Group Forms Human Wall to Block Potential Westboro Baptist Church Protests

Thousands showed up to the memorial service and pledged to show support for families and victims of the Marathon bombing.

Photo by Steve Annear

Photo by Steve Annear

Regina Fisher arrived at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End at 11 p.m. on Wednesday night, 12 hours before President Barack Obama was scheduled to speak to the Boston community, so that she could be sure to secure a seat. And according to Fisher, sleeping outside in the cold was worth the wait.

“I’m hungry, I’m tired and I’m cold. But I’m also excited, ecstatic and so very, very grateful,” Fisher said, standing at the very front of a line of thousands of people all hoping to get into the church for the “Healing Our City” interfaith service featuring the president and First lady Michelle Obama. “I’m so glad and appreciative that he is taking the time to come here to Boston and show his care and kindness to our community,” she said, holding up her ticket to get into the service.

While hundreds were denied access, despite waiting along the four-block stretch of road on Washington Street for a chance to attend the community vigil, another group of people, mostly dressed in all black, also congregated near the ceremony’s headquarters to show support for the victims and families impacted by the Boston Marathon bombings, and potentially stop individuals from a church group from protesting the event.

Roughly 1,000 locals who pledged to join in on a “silent action” to thwart attempts by members of the Westboro Baptist Church met in Franklin Square Thursday morning before being escorted, with the help of Boston Police officers on bikes, towards a designated space across the street from the memorial services. The group, which garnered the interest of more than 6,000 people on Facebook, was there to “show…support for the families and friends, and bring a measure of dignity to this sad event, with our silent, peaceful presence,” by blocking any “hateful” signs held up by members of the church.

The Westboro Baptist Church is known for blaming the deaths of innocent people on the legalization of gay marriage, claiming it is “God’s wrath” and “vengeance.” In tweets from the group’s official account earlier this week, they pledged to show up in Boston to picket the memorial service hosted by Boston city officials and Obama.

But members of the “human wall” weren’t going to stand for it. “Beyond showing support for the city and the community, I felt like I had to do something,” said Alex Stoltze, who added that his girlfriend was near the finish line when the blast went off. “I think it’s amazing this many people showed up for this. It shows how solid this city is—and for the first time everyone actually showed up for a Facebook event.”

Two other group members, who heard about the gathering through Facebook posts and social media updates, brought with them two large tarps which they planned on holding up in front of any signs members of the church might bring. In past protests, church members have carried signs that say “God Hates [Homosexuals],” something that didn’t sit well with Thomas Tramontozzi II, especially during this sensitive time in the city. “I am hoping no one shows up to protest the event. That would be the best thing. But just in case they do, we are here for support,” he said. “We are here to show support for the families, the victims, and just America in general.”

Photo by Steve Annear

Drake Smith and Erika Musicmaker (right) helped organize the event. Photo by Steve Annear