Man attempts drive-by pepper-spraying of Westboro Baptists at funeral
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church have angered many over their practice of picketing soldiers’ funerals with signs that read “God hates fags.”
But few of the church members who protested at the funeral of Marine Staff Sgt. Michael Bock in Omaha, Nebraska, on Saturday could have expected a passing driver to attempt pepper-spraying them.
CNN reports it happened on Saturday morning at around 10 a.m., outside the First United Methodist Church.
A man in a Ford-150 pickup truck drove by, extended his arm and sprayed with a large can, police said. His vehicle was stopped a few minutes later.
George Vogel, 62, who lives just north of Omaha, was booked for 16 counts of misdemeanor assault and one count of felony assault on a police officer for the pepper-spray exposure, police said. Vogel also faces one count of child neglect because his child was in the truck, Pecha told CNN.
A Westboro Baptist Church member told CNN that no one from their group was hit. But a report from UPI states that 16 protesters were hit.
UPI also reported that about 600 members of the Patriot Guard Riders, in attendance for the funeral, “protectively ringed” the Methodist church to keep Westboro Baptists away.
Staff Sgt. Bock was killed August 13 in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was 26 years old.
The Westboro Baptist theology teaches that God is punishing the US for permitting homosexuality in many ways, including the deaths of US soldiers in foreign wars.
The Topeka, Kansas-based group has been angering the relatives of fallen soldiers for years, so much so that in 2005 the state of Missouri outlawed picketing near funerals.
Just last week, a federal judge overturned the law, saying that it “could have the effect of criminalizing speech the mourners want to hear, including speech from counter-protesters to [the Westboro Church’s] message.”
Missouri officials have indicated they plan to challenge the judge’s ruling. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on a similar challenge involving the Westboro Baptists this fall, CNN reports.