'God Blew Up the Troops'
Kansas Church Group Says Homosexuality to Blame for Deaths
By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 7, 2006; B04
Micaiah Phelps-Davis stood across Georgia Avenue NW from the main gate
of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, one of a dozen protesters.
Squinting in yesterday's late-afternoon sun, he gazed at the hospital
and said of the wounded U.S. soldiers inside: "I hope they go to hell.
Yup, God's going to kill them all."
Micaiah is 14.
"I'm with my mom," he said, gesturing at a cluster of pickets. "Right
there," he said, pointing to a woman holding two signs, one of them
reading "GOD BLEW UP THE TROOPS." Micaiah said, "That's my mom."
An eighth-grader, Micaiah was the youngest of the demonstrators who
came to Washington yesterday from a small, independent Kansas church,
Westboro Baptist, whose believers have stirred anger across the nation
in recent months, picketing at funerals for troops killed in Iraq and
They show up on TV newscasts from time to time with placards bearing
virulent anti-gay slogans. They think God is punishing the United
States, killing and maiming soldiers, because the country tolerates
homosexuality. As a result of the picketing, several state
legislatures have passed bills restricting protests at funerals or
tightening existing limits, and lawmakers in more than a dozen other
states are considering such measures.
The Westboro protesters, led by their 76-year-old pastor, Fred Phelps,
came to picket on Capitol Hill against a proposed federal law limiting
funeral protests. Then they marched to Walter Reed.
"I'm very proud of him," Rebekah Phelps-Davis, 45, said of her son
Micaiah. She is Fred Phelps's daughter. "What he has done, early in
life, is chosen to follow the word of God. . . . He has listened all
the years of his life to the word of God, and he has learned." She
said he has learned, among other things, this: "Every soldier in that
building has been maimed by the Lord -- a direct judgment upon this
nation for its perversions and its rejection of His word."
Across the street, in front of the hospital gate, stood 20 or so
counterprotesters, members of the Washington chapter of a group that
goes by the name of its Web site, FreeRepublic.com. They are dedicated
to conservative political principles. Their placards read "GOD BLESS
OUR SOLDIERS" and "THANK YOU WALTER REED FOR HELPING OUR HEROES HEAL."
They heard the Westboro protesters shouting "God hates America" and
answered with a chant of: "U-S-A! . . . U-S-A!"
"All the stuff they're talking about, homosexuality and everything,
it's really not an issue with me," said Jim Melville, 64, a Free
Republic member. "It's that they're carrying their message against
these guys in that hospital. They can believe whatever they want. It's
a free country. I just don't like it happening here, in front of these
Another member, Buford Demming, 48, said: "You cannot get any lower
than this. Lowest of the low. Even some of the liberal groups, the
antiwar crowd, I don't think it would even occur to them to protest at
a funeral or someplace like this."
Phelps and his followers have shown up with their placards at
soldiers' funerals in Maryland, Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa,
Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky and elsewhere. Yesterday, he said: "They
are not heroes. They chose to fight for a sodomite nation. . . . God
almighty has killed these soldiers to inflict pain upon an evil
nation, a severe stroke of divine judgment, retribution and
Phelps, 6-foot-3 and frail, wore dark sunglasses and a University of
Kansas Jayhawks windbreaker. "I am delivering a message from God
almighty to this evil nation, and at your peril do you ignore it," he
Three counterprotesters sat nearby on Harley-Davidson motorcycles,
revving their engines to deafening effect, drowning out the chants of
Phelps's flock. The pastor quoted from Bible verses, then stood for a
while, holding a placard. It read "THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS."
On his Harley, Ben Stagg, 47, turned off the engine and looked at one
of Phelps's followers, a young woman whose placard read "AMERICA IS
"The Bible says Jesus loves me," Staggs told her, shaking his head.
"The sad thing is, it says he loves you, too."
(c) 2006 The Washington Post Company