We left to meet the Phelpses at a turnpike stop in the late morning, after having some delicious homemade Chai Tea from our host’s mother. The Phelpses had told us that they had already scouted the location and were splitting up into two groups, so no matter which way visitors entered the church their signs would be seen. Thus, we split into two camera teams to cover both ends. Let’s call them Crew A and Crew B. Our host, the Film School alumnus (FSA), and I were on B, while the Director and DP were on A.
Once we met the Phelpses — who seemed like your average, super-friendly family — at the turnpike stop, Crew A rode with Shirley Phelps (Fred Phelps’ daughter) to interview her during the drive while FSA and I followed their fifteen-passenger van and red mini-van. During the drive to the location I noted how the mini-van had a My Child is on the Honor Roll bumper sticker (they send their kids to public school so as not be accused of brain washing).
Since this was a turnpike, when we made our way to the exit there was a toll. Unfortunately, they had a K-Pass and zoomed right through while we got stuck with the world’s slowest attendant. We finally made it through and caught up with a red mini-van and followed it into the church, passing through a gate protected by police officers and some scary-
looking Patriot Guard Riders.
Once through, the sight was amazing. At least a hundred Patriot Guard Riders lined the entrance to the church, American flags in hand. I grabbed the camera and started rolling, but it just seemed odd to me that the Phelpses were driving into the church because I thought they couldn’t protest on church property: It turns out they can’t.
Once we passed the hundred or so scary bikers and were about to park, I noticed that the red mini-van we were following did not have the Honor Roll sticker and was the wrong car. We were now at least 300 yards away from a public sidewalk and safety.
We started walking towards the street, but I figured I might as well grab a few shots of this amazing sight. Surprisingly, no one said anything. We kept walking towards the entrance that had the police and buffer riders. Then the trouble began.
I tried to grab a few shots of them but then they asked what we were doing. I told them we were a crew filming a documentary about the Patriot Guard, but our director had not been in contact with this branch of the Patriot Guard and to make things worse, they saw Crew A filming the Phelps’s protest, so they assumed we were with them. They began yelling, “Get out of here!” so we did.
We were stopped by Wichita PD before we could get to our next destination. They asked for our ID. We complied, and explained the situation. The most nerve-wracking part was that even the police were scared of the Patriot Guard Riders. “You’re lucky you got out of there, there’s no telling what they would’ve done. Is your car in there? Damn. Just hope they don’t tear it apart.”
They took our information in case the Patriot Guard wanted to press charges for trespassing — which thankfully didn’t happen — and let us go on our merry way to a not so merry scene.
Protest group two was out in full force, singing butchered versions of the various military hymns to illustrate how God hates America because we accept homosexuals. Their signs ranged from “God Sent the IEDs” to “God Hates Fags” to “Thank God for 9/11” (which was the six-year-old’s favorite). The children would join in with the singing and one protester had an American flag tied around her foot.
When I started rolling they began hamming it up for the camera. Every now and then a driver would yell out the window “F*** You!” or “God Bless America!” But again, they were nothing but courteous. They tried to make small talk with us, asking what school we were from and how the weather compared (it was cold and windy in Kansas). They asked if we could hear them singing when we were walking toward them, and I told them I could. “You’re my new favorite person.”
Eventually the protesters got back in their mini-van (the one with the bumper sticker), and left. They had a schedule to keep and another protest to go to. The fifteen passenger van brought back Crew A and gave us bottles of water. Who says the family unit is falling apart? This family is kind and does activities together all the time — they just hate homosexuals.
Since our car was still being held hostage, we set up down the street to get footage of the Patriot Guard leaving the church to escort the family to the cemetery. We joined a group of observers who had pulled up on the side of the road with giant American flags. It felt nice to be back on the good side.
Soon a wave of motorcycles slowly rode by, followed by a second wave and the family. It was another amazing site – a giant stream of bikers just riding by. Once all was done and the Patriot Guard was gone, the Wichita Officer who stopped us before, drove us back to our car. “Now just get into your car as quickly as possible and get out. There’s no telling what they’ll do.” All of the guards were gone so we escaped unscathed. It was time for a breather — and some margaritas — at Applebees.
That evening we hung out with our host’s family, and I have to say I prefer their activities more. We had dosa for dinner. Our host’s father warned us to ask for less than we want, “because the women will stuff you,” and it turned out to be true.
In Wichita there’s such a large Indian population that the movie theaters have Bollywood films, so we went down the cineplex to watch Eklavya, my first Bollywood film. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was just so awesomely epic, and even inspired my F2 story, which is another future post.