Protesters to talk on radio

Westboro Baptist forgoes funeral picket to accept WGAC offer

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AIKEN --- Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church will accept an hour of radio talk rather than attend Thursday's funeral for Staff Sgt. Willie J. Harley Jr., of Aiken.

In lieu of protesting near Staff Sgt. Willie Harley Jr.'s funeral Thursday, a member of Westboro Baptist Chuch, in Topeka, Kan., will speak with Austin Rhodes today on WGAC. Church members say God is punishing the U.S. for homosexuality and abortions by allowing service members to die.  File
File
In lieu of protesting near Staff Sgt. Willie Harley Jr.'s funeral Thursday, a member of Westboro Baptist Chuch, in Topeka, Kan., will speak with Austin Rhodes today on WGAC. Church members say God is punishing the U.S. for homosexuality and abortions by allowing service members to die.

Radio host Austin Rhodes, of WGAC-AM (580) offered the Topeka church an hour of unedited broadcast time during his show today if it would agree not to attend Harley's services. The church had announced its plans to picket the funeral in a news release Monday.

The church has become known for its protests of military funerals, expressing its view that U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are God's punishment for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit against the church that explored the limits of the First Amendment and whether families' emotional pain trumps the protesters' free-speech rights.

Harley, 48, was killed Oct. 1 in Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device.

The church said it would continue with plans to demonstrate at the funeral of Harley's fellow guardsman, Spc. Luther Rabon, 32, of Lexington County. S.C., who also was killed in the attack.

The two men were the first from the National Guard's 1221st Engineering Clearance Company, based in Graniteville and Batesburg, to be killed.

Westboro member Shirley Phelps-Roper said by e-mail Tuesday that when someone makes the offer of on-air time, the church will take it.

"We do this from time to time, and probably over the years, I can think of at least a dozen times we have done this," she wrote in her e-mail. "We are not interested in getting in people's grills for the sake of getting in their grills. We are interested in saying the words that are necessary at this hour with plain speech and boldness. This nation is facing her imminent destruction from the hand of the God that she flips off on a daily basis with her rebellious disobedience and filthy manner of life and that matter of teaching their children that God is a big fat liar."

Rhodes said by phone Tuesday that he is "190 percent opposed to what they do" and it would be one of the most difficult subjects he has ever discussed on the air. Rhodes also said Phelps-Roper would be interviewed by phone because the group wanted to save the cost of a trip to South Carolina.

The interview will air from 5-6 p.m. today.

The group's attempts to interfere with services disturbs Harley's fellow guardsmen and friends.

Darnell Pixley, who spent 24 years in the same battalion as Harley, served a tour in Iraq with both Harley and Marine Cpl. Matt Dillon, who was killed by an IED in December 2007.

Pixley said that he hasn't paid the church much attention in the past because he never understood its purpose and that it only degraded a moment that was meant to be sacred.

"I always said to myself: 'People back home are going to support us. Even if they don't support the war, they support the men and women in the military,' " he said. "Something like this just mocks that individual. They never would have signed up for the military if they weren't willing to die doing something they loved."

Westboro Baptist members attempted to protest Dillon's funeral in 2007 but were thwarted by police, according to information relayed by Dillon's family.

Dillon's parents, Neal and Lucy, told The Augusta Chronicle this year that they didn't learn of the group's attempt to crash the funeral until after their son was buried.

The Dillons said they were told that a member of the Patriot Guard, motorcycle riders who provide security for families, noticed three vans with Kansas license plates headed toward the area. The biker called officials in Aiken, suggesting a time they might be able to intercept the group. As the vans crossed the Savannah River into South Carolina, they were pulled over by law enforcement at the rest stop for a "safety check," which took three hours to complete.

Patriot Guard riders said that they would be present at both Harley's and Rabon's funerals at the request of family members.

Reach Julia Sellers at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or julia.sellers@augustachronicle.com.

Harley services

VISITATION

When: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. today

Where: Simmons Funeral Home, 13188 Main St., Williston, S.C.

When: 5-8 p.m. today

Where: Cumberland AME Church, 111 Kershaw St., Aiken

FUNERAL

When: 1 p.m. Thursday

Where: Cedar Creek Church, Banks Mill Road, Aiken

Call Simmons Funeral Home at (803) 266-7808 for information.

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1CowboyFan
0
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1CowboyFan 10/13/10 - 02:59 am
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Thanks Austin Rhodes and

Thanks Austin Rhodes and WGAC-AM.

Just My Opinion
6301
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Just My Opinion 10/13/10 - 03:39 am
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Hmmm, am I wrong, or does it

Hmmm, am I wrong, or does it sound more and more like these people really had no intention of coming here at all? And it's also sounding more and more like they still got what they wanted, public exposure, and all they have to do to get it is to pick up a phone and call the radio station. These people are sick in the head and the soul, but they are very smart and know how to manipulate the media to doing what they want.

Jon Lester
2480
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Jon Lester 10/13/10 - 04:14 am
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For all the differences I
Unpublished

For all the differences I have with Austin, I truly appreciate his effort here, and I think it's the best thing that he and the station have done in a very long time.

Americaone
0
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Americaone 10/13/10 - 04:22 am
0
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Sometimes, you have to choose

Sometimes, you have to choose the lesser of two evils. Thank you Austin for doing this. I can stomach one hour of insanity to insure the integrity,peace and honor deserved by our hometown fallen hero as his family and friends pay their last respects.

RoadkiII
6807
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RoadkiII 10/13/10 - 05:06 am
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Kudos to Mr. Rhodes.

Kudos to Mr. Rhodes.

freeradical
1176
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freeradical 10/13/10 - 05:09 am
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Attacking a corpse is about

Attacking a corpse is about as low and cowardly as you can get.

Right down there with child molesting.

What are they going to do for an encore, trip a blind man?

If these cowards are really serious I can give them the address of

several local food & beverage establishments where I garrantee they

will find several living breathing people who wear the uniform this friday

night.

I can also garrantee that these military members will not be laying

silent flat on their backs in a coffin.

Not hardly.

Don't just nibble around the edges Westboro punks.

We have plenty of live soldiers in this locale if you feel you can temporaily

grow a spine.

geminibuddha
0
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geminibuddha 10/13/10 - 05:30 am
0
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I do not believe that Austin

I do not believe that Austin is doing this for the good of this fallen patriot's family. This Kansas "church" would have been stopped from attending the funeral just as they were last time. Instead, they get to spread their odd and hateful message which will be broadcast for ALL to hear. However, many "religious" people in this area love to hear this type of speech; so, I guess Austin will get his ratings. Either way, I hope this family has a peaceful service.

trucksareforgirlz
0
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trucksareforgirlz 10/13/10 - 06:04 am
0
0
So these loons had intended

So these loons had intended to head back to South Carolina. Thank you Austin, for providing them with an alternative way to express their free speech that will not interfere or impede the free speech of Staff Sgt. Harley's family and friends. I am all for free speech whether I agree with the topics/discussions or not, but one person's right to free speech should NEVER interfere with another's right to free speech. For example, Staff Sgt. Harley's family and friends have the constitutional right to free speech in mouring their beloved family member/friend. These self-centered, narcisistic loons from this twisted Kansas church also have the right to express their views (free speech), however twisted, on the funeral. HOWEVER, these loons do NOT have the right to interfere with the Staff Sgt. Harley's family and friends constitutional right of expression/free speech. These narcisistic self-centered, attention-craving idiots can express their free speech at the same time ELSEWHERE and NOT INTERFERE with Staff Sgt. Harley's family and friends while they express their constitutional free speech. Again, thank you Austin, for providing these self-serving, self-centered twisted idiots with a way to express their free speech without stomoing all over the free speech of Staff Sgt. Harley's family and friends. It's because of our brave military personnel like Staff Sgt. Harley, who gave his all for his country and countrymen, that we still have free speech in this country today. Our nation's constitution and our freedom would crumble and completely disappear if loons like the Kansas church bunch ever took over our military, public offices, schools, etc. May God bless Staff Sgt. Harley and his family/friends, and may God bless our country and our freedom.

johnston.cliff
2
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johnston.cliff 10/13/10 - 06:20 am
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Personally, I like the Austin

Personally, I like the Austin Rhodes radio show. I find his somewhat unsophisticated style very representative of the greater CSRA. His ongoing effort to be accurate and honest makes up for his Augusta attitude style of speech. Besides, I like country (as opposed to plastic).
Any effort to discourage this horrible group from disrupting another funeral is good with me. I hope Austin uses his aggressive persona the whole time the Westboro wackos are on his show.

agustinian
723
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agustinian 10/13/10 - 06:55 am
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Hey, Westboro, I talked to

Hey, Westboro, I talked to God today, She told me you people don't know Jack! She also has a place somewhere below the 7th level of hell waiting for you!

fatboyhog
2104
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fatboyhog 10/13/10 - 07:10 am
0
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Kudos to WGAC. But, if you

Kudos to WGAC. But, if you think Austin's intentions were 100% honorable, I'd say think again. Why would you broadcast, in other media outlets, that they were going to be on your show? They are getting what they want. Publicity. And in Austin's quest to keep them away from the funeral, he either wittingly, or unwittingly, gave them what they wanted. Austin gets what he wants (inflated ego/he's the hero) and they get what they want. More publicity.

ripjones
2
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ripjones 10/13/10 - 07:23 am
0
0
What is Austin going to do

What is Austin going to do for Mr. Rabon's family ?? Remeber, there were TWO fine soldiers killed.

Austin Rhodes
3002
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Austin Rhodes 10/13/10 - 07:32 am
0
0
I sent a note to WVOC

I sent a note to WVOC (serving the Lexington market) talk show host Kevin Cohen several hours ago in the hopes he can make the same arrangements for the Rabon funeral.

Why would I tell others I am doing this? To make sure the "circus atmosphere" is avoided at the funeral. If you don't let folks know the protest is cancelled...the counter protesters show up looking for a fight.

This isn't about silencing Westboro's message, which is known far and wide to anyone who keeps up with the news...this is about keeping them out of the face of the Harley family, and keeping a quiet atmosphere at his funeral.

Hatfield0278
1
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Hatfield0278 10/13/10 - 07:44 am
0
0
Thanks Austin!

Thanks Austin!

Austin Rhodes
3002
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Austin Rhodes 10/13/10 - 07:53 am
0
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John @8:43...I have said that

John @8:43...I have said that from the beginning.

As far as my motives go...this is my home and the military families living in the area are my people. I don't really care what the detractors have to say, my goal is to see the Harleys have a peaceful and respectful funeral for their hero.

Riverman1
94247
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Riverman1 10/13/10 - 08:06 am
0
0
I'm surprised they took the

I'm surprised they took the offer. But no one should listen to them that hour. Make it the lowest rated hour in radio history.

johnston.cliff
2
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johnston.cliff 10/13/10 - 08:22 am
0
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Listening isn't the same as

Listening isn't the same as agreeing. I like to know what their claims are, not what an interpretation of their claims is.

Austin Rhodes
3002
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Austin Rhodes 10/13/10 - 08:25 am
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Last night I pulled up

Last night I pulled up several hours of interviews with this lady, most of which aired on Sirius Satellite radio...uncensored. Talk about some "ribald" conversation! Mrs. Phelps-Roper is a religious zealot, but she is no prude. At least not in the way she uses the language...

tc1028
0
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tc1028 10/13/10 - 08:26 am
0
0
I have never agreed with nor

I have never agreed with nor personally liked Austin Rhodes or his views. But I would like to thank him for the pain he spared the brave soldier's family. These hate filled and vile spewing "so-called" Christians want to make a mockery of a very painful time. I guess they don't understand that without the people that fight for our country they would not have their freedom of speech to twist and contort to fit their owned skewed agendas.

alsteve
0
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alsteve 10/13/10 - 08:32 am
0
0
This group is not a Church,

This group is not a Church, they are a CULT! Thank you for taking them off of the streets.

They claim so much, but look at the disrespect in this picture. they have turned our Beautiful flag into a piece of clothing.

Taylor B
5
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Taylor B 10/13/10 - 08:40 am
0
0
Austin, very honorable. A

Austin, very honorable. A free market solution to a big problem, with no government involvment whatsoever. No one's rights trampled, and a hero gets an honorable burial.
We may not agree all the time Austin, but I thank you for your offer to these...people.

dani
13
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dani 10/13/10 - 08:47 am
0
0
I don't intend to listen. I

I don't intend to listen. I don't have the stomach for it.

Abby-noll
0
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Abby-noll 10/13/10 - 08:54 am
0
0
Thanks, Austin. I know some

Thanks, Austin. I know some will doubt your intentions but I don't care what they are. You've gotten them to leave this family alone and that's what counts. Now we have the option of changing the station or turning the radio off altogether. You are, in essence, keeping these moron's from spreading their hate to people who don't want to hear it. Very well done, sir. I do applaud your efforts.

NrthAugustaSam
504
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NrthAugustaSam 10/13/10 - 08:57 am
0
0
Perhaps Austin Rhodes will

Perhaps Austin Rhodes will give air time on his show to the KKK so they will not subject the students of ASU and the residents of the surrounding area to the bad memories and awful history of what the Klan has done in the past. Seems more than 1 family will be spared grief if he put them on his show.

sml1977
0
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sml1977 10/13/10 - 08:58 am
0
0
Listen to the program or not,

Listen to the program or not, this behavior is a disgrace! It doesn't matter if you agree with the war or any other decision made by this government, you HAVE to respect the privacy of the family and allow them to mourn in peace. As a fellow christian, I am disgusted!!!!

TK3
562
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TK3 10/13/10 - 09:06 am
0
0
Blackmail !

Blackmail !

MysteryWriter
0
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MysteryWriter 10/13/10 - 09:06 am
0
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Thank you, Mr. Rhodes for

Thank you, Mr. Rhodes for 'taking one for the team' and aiding the family in laying their loved one to rest in peace. Thank you also for letting us know what time they plan on being on the radio station, so we know when to turn it off. I'm sure WBC will 'enjoy' their audience of one (well, two if the dude in the booth that tells Austin when to go to commericals decides to listen to them as well, but I'm sure he can find soemthing more interesting to do...Like watch paint dry.)

Way to go Austin!!!

Dixieman
17589
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Dixieman 10/13/10 - 09:14 am
0
0
Kudos to Austin and his

Kudos to Austin and his station.
These fools are so obnoxious and low that I can't begin to express my distaste for them. Yes, they have a First Amendment right to shout out their folly, but what they do is tasteless, unnecessary to the propagation of their message and probably counterproductive in that it alienates more people than they convert. Glad Austin and WGAC got them away from the funeral. Let them make fools of themselves on the air....

Taylor B
5
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Taylor B 10/13/10 - 09:20 am
0
0
Sometimes the first amendment

Sometimes the first amendment is an indicatior of foolishness of epic proportions. This is one of those times.

follower
98
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follower 10/13/10 - 09:42 am
0
0
Thanks Austin. Good move in

Thanks Austin. Good move in sparing the family a distraction during this time.

To the detractors: Whether you like Austin or not, you cannot accuse him of sitting on the fence. I disagree with him on some issues, but respect the fact that he says what he thinks, albeit sometimes crudely.

While it will probably be a ratings hit, it's somewhat unlikely that was the motive as his show is already the leader in that time slot and has been for more than a decade.

My suggestion is to listen but not call in. No sense arguing with idiots.
Listening is what the station wants. Calling in is what Westboro wants.

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