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Everyday Heroes: TORI SMITH & THE RED WALL

August 1, 2012

There is a huge difference between “doing the right thing” and “doing what your rights allow you to do.” I am a steadfast supporter of every American’s right of free speech. At the same time, I am an opponent of speech that is intended to harm the innocent.

For several years now, the Westboro Baptist Church has sent picketers to a wide array of events in order to promote their anti-gay position. Okay, it’s irrelevant whether you like their position or not. You may find their anti-gay position abhorrent. That’s your right. None of us can legally deny them their right to say what they think.

But Westboro discovered in 1998 that the more extreme their actions, the more likely were the national media to cover those actions. That year, they picketed the funeral of a gay man who was beaten to death because of his homosexuality. CNN covered that demonstration. That was all the encouragement they needed. Somehow, through twisted, hate-filled thinking, Westboro tied the existence of homosexuality to permissiveness in the United States. In turn, they decided that servicemen and women were evil personifications of an evil country and government. And what could be more media-catching than a demonstration at a serviceman’s funeral?

In 2006, Westboro picketed with banners saying “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers” at the Westminster, Maryland, funeral of Matthew Snyder, a U.S. Marine who was killed in Iraq. Ruling on a subsequent lawsuit filed by Snyder’s father, Albert Snyder, the U.S. Supreme Court decided 8–1 that Westboro’s actions constituted protected free speech.

Just imagine you have lost a son or daughter in war. Think of the disabling pain and loss you would feel. Imagine some hate organization picketing your child’s funeral, carrying signs that read “Thank God for dead soldiers.”

That brings us to Tori Smith & The Red Wall. On July 21, a planned protest by Westboro was overshadowed when thousands of supporters gathered at the funeral of Army Specialist Sterling Wyatt to block Westboro’s demonstration. Tori Smith and thousands of men and women wearing red shirts – thus, The Red Wall — formed a human barricade around a Columbia, Missouri church, blocking out the Westboro members.

Tori Smith intended to bring together a small group of supporters to counter the Westboro presence. For that she is an Everyday Hero. But, when word got out about Tori’s efforts, thousands of people showed up at the funeral service. Each of those people who took time out to do the right thing that day is also an Everyday Hero.

I really don’t care what your positions are about homosexuality or about war. What you think and what you say are  your business. Those are the rights of an American. That’s fine as far as it goes. But, according to the Supreme Court, you can say whatever you want, regardless of who it hurts, regardless of how much pain you leave in the wake of your words. That’s not fine.

Hate groups like Westboro Baptist Church will always exist in the absence of Everyday Heroes. Isn’t it time we all acted like Everyday Heroes, just like Tori Smith and those thousands of people who stepped up and took a stand against evil?


Joseph Badal is the author of thrillers, including  The Pythagorean Solution, Terror CellThe Nostradamus Secret and Evil Deeds.  His newest novel is Shell Game.  Joe lives in New Mexico, is married, and is the father of two sons.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 1, 2012 4:52 pm

    Great story, Joe. I love your Everyday Heroes pieces, and I’m grateful that you take on this wonderful work.

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