More than 50 people, many of them University of Richmond students, gathered in front of the Weinstein Jewish Community Center Tuesday afternoon to counter-protest a visit from an anti-gay, anti-Semitic church group.
Four members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, including an 11-year-old boy, stood in front of the Weinstein JCC, carrying signs that read messages such as “God Hates Jews” and “Israel Is Doomed.”
The WBC protesters arrived around 1:30 p.m. at the JCC, where they encountered the counter-protesters.
“What these people are saying is really not right,” said Nick Trevino, a sophomore at the University of Richmond who attended the protest. “And I think a lot of people in this community don’t really approve of it. It’s very hateful speech.”
The JCC values diversity and welcoming spirit, said Jordan Shenker, executive director of the Center.
“While we are disappointed that hatred and bigotry still exists in our world, we are gratified by the unanimous positive response that serves as a strong reminder that those who value and respect others far outnumber those who promote hate,” Shenker said in an official public statement.
Richmond alumni Carole and Marcus Weinstein founded the JCC, which University of Richmond Hillel often uses for programs and events. The JCC’s members were urged not to protest, Shenker said.
The Baptist church is an independent group based in Topeka, Kan., and known for its conservative, anti-gay protests, claiming that many of the world’s disasters and catastrophic events are God’s punishment for societies that tolerate homosexuality.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of the church’s founder, Fred Phelps, was one of the members who protested in Richmond on Thursday.
“The reason we’re here, at this spot, at this Hillel is because the Jews have got a particular comeuppance, a final indignation, it’s called,” Phelps-Roper said.
She went on to say that this final indignation would make Jewish catastrophes such as the Holocaust, Babylonian Captivity and Great Destruction of Jerusalem of 70 A.D. look like a tea party.
Concerning Jews, the WBC writes on its Web site: “As the Apostle Paul (who himself was a Jew) teaches in this verse, the only true Jews are Christians. The rest of the people who claim to be Jews aren’t, and they are nothing more than typical, impenitent sinners, who have no Lamb.”
The WBC also runs another Web site called JewsKilledJesus.com, which is devoted to the group’s views on Jews.
Concerning the group’s visit to the JCC, which was referred to as the University of Richmond Hillel, the WBC wrote on its picket schedule: “[The WBC] needs to have a few words with these young people because all of the people who ever had any influence over them — LIED! … they must find out for themselves … So, here we come — behave yourselves appropriately, keep your mouths shut, your eyes and ears open … You will perish with the other Jews if you do not heed those simple, yet complex words.”
The Weinstein JCC was the third of four stops in the Richmond area for the members of the WBC.
After going to the Weinstein JCC, the WBC members protested in front of Hermitage High School in Henrico County, where they encountered approximately 200 counter-protesters, according to reports.
At 11:45 a.m., Weinstein WBC members protested in front of the Virginia Holocaust Museum in downtown Richmond. They encountered more than 300 counter-protesters, including the museum’s executive director, Jay M. Ipson, according to earlier reports.
At 12:40 p.m., WBC members protested in front of the Jerusalem Connection, a Jewish cultural organization near Midlothian Turnpike in South Richmond. They encountered about 25 counter-protesters, according to earlier reports.
Police were at each location that protests took place to maintain peace.
Virginia Commonwealth University students held an anti-hate rally on the school’s campus as an alternative to counter protesting.
With the exception of the Jewish Holocaust Museum, which promoted a silent protest against the WBC members, the three other sites urged its members and members of the Richmond community not to protest.
But that did not stop many people from coming out to show their opposition of the WBC.
“I’m really impressed by the youth solidarity that we saw today,” said Amy Newsock, a junior at the University of Richmond who attended the protest. “I thought it was very cool that there was so small a number of a hate group yet everyone who supports love and acceptance of everybody else was out here.”
Contact staff writer Nick Mider at firstname.lastname@example.org