We will never know how close our community came to calamity last week.
Thank God, we'll never know.
Grieving at the death of 2002 Lakeside High School graduate Ryan Clark in the Virginia Tech shootings, Columbia County residents were preparing to hold a memorial for Clark when more bad news came:
The hateful cult from Kansas, Westboro Baptist Church, was coming to town. (See McDuffie Mirror publisher Jason Smith's guest column today, and at www.mcduffiemirror.com.)
It is an assault on the sensibilities - not to mention the faith - of all Baptists that the Westboro mini-mob calls themselves Baptist. They are a small, noisy cult consisting mostly of family members of Fred Phelps, who rose to infamy protesting homosexuals and has since led his followers in protests of military funerals.
This nasty bunch, circus moths to media flame, hit a new low when they sent notice to Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle that they were planning to picket at Ryan Clark's memorial.
It's no secret that the group doesn't notify the local sheriff as a courtesy; they do so to guarantee taxpayer-funded police protection for their outrageous, but constitutionally protected, protests.
Within hours of their announcement, members of the Patriot Guard - a nationwide group of motorcyclists who shield military funerals from the WBC cult's protests - began mobilizing to likewise help here. And a coalition of college students from the Southeast began organizing for a similar purpose.
More worrisome was the possibility of a larger, unorganized response: locals who stood to channel their outrage destructively - which no doubt would have delighted the publicity-seeking WBC to no end.
Fortunately, nationally syndicated talk show host Mike Gallagher stepped forward. Last October, he persuaded WBC not to picket the funerals of the murdered Pennsylvania Amish children in return for an hour of air time on his show; in return for three hours, they agreed not to picket any of the Virginia Tech memorials.
With the Lakeside protests called off, the counter-protesters became an honor guard. The community could instead focus on comforting Ryan Clark's family and cherishing his memory. What could have been an ugly confrontation instead was a beautiful time of healing.
As a result, we'll never know what almost happened here.
Praise God, we'll never know.
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