Counterprotesters Confront Westboro Baptist - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Counterprotesters Confront Westboro Baptist

Washington (CNN) -- Protesting members of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church were met with an unlikely group of counterprotesters Monday at Arlington Cemetery.

Hours before President Barack Obama led the nation's Memorial Day observances at the Tomb of the Unknowns, three members of the Westboro Baptist Church were challenged by others who disagreed with them -- including members claiming to be from the Ku Klux Klan.

The Kansas-based church has attracted nationwide attention for its angry, anti-gay protests at the funerals of U.S. military members.

Among those counter-protesting at the cemetery's main entrance: About 10 members of a group that claims to be a branch of the Ku Klux Klan from Virginia called the Knights of the Southern Cross. They were cordoned off separately in a nearby area, but drew little attention as they gave out small American flags behind a banner that read "POW-MIA."

They said they were there to object to the Westboro Baptist Church's anti-troop message.

Anti-gay preacher once fought for civil rights

"It's the soldier that fought and died and gave them that right to free speech," said Dennis LaBonte, the self-described "Imperial Wizard" of the KKK group that he said he formed several years ago.

"That's fine," said Abigail Phelps, the daughter of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps. "They have no moral authority on anything.

"People like them say it's white power ... white supremacy," Phelps said. "The Bible doesn't say anywhere that it's an abomination to be born of a certain gender or race."

LaBonte insisted he is not a racist nor a "hate-monger," but said he believes the white race is "slowly and most assuredly being denigrated."

Members of the group declined to say whether they were armed.

A larger group of about 70 protesters -- separate from the KKK -- located across the street waved pro-USA signs and took turns shouting down the Westboro Baptist Church group.

Some of the counterprotesters, including Malaika Elias, stood in front of the Westboro participants in an attempt to block them from street view.

"I think they're twisted and confused, and we're just here to show them there are people who think they're completely wrong," Elias said.

Full Westboro coverage

Many passersby shouted their thanks to the counterprotesters as they entered the cemetery on foot and in vehicles.

Several police officers, some on horseback, observed the proceedings.

Phelps said her trio was there to tell people they should not "idolize" the dead, especially those who died for an "unrighteous cause."

The church is known for its extremist opposition to homosexuals, Jews and other groups and regularly holds protests at funerals for fallen U.S. service members, saying the war's dead are God's punishment for the country tolerating gays and lesbians.

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