It was the beginning of summer. The usually dark gray skies of Seattle had been replaced with a beautiful blue sky and the sparkling, warm yellow of the morning sun. I had just pulled my car in to a convenience store when I noticed a grizzled, old man get off his motorcycle and walk in the store. He had a long, scraggly beard and a somewhat familiar, yellow armband on his worn, leather jacket. He looked like the epitome of a Hell's Angel. He was an angel, alright. Just not from hell.
His yellow armband kept tugging at the edges of my memory, when a question entered my mind. I waited for him to come out of the store. As he walked out, I approached him with the question, "Excuse me, but are you one of the men who ride to protect military families from the Westboro Baptist Church?"
He replied, "Yes, I am. We're called the Patriot Guard Riders."
"I'd like to shake your hand and thank you for helping them," I said and extended my hand. I watched the expression on his face turn from wariness to the full warmth of a smile.
"As a matter of fact, we're riding today," he stated as he grasped my hand. "To a young man's funeral in Enumclaw. Westboro is supposed to be there, so we will too."
We stood there a few more minutes talking, then he got on his motorcycle and rode off. I was left feeling that it had been an honor to meet this man, however briefly.
If you are unfamiliar with the Westboro Baptist Church, allow me to explain. They are a very small "church" in Kansas. Their congregation consists primarily of their own family members and they are led by a... I hate to call him a man... by the name of Fred Phelps. They are a particularly hateful organization that travel around the country protesting at the funerals of our military men and women. Their signs spew horrific phrases like, "Thank God for Dead Soldiers, God Hates America, God Hates Fags" and other detestable sayings. They will yell this garbage within the hearing range of the families burying their sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends. They have had lawsuits filed against them and by them, all in the name of free speech.
As much as it may make my blood boil, I believe in the right of free speech, no matter how vile it is (however, that free speech stops when calling for the harm of others). But! And this is a damned, big but! In my opinion, our military families also have the right to mourn their lost loved ones in peace and privacy. Period.
But until the WBC is stopped by the courts, the honorable men of the Patriot Guard Riders will continue to ride. They will continue to form a human wall to block the WBC from having to be seen by our military familes. The Patriot Guard will continue to rev their motorcycles to keep our soldiers' families from having to hear the revolting howls of the WBC.
So once again, to my friend that rode to Enumclaw and all of his companions that ride for the same noble reason: Thank you. You are truly honorable men.
For those of you who would like to stand with and/or support the Patriot Guard, you can do so here, or here.