One of the prominent topics of conversation over the weekend was picketers from Westboro Baptist in Kansas bringing their God Hates Fags campaign to Norfolk and Virginia Beach. I had coemployees at work who normally don't discuss such things talking to me about it. I thought it would make a great blog story, so I planned to observe their demonstration this morning at the Virginia Beach Convention Center.
Waking up early, I got online and read how one planned protest never materialized in Norfolk on Monday. Were they still coming? A check of their website still had three Virginia Beach events on the schedule. With the day free (unusual for me) and being already up, I decided I'd still go. After all, I'd kick myself if they showed up and I missed it. I'd go to the convention center, sit on one of the benches across on the south side of 19th Street, and see what happened.
Yards away from the bench, at 8:40 I saw them unloading their gear from a car. There were four of them: three adults, and one boy maybe 11-12 years old. They crossed to the north side of 19th Street and began their protest. Their target, a Navy conference, was going on inside.
In under a minute, the first group of nine counterprotesters arrived. Within a half-hour, it had grown to just over thirty counterprotesters. They roughly fell into four groups. There were liberal pablum-pushers, a few gays, and those who wished to show solidarity with the military who were being protested against. Also, there was a man with a sign that read "Yahweh Hates Christianity" who was yelling at the Westboro contingent.
Nearby was a duo taping the events. Did the counterprotesters think they could bait Westboro's professionals into something?
The Virginia Beach Police Department (VBPD) was present. One officer stood just behind the protesters, a couple were nearby, while patrol cars were regularly heading up and down 19th Street.
At first both the protesters and most of the counterprotesters were on the north side of 19th Street. By 9:10 VBPD had figured out what I had earlier - that such a mix in close proximity was combustible - and the counterprotesters were moved to the south side of 19th Street, with four lanes of asphalt as a buffer.
Around 9:20 the Westboro group left, with the counterprotesters yelling at them on the way out. In the end, no serious incidents.