Westboro Baptist Church protesters unlikely in Alaska, watchdog says

Tegan Hanlon

As a local group made plans Tuesday to counter-protest a Westboro Baptist Church picket in Anchorage, an expert with the Southern Poverty Law Center said it's unlikely that Westboro protesters will actually show up. Their announcements are often publicity stunts, he said.

Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the Topeka, Kan. church, known for controversial protests at funerals and other public events, has a long history of scheduling pickets, but actually attends less than half of the events.

"Typically, they will call the local press, get a scary story about these awful people coming to town and not show up," Potok said. "And what sometimes happens is you'll be expecting 50 people and a man and two small children show up."

Westboro Baptist Church has announced two protests in Anchorage over the past three days, one at ChangePoint, a non-denominational church, and the other at the Alaska Native Heritage Center, a nonprofit in Muldoon with a mission to share and preserve Alaska Native culture. Both pickets are planned for Sunday, June 1.

In a flyer on Tuesday, Westboro Baptist Church labeled churchgoers at ChangePoint as "lukewarm 'Christians.'" "Repent or Perish -- God H8s lukewarm," it said.

That flyer followed a statement published Sunday about a protest at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. "God hates your idols," said the flyer from the church. "There is nothing appealing or holy about the 'heritage' of the eleven 'distinct cultures' or 'diverse population' of Alaska."

After the first announcement, talks online of a counter-protest quickly picked up speed. On Monday afternoon, Alaskans launched a Facebook group, "No Westboro Baptist Protest at our AK Native Heritage Center!" Within the first two hours, it had more than 100 members. Plans developed about a rally with traditional Alaska Native dance, costume and song. A day later, there were more than 1,400 members and a three-hour informational meeting scheduled for Tuesday night.

The Facebook group published a mission: "We are uniting as Alaskans to honor and embrace our cultural diversity, to preserve our heritage and to teach future generations the importance of acceptance and respect for all people."

Also on Tuesday, Gov. Sean Parnell condemned the Westboro Baptist via Facebook..

"How about getting to know a few of these fine Alaskans first before pronouncing judgement?" he wrote.

In 2003, Westboro Baptist Church representatives protested Anchorage's gay pride events. In 2010, protesters threatened to picket Sen. Ted Steven's memorial service and funeral.

Reach Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@adn.com or 257-4589.