SEATTLE – A notorious anti-gay church known for protesting military funerals says members will be at Saturday’s memorial service for Charlie and Braden Powell, claiming their deaths are payback from God over the state Legislature's support of gay marriage.
An online campaign is already under way to keep the Westboro Baptist Church from disrupting the funeral, which will be at Life Center Church in Tacoma at 11 a.m.
Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, died Sunday when police say their father, Josh Powell, intentionally set fire to his home in Graham, Wash. The boys were there on a supervised visit, but the supervisor was locked out of the house.
On her Twitter feed Wednesday, Margie J. Phelps wrote “Westboro will picket the funerals of the Powell boys, Sat.,2/11, 12:15p, to remind @GovGregoire they died because of her rebellion,” and “This is why God's cursed you w Josh Powells blowing up kids.”
Phelps is the daughter of Westboro founder Fred Phelps.
The Washington state Legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage Wednesday. Gov. Chris Gregoire is expected to sign it next week, but it likely will face a voter referendum in November before it can become law.
Josh Powell's sister, Alina, responded to the threatened Westboro protest.
"This is a horrible, disdainful act that serves no purpose other than to continue the years-long objectification of those little boys. Charlie and Braden were not trophies to be won and paraded around; they were not bait to ferret out "guilt" in a man; they were not "evidence" in a "crime"; and they most certainly are not political pawns to be used by a church to spread yet more messages of HATE! They are only little boys and they deserve better! I am LIVID that my nephews continue to be used as a tactical maneuver, and I am LIVID that their service will be besmirched by an event a loving God would never approve! Please let my nephews rest in peace!!" said Alina.
"Hate has taken far too great a toll on us ALL already!--Please, STOP THE HATE!"
Almost immediately after Phelps’ tweets, an online campaign began to counter protest Westboro. A Facebook page called “Keep Westboro Church away from Powell Memorial” was launched calling on people to show up at 10 a.m. By Thursday morning, at least 179 people had planned to attend.
“We will be out in full force to help create a buffer so this memorial can take place peacefully,” the page read.
Members of Occupy Seattle are also expected to be there to stand up against Westboro.
Westboro has shown up in Western Washington before, protesting military funerals. It’s important to note, however, that Westboro has promised to show up at other events and failed to do so.
Josh Powell had lost custody of the boys last fall after his father, Steven Powell, was arrested on voyeurism charges. Josh was already under investigation for the disappearance of his wife, Susan Cox Powell, two years ago in Utah. Police revealed this week the Susan Powell case is now a murder investigation.