter Adam Lanza was an avid video game player have led lawmakers from both parties to suggest games deserve some blame for mass shootings. A <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2012/12/hill-eyes-video-game-use-by-shooter-85255.html?hp=l8">number of Democratic lawmakers</a> called for new studies into the effects of violent video games on their players. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said some blame belongs to <a href="http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2012/dec/18/tennessee-georgia-lawmakers-mum-on-guns/?local">violent forms of entertainment</a>. A <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2012/12/17/1343641/video-games-newtown/">number of recent studies</a> have found no correlation between video games and gun violence.
Fisher Price Toys?
Glenn Beck seems to think there could be a connection between baby toys and mass murder. Follow the link to the left for additional confusion.
The 'Evilness' Inside People
As <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-finocchiaro/aurora-shooter-evil_b_1703278.html">in prior mass shootings</a>, <a href="http://townhall.com/columnists/patbuchanan/2012/12/18/the-dead-soul-of-adam-lanza-n1469007">commentators and politicians</a> have been quick to assign words to Lanza that suggest he was driven by some supernatural force. "What we tend to do, because we can't understand these killers, is define them as monsters," Scott Bonn, a serial killer expert and assistant professor of sociology at Drew University, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/sandy-hook-blame-game_n_2318334.html">told HuffPost's David Lohr</a>. "You almost always see the word 'evil' and 'monster' used in reference to serial killers and mass murderers. This tendency to turn them into these supernatural ghouls obscures the fact that these are really disturbed individuals. It oversimplifies what is a very complicated problem. It obscures the reality of what's going on, and we as a society never make it beyond that. That's why we go on finger-pointing."
Support For Gay Marriage & Abortion
Here's how Focus on the Family founder James Dobson <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/james-dobson-connecticut-shooting-gay-marriage_n_2318015.html">attempted to explain the massacre</a>: <blockquote>I mean millions of people have decided that God doesn't exist, or he's irrelevant to me and we have killed 54 million babies and the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete redefinition. Believe me, that is going to have consequences, too.</blockquote> Apparently growing public support for gay marriage and abortion rights helps explain mass shootings.
In a Sunday sermon, Pastor Sam Morris of Old Paths Baptist Church in Tennessee linked the shooting to a public school system that focused on "humanism" and scientific principles, which in turn may have led Lanza to believe that he was God and could "go blow away anybody he wants.” Morris also managed to throw in a reference to "how to be a homo" classes. "When I got in high school, man, I started learning all this kingdom, phylum stuff, all this junk about evolution,” Morris told his congregation, <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/12/17/tennessee-pastor-mass-shootings-because-schools-teach-evolution-and-how-to-be-a-homo/">according to Raw Story</a>. "And I want to tell you what evolution teaches -- here's the bottom line -- that you're an animal. That’s what it teaches. So, you’re an animal, you can act like an animal. Amen.” Morris continued: “So, here you are, you're an animal and you’re a god! So, what are we going to teach you about in school? Well, we can teach you about sex, we can teach you how to rebel to you parents, we can teach you how to be a homo! But we’re definitely not going to teach you about the word of God! Amen.”
It's popular to blame Hollywood for promoting themes that contribute to the supposed disintegration of society's moral fabric. Over the weekend, former Reagan speechwriter and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan argued that Hollywood was being negligent in denying its role in promoting a culture of violence that supposedly motivates mass killers. She said it would take action from Obama to get the film industry to change its mind. From Noonan's <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/peggynoonan/2012/12/17/newtown/">Wall Street Journal op-ed</a>: <blockquote>When Hollywood wants to discourage cigarette smoking it knows exactly how to do it, because it knows exactly how much power it has to deliver cultural messages. When Hollywood wants to encourage environmentalism it knows how to do it. But there’s a lot of money to be made in violence, and God knows there’s a market for it -- in fact, the more people are fed violence the bigger the market grows, so it’s an ever hungry, always growing market. This is exactly what you want if you’re in a tough business and don’t have a conscience. Republicans have no sway in Hollywood, none. They are figures of mockery, sometimes deservedly so. If they get into the act here, Hollywood will be able to ignore them, and nothing will change. But the Democrats and the president are in a different position. They could change things for the better.</blockquote>
Due to a number of <a href="http://www.mediaite.com/print/fox-news-and-the-new-york-times-abet-media-effort-to-falsely-link-autism-with-ct-shooting/">media reports</a> and <a href="http://www.mediaite.com/tv/piers-morgan-quack-says-people-with-autism-lack-empathy-somethings-missing-in-the-brain/">interviews</a>, claims that Lanza had Asperger's -- a form of autism -- has played into initial rounds of speculation about why he might have carried out the massacre. Experts <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/experts-link-aspergers-violence-17987339#.UNFIf4njnYF">say there is no link</a> between Asperger's and violence, and the original reports have since <a href="http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2012/12/adam-lanza-aspergers-autism-and-violence/60078/">prompted pushback</a> from a number of writers and bloggers who claim they were wrong to connect the two.
Libor, 'The Hunger Games,' Drugs, Brainwashing, Or...OBAMA?
Talking Points Memo <a href="http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/12/newtown-libor-hunger-games-theories.php">broke down the conspiratorial fervor</a> over supposed ties to the Libor British banking scandal. According to their report, proponents of these theories attempted to to connect the Newtown shooting with the earlier one in Aurora, Colo., crafting a complex web surrounding unfounded rumors that various family members close to both gunmen had been planning to give bombshell testimony on global banking fraud. Others said the shooting had something to do with the highly popular book series, "The Hunger Games," because author Suzanne Collins is from Newtown. And the drugs and/or brainwashing theory <a href="http://www.orlytaitzesq.com/?p=367385">comes from birther queen Orly Taitz</a> and has zero discernible factual basis, so that pretty much covers that angle. She's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/18/orly-taitz-sandy-hook-obama_n_2325671.html">also responsible for concocting a theory</a> that President Obama is "trying to show that some person can appear out of the blue and slaughter people" so he can ban guns and "gain an absolute power." So there you have it.
This fringe idea comes from <a href="http://www.teapartynation.com/profiles/blog/show?id=3355873%3ABlogPost%3A2364503&xgs=1&xg_source=msg_share_post">Timothy Birdnow at Tea Party Nation</a>, an ultra-conservative offshoot of the Tea Party movement. According to Birdnow, teacher's unions have helped ensure the gradual degradation of the moral values espoused in schools will continue to do so as long as they exist. Birdnow suggests allowing volunteers such as George Zimmerman, the man accused of killing Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, to serve as security personnel. If Zimmerman had "been at the front door instead of some mechanical card reader those children would still be alive," Birdnow writes. Thanks to the teacher's unions, he argues, that will never happen.
In a <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/best_of_the_web_today.html">Wall Street Journal column</a>, James Taranto argued that wall-to-wall coverage of the perpetrators of mass shootings encourages them to act. He admitted that there was no simple way to avoid such tendencies, but urged restraint: <blockquote>Our point here is that the medium is the motive: If these killers seek recognition, it is available to them because the mass media can be counted on to give extensive attention to their horrific deeds. They are, after all, newsworthy, and they do raise important questions of public concern, not only about the availability of weapons and the vulnerability of "gun-free zones" but also about the treatment of mental illness. We journalists often proclaim high-mindedly that the public has a right to know--and we're right. But as in the Garden of Eden, knowledge is dangerous. An industry devoted to serving the public's right to know gives twisted and evil men the means of becoming known.</blockquote>