Sad, pathetic trio brings a bundle of hate to sorrowful time
An overwhelming sense of loss, grief, pain, agony, confusion, faith, empathy, sympathy and love for a beautiful life ended too soon flows inside St. Charles' Baker Memorial United Methodist Church for Monday's funeral of 19-year-old Northern Illinois University shooting victim Ryanne E. Mace of Carpentersville.
Hate sets up shop across the street.
It slithers into downtown St. Charles not painted on the side of some grandiose "Hate Talk Express" tour bus, but tucked inside a black canvas bag in the trunk of a rented gray Mercury Grand Marquis.
The repugnant Kansas "church" (I don't want to publicize the name) that has become infamous for protesting military funerals as evidence that God "hates" homosexuals and our decadent America has arrived. Standing in the official protest section behind six serendipitously parked snow plows and a parcel of riot police, three members unzip the bag and let loose the bile.
"God sent the shooter," reads an artsy sign with stylized, graphic blood stains, held by Taylor Drain, the 16-year-old daughter of one of the group's followers. Since she didn't have school Monday, she flew to Chicago to spew venom at two funerals.
A cross-country runner at a public school in Topeka, Taylor says kids sometimes yell and cuss at her. Of course, she hears plenty of that from stunned and angry people at funerals.
"I know they don't want us here, but it's our duty," Taylor says, her teenage smile beaming through the below-zero wind chill.
Why does your poster include drawings of wrapped Christmas presents?
"The shooting at the mall -- I think that's what that was made for," Taylor says sweetly, noting she is recycling the hate message used to protest funerals of victims of that mall shooting in Omaha in December.
Wearing stocking caps, sweat pants and winter coats, Taylor and the two women stand in the bitter cold for an hour, holding hate-filled signs. Drivers in passing cars occasionally roll down windows to hurl insults and profanities their way.
"When this is what you do as your hobby, as your leisure time, this is what you spend your money on," says Paulette Phelps, 47, whose father-in-law, Fred Phelps, is the "pastor" for their sad, little flock, many of whom are related. "This is our vacation. This is our fun time."
Sure enough, they snap photographs as if they were on a family cruise, a golf outing or a trip to Disney World.
"Rebekah thinks this is a trip for her birthday," says Phelps, who stands on a U.S. flag tossed on the icy sidewalk as she struggles to keep her hate signs vertical in the strong wind.
Rebekah Phelps-Davis, daughter of the group's leader, turns 47 today.
"There is no better place to be," Phelps-Davis says, as she rambles on about how God snuffs out lives as a way to make the same points that are spewing from their signs.
While I certainly don't want to spread their abhorrent message, you need to know how warped it is. These three believe God kills people -- especially young people -- in part because the victims are wicked. Asked for proof, a grinning, light-hearted Phelps-Davis notes that one female NIU victim had short hair, which apparently is enough for God to send forth an assassin.
It seems remarkable to me that people this demented have the wherewithal to run a Web site or make travel plans. Identifying herself as a lawyer with the family's law firm in Kansas, Phelps-Davis says she makes about $50,000 a year and spends her free money on these trips to funerals.
"The Lord makes sure we have the finances to do this," she adds.
Phelps says she also makes money working at the law firm.
If God wants you to preach hate to people mourning the deaths of loved ones, will you welcome protesters to the funeral of one of your four children or some other loved one killed?
"We would hope other people would come to protest that funeral," says Phelps, who says she'd greet a tragedy as a sign from God. "I'm going to wonder what I did to make the Lord angry."
Some might not wonder.