Westboro Baptist Church Protests at Fort Zumwalt East
The Kansas-based church held signs and sang songs for nearly 45 minutes during a peaceful protest at the St. Peters high school.
This time the Westboro Baptist Church decided to show up.
Armed with signs, flags and portable stereo blaring parody cover songs, five members of the controversial church descending on Fort Zumwalt East on Wednesday afternoon. Flanked by a heavy police presence, the church members stood outside the high school from 1:53 p.m. until 2:36 p.m. and protested.
"It’s a school that’s a microcosm of America,” Westboro church member Cary Fritz said. “These students here actually wrote to us and told us that this school was totally overrun with fag-agenda type stuff. So we’re out here in response to that—students requested us out here.”
Westboro had announced on its website that church members would be coming to picket Fort Zumwalt East on Feb. 6. A large counter protest waited in the early morning hours outside of the school, but Westboro no-showed the event. Instead the church went to Clayton High School to picket.
Fritz said Westboro decided to come back to St. Peters because it was in the area. Earlier Wednesday, the church protested the funeral of Army Spc. Jeffrey in his hometown of Pacific, MO. White was killed in Afghanistan and had a funeral service on Wednesday in nearby Villa Ridge.
"We’re actually one our way back from a soldier funeral right now, so we decided to hit it up,” he said.
Just like in February, a counter protest protest formed to drown out the Westboro message. On the opposite side of 1st Executive Avenue from the Westboro members, a larger group formed throughout the church's protest. St. Charles PFLAG President Jill Aul was the first to arrive to counter the protest.
"I just wanted to show these kids in the school and have them see that they have more supporters than haters," Aul said.
While Aul was first, the crowd grew throughout the event. Despite easily outnumbering the Westboro protest, the counter protest wasn't nearly as large as the one in February. A big reason for that was that students were still in school until 2:25 p.m.
East principal Dr. Henry St. Pierre said the school didn't quite luck out by having the protestors show up during class.
"I don’t that there’s a fortunate time for a group like this to picket out in front of a public school, but we’ll deal with it,” he said.
St. Pierre said he was told on Monday that Westboro was likely coming to the school. He said parents and students were notified that nothing would change and school would let out at the normal time.
"Our advice to the parents and the students is to encourage them to go about their normal routine,” he said. “Get on the bus, get in a car, go home and ignore these picketers.”
Once school let out, the normal chaos of students trying to get home was amplified by the protests. Cars honked horns to drown out the Westboro music and the counter protest grew larger and cheered louder.
Plenty of St. Peters Police were on hand to provide crowd control, although none was needed. After having what amounted to a dry run in February, the police were prepared and had a concrete plan.
"We just have enough people up here to control the situation, if there is a situation,” St. Peters Police Maj. Jeff Finkelstein said. “... We’re ready for it this time. We were kind of surprised by how many kids showed up the last time, so we’ve got this well in hand.”
The Westboro members were placed on one side of 1st Executive Avenue while the conter protesters were limited to the other side. Police also helped control the flow of traffic once school ended.
At 2:36 p.m., the Westboro five grabbed the stereo, cut off the music and headed back to their van. They left to loud cheers, and some middle fingers, from the counterprotest. Once Westboro was gone, the counterprotest headed to their cars to head home.