RICHMOND — Randy Blythe of Richmond’s heavy metal band Lamb of God met demonstrators from Westboro Baptist Church at the Virginia Capitol on Monday with an unlikely weapon: kazoos. Armed with colorful plastic instruments, Blythe and more than 100 other counterprotesters drowned out the six WBC members with a cacophony of chaotic noise.
“I couldn’t bring my band, so we brought kazoos instead,” Blythe said.
Westboro Baptist Church, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America,” came to the Capitol to protest Del. Danica Roem as the first transgender woman to be elected to the Virginia General Assembly.
In a news release, WBC, which condemns LGBTQ rights, called Roem a “slave to sin” among other inflammatory statements.
As a rebuke to WBC’s hateful remarks, Roem encouraged her Twitter followers to donate to her campaign for re-election. With the hashtag #westborobackfire, more than 900 contributors have raised over $34,000 since March 1.
Jill Hammer, who supports Roem, showed up to celebrate her city’s diversity.
“Richmond is fueled by creativity, fueled by musicians and artists, and we’re here to have a party and show them that Richmond is about love for everyone,” Hammer said.
The music coming from WBC member Shirley Phelps-Roper’s speaker was barely audible over the counterprotesters’ unconventional chorus of noise.
Singing along to parodies of pop songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with lyrics modified to match the group’s message, Phelps-Roper said WBC intentionally chooses well-known music. “We’re trying to talk to this generation, meet them where they live,” Phelps-Roper said.
Less than 30 minutes later, the WBC protesters moved north to a sidewalk near VCU’s campus, demonstrating against the college’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Students stopped as they walked to class, some vocally protested while others stopped and stared.
In a statement to the university community, VCU President Michael Rao said the WBC demonstrators “detest what we hold dear: the beautiful diversity of our community, the inclusive commitments we make to each other, and our values of collaboration and integrity.”
At the counterdemonstration at VCU, Meredith Carrington held a sign that read, “God’s love is greater than your hate, Westboro.” Carrington said she felt it was her duty to show up to protest WBC’s messages.
“I think that Richmond has a long history of hate that we’ve done a tremendous amount to overcome, and I think we need to continue to do that in real ways,” Carrington said.
VCU student Tiana Roomes said she knew WBC’s message was directed at VCU students. “They are directing this to us because we support gay rights and preferred pronouns for transgender [individuals], and we support our military — and they hate that,” Roomes said.
The six WBC members were again drowned out by VCU students and counterprotesters who came from the Capitol. Within a half-hour, the group dispersed peacefully as kazoos buzzed and students chanted, “We’re here, we’re queer, nobody wants you here.”
By Evie King, Capital News Service
Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.