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Don't Mess with Texas

Claim:   Twenty members of the Westboro Baptist Church were arrested attempting to protest a memorial service at Baylor University.

PROBABLY FALSE

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, April 2013]

So Westboro showed up here in Texas at the memorial service in West for the first responders who lost their lives in the explosion. The chief of police promptly had all 20 or so of them arrested and put into holding cells (all the men in one and all the women in another) When they told him he couldn't do that, he let them know he could. Since he hadn't officially charged them, he could hold them for 24 hours before he had to charge them or let them go! (plenty of time to hold the memorial service). I guess Westboro didn't think it through too well ... This is Texas. As quickly as we fry people down here, did they really think they would be allowed to show that kind of disrespect? Their photos were also released to the other small towns surrounding West, where services would be denied to them. Sometimes you just have to admire the way we do things down here in Texas!
 

Origins:   The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), of Topeka, Kansas, headed by pastor Fred Phelps, is widely known for its anti-homosexual stance, and members of its congregation have drawn much publicity by staging anti-gay protests and picketing at the funerals of military members and celebrities. (At such funerals, WBC
members typically portray the deceased's passing as God's punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality.)

In the wake of the 17 April 2013 explosion of a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, which killed fourteen people, the Westboro Baptist Church announced via Twitter its intentions to protest "any West, Texas funerals," including a 25 April 2013 memorial service at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, to honor twelve first responders who were killed trying to save others after the blast. The day before the service, McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara publicly stated that he would not tolerate any disruption of the service by groups such as the WBC:
The McLennan County Sheriff has a stern message for groups looking to protest the funerals of victims of the West explosion. He says it will not happen without consequence.

The Westboro Baptist Church from Kansas is one group that announced on their Twitter a day after the explosion that they will protest any West funerals. They say their intentions are "not out of hate or spite, but will warn you out of love. Before all are destroyed!"

McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara says they can try, but it will not be tolerated.

"Any attempt by any group or organization to disrupt the funerals of any of our victims in this tragedy will be dealt with swiftly and prosecuted to the full extent of the law," McNamara said.

McNamara says he has the backing of district attorney Abel Reyna on the matter.
Shortly afterwards, the item reproduced above began circulating via social media, claiming that 20 protesters from WBC showed up at the Baylor memorial service but on orders of the chief of police were promptly arrested and thrown into holding cells until after the end of the event. However, although the Baylor service was attended by numerous dignitaries (including President Barack Obama and Governor Rick Perry of Texas) and was heavily covered by the media, we found no reports mentioning that WBC picketers had either made their way to the memorial service or had been arrested in an effort to do so. And counter-protest groups who were on hand to discourage Westboro Baptist Church members from picketing another memorial service for a victim of the West explosion the day before the Baylor service reported that the WBC were no-shows at that event:
Members of Maroon Wall for West and Red Wall against Westboro gathered to discourage Westboro Baptist Church from protesting at the memorial service for Captain Kenny Harris, a first responder to the West explosion.

The groups planned to meet after Westboro threatened to picket the funerals for those killed in the explosion, saying in a press release that the explosion was sent by God. The walls sought to protect the grieving families and friends from the picket.

Around 220 people participated in the walls — one at the memorial and one at the gravesite.

"It was really nice to show the family that the community is behind them," said Sharon Colon, an organizer for Red Wall against Westboro. "We were able to accomplish our mission, which was to stand as a wall for the family."

Despite the press release issued a few days prior to the memorial, Westboro Baptist Church did not show up.

"Westboro was not sighted," said Ryan Slezia, organizer for Maroon Wall for West. "There was really no place for them to set up."
Last updated:   28 April 2013

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Sources:

    Blanco, Julie.   "Maroon Wall Stands for No Show Westboro."
    The Battalion Online.   25 April 2013.

    Elizondo, John.   "McLennan County Sheriff Gives Stern Warning to Westboro Baptist."
    KXXV-TV [Waco].   24 April 2013.

    Holland, Steve.   "Obama Honors Firefighters Killed in Texas Fertilizer Plant Blast."
    Reuters.   26 April 2013.