Fallen soldier’s supporters drown out sounds of protest
GREELEY ” Hundreds of large American flags furled in the breeze as exhaust filled the air. The roar of motorcycle engines made it difficult to hear the person next to you.
A group of seven anti-gay protesters showed up Friday to protest Tyler MacKenzie’s funeral, but a much bigger, louder and more vocal group of residents made sure the protesters didn’t affect the MacKenzie funeral.
“We’re here to show our support for a brave hero,” said Jason Wallin, 32, a former Army soldier of Windsor. “We should be here to honor him whether or not anyone’s protesting him, and that’s what we’re here to do.”
At 11:30 a.m., the protesters ” with connections to the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. ” stepped out of a gray minivan and set up on a corner across from the church.
Although the group stakes claim in the Baptist Church, it does not represent the denomination as a whole, said Rex Whitman, pastor of Cornerstone Community Church. The Baptist denomination allows each church to make its own rules.
“Baptists range from ultra-conservative to ultra-liberal. There is a large spectrum among the leaf of Baptists,” Whitman said. “This is just one group who has decided to interact with something they see as a danger to society. I think there are other ways to approach change in society.”
One woman stood on top of two American flags, and the group held anti-gay signs and shouted.
Within seconds, about 50 motorcyclists from the Christian Motorcycle Association, Leatherneck motorcycle group and Harley-owners group revved up their engines and muted the group.
Beside them, people recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang patriotic songs like “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America.”
“I hope these people realize our boys and girls are giving them their right to do that,” said Sharon Dadisman of Platteville.
Dadisman’s son, James Clements, 35, was in Iraq and is stationed in Virginia Beach, Va.
“He told me to come out here and represent him,” she said.
Dadisman was one of about 10 military mothers from the Rocky Mountain Military Moms group to counter the protesters. The group was one of several that made their presence felt. In addition to many unaffiliated residents, members of the U.S. Seagoing Marine Association, Marine Corps League, Combat Vets Association and Grunt.com, a Marine group, were there.
“We’re protecting the family from them,” said Gus Quist, 50, of Fort Collins, who came with the Harley-owners group. “It’s a disgrace ” this young man lost his life for us to be able to speak.”
At noon, the police escorted the group back into its van. As the protesters drove off, the crowd serenaded them with a chorus of “Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, goodbye.” There were no incidents or arrests.
“Don’t come back now y’all,” one man shouted.
After the protesters left, group members dispersed to both sides of 49th Avenue and onto fourth Street with their flags to honor the MacKenzie family as they drove by in the processional after the funeral.
“I don’t understand why they would come to Greeley and do this at (Tyler’s) funeral,” Whitman said. “It surprises me that they would pick out that issue (service to America in connection with pro-gay notions). It’s almost like they got another issue. I’m just puzzled.”