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WBC Presence Reminded That April Is A Month Of Protest And Grieving In Blacksburg

By Jared Rowan
April 27, 2010

About 150 students and local residents gathered at the Graduate Life Center Plaza at Virginia Tech, and then at the corner of Main and Roanoke streets in downtown Blacksburg earlier this month as a counter-protest to a controversial appearance by the notorious Westboro Baptist Church.

The Westboro Baptist Church has received nationwide attention due to its protesting of slain military members’ funerals as well as its anti-gay and anti-Semitic protests.

The church members came to Blacksburg to throw their strange light on the connection between Virginia Tech and the death of Morgan Harrington, a Virginia Tech student who was abducted and killed last October. Church members said they also came to protest the university's gay and Jewish population. They protested at the Hillel Jewish Center, at the corner of Main and Roanoke streets, and at the Blacksburg Middle School.

The group seems to suggest that Blacksburg and other American communities are paying a price due to their tolerance and embracing of population diversity.

When asked why they came out, Blacksburg High School students said they wouldn’t be anywhere else. “It’s worth it. All of our teachers are pretty supportive of the actual cause…anti-WBC, I guess,” said Michael James-Deramo, a Blacksburg High School student. His friends, Sam Loeschen and Edmund Hughes, quickly agreed.

“They seem to not want to change people’s minds as much as be provocative as possible,” said Edmund Hughes when asked why they thought the WBC was protesting their school.

Virginia Tech students seemed to agree. Ben Byard, a junior chemistry major at Virginia Tech, offered up his thoughts as to why he supported the rally against the WBC. “The people are insane, and they are speaking out against something that doesn’t need it," said Byard. “They are hurting this university, at its core, and it’s wrong.”

The Virginia Tech students used the graduate center as a staging ground to counter-protest the WBC at North and Main street. Organized, instructed and led by Mathis Kennington, a doctoral student at Virginia Tech, the stucents moved to the corners of Main and Roanoke streets, where they joined a large group seeking to counter the efforts of the six members of the WBC gathered on one corner.

Virginia Tech students and Blacksburg residents occupied the other three corners.

Counter-protesters carried signs to show how ridiculous they thought the WBC’s protest was. There were both comical signs, such as “I am Angry, About Something, I Guess” and “O’Doyle Rules!”, as well as serious signs, including ones quoting Bible passages about love and acceptance as well as signs celebrating the life of Morgan Harrington.

After about 30 minutes of being drowned out by student chants — the counter-protesters offered cheers such as “repent against collective gathering!” and “God loves handicapped parking,” and honking horns — the WBC protesters departed, serenaded by a student chorus of “Hey Hey Hey, Good bye” and “Morgan.”

The Westboro group then proceeded to Blacksburg Middle School, to protest the high school students attending afternoon school (following the collapse of the Blacksburg High gym in February that necessitate closing the high school and sending those students to a late shift at the middle school).

In attendance at the counter-protest was Dr. Dan Harrington, father of the late Morgan Harrington, whose death the WBC wanted to ensnare in their protest.

Dan Harrington was enthusiastic about the response to WBC’s protests. “Incredible response from the Hokie community, just amazing,” the grieving father said. “It was more than I thought it would be and [the WBC’s] was less than I thought it would be, which is surprising.”

Harrington and family friends Kenny Jarols and Julie Waldrup joined the counter-protest, holding up signs that said “God Loves Morgan Harrington.”