Who are these people and how did their numbers grow so quickly? In the past five years, this group has grown from zero to 230,000 members. They treat fallen heroes of this country with respect. They endeavor to shield the families of the fallen from those who want to use the fallen for political and religious purposes. They are male and female, loud and quiet, short and tall, stout and scrawny. They are witty and wise, and smart and simple. They know the words to the “Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful”. They display the flag properly. The Patriot Guard provides an honor guard of Motorcycle riders at funerals for fallen service members and first responders. When protesters appear to picket and shout, the Patriot Guard shields the families from the signs and the shouts by lowering their flags between the two groups or singing patriotic songs or revving their bikes to drown out the protester’s chants.
The initial impetus for the Patriot Guard’s existence came from the members of a half-baked organization called the Westboro Baptist Church. The members of the WBC apparently have only one belief, and that belief is that homosexual activity is sinful. Since the majority of Americans disagree with that philosophy, the WBC has a problem. They gain attention for their beliefs by picketing military and firefighter and police funerals. Their expressed theory is that America is wrong to support gay rights, and these soldiers, cops and firefighters have died because of God’s anger with America. How this tiny group of simple folk got a direct line to the opinions of God remains a puzzle to me. If there is a difference between this highly limited group and right wing fundamentalist Muslims, I fail to discern that difference.
Westboro was sued by the family of a serviceman who was killed in Iraq. The protesters disrupted the soldier’s funeral, and refused to allow the soldier’s family to have the dignity of a solemn funeral. The lawsuit reached the United States Supreme Court. The Court upheld the right of freedom of speech for the protesters of the Westboro Baptist Church. I agree with the court’s interpretation. Voltaire said “I do not agree with a word you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” That soldier had carried out Voltaire’s very thought. The very best response to the issue of freedom of speech comes from former Vice-President Hubert Humphrey who explained that “The right to free speech does not include the right to be taken seriously”.
My wife and I are parents of a fallen firefighter. Each year we get together with other surviving family members. The past two or three years, the Patriot Guard has provided an honor guard to defend our right to honor our firefighters in peace. I am grateful for their presence for assorted reasons. They are everyday folks who are willing to help others keep their dignity and pride of family. They provide their presence for no charge to do something for others.
You ought to meet my friend Johnny (He and his wife lost two firefighters, a son and a daughter). Johnny is not a large man, but he has a presence that says “I really am not to be messed with”. On the occasions that we’ve met he has worn a hat with USMC, or Semper Fi, or some indication that he was at one point, and forever after, a Marine. When we talked about the Patriot Guard, his response was: “Why do we need these people to protect us? I would kind of like to have those idiots show up here without the Patriot Guard to protect them.” I laughed, and I understood completely. That’s another reason for my appreciation of the Patriot guard. I thank the members of the Patriot Guard, not so much for the protection, but for their goodhearted actions and intentions. You folks help keep people like Johnny and me out of hot water. Thank you! Blessings on your house!