Information on the funeral of Bradshaw, a 21-year-old Army specialist killed by a roadside bomb in Baqouba, Iraq, was recently posted on the group’s Web site.
But the protesters were a no-show in New Braunfels on Wednesday because they chose to travel to Virginia in preparation for demonstrating at Falwell’s funeral, said member Shirley Phelps-Roper, who is also an attorney for the church.
“There are dead soldiers everywhere,” Phelps-Roper said. “You don’t have a very high-profile, cowardly, lying false prophet like Falwell dying every day.”
Phelps-Roper said the group plans to demonstrate at Falwell’s service because members believe he was never harsh enough in his declarations that homosexuality was the source of America’s problems.
“That coward is afraid. He is ashamed of the Gospel of the Jesus Christ,” Phelps-Roper said. “He claimed he had the Word of God and then he hid it.”
New Braunfels officials prepared for protesters just in case. More than an hour before the funeral, dozens of law enforcement officers were within a three-block radius of Doeppenschmidt Funeral Home, where Bradshaw’s services were held. They remained until the funeral procession left for Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio.
State Reps. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, and Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, were at the funeral home before the service to meet with and show support for Bradshaw’s family.
Geren said he checks the church’s Web site daily to see whether it is planning a protest in Texas. He said he plans to go to every Texas funeral that the group protests.
“They don’t have any right doing what they’re doing,” Geren said. “That time is a special time that these families deserve to have without these hateful, hateful practices.”
Like many other states, Texas enacted a law last year banning protests near a funeral after news spread of the church’s tactics. State law requires protesters to stay at least 500 feet from a building or cemetery where a funeral is being held.
Geren has filed a bill to extend that distance to 1,000 feet in response to reports that Westboro members have begun using bullhorns. The bill has passed the House and is awaiting a Senate vote.
Also on hand at Bradshaw’s funeral were more than 20 members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a nationwide group of motorcyclists who attend soldiers’ funerals. Members attend the services to show support and rev their engines to drown out Westboro protesters.
Rider Charles Rathgeber of New Braunfels compared the protesters to the negative response that some veterans received when they returned from the Vietnam War.
“Those guys don’t need the welcome home or the lack of welcome home the previous generation got,” Rathgeber said.
As mourners arrived at the funeral home, the riders stood solemnly near the entrances, most holding up white poles with U.S. flags atop.
Inside, attendees focused on their memories of Bradshaw.
“This is the home of the free because of brave men like Tony,” said Maj. Gen. Russell Czerw, commander of Fort Sam Houston. He presented Bradshaw’s family several medals the soldier had earned, including a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
After receiving the awards, relatives gathered around the flag-draped coffin and clutched one another tightly.
The only sound in the room was of a woman sobbing.