Kansas City, Mo. A leader of a Kansas church known for picketing the funerals of fallen servicemen and blaming their deaths on the country’s tolerance of homosexuality said Wednesday the group has decided not to protest at funerals for victims of the Tucson, Ariz., shooting rampage.
Shirley Phelps-Roper of the Westboro Baptist Church told The Associated Press that the church pulled back its plan to picket the Thursday funeral of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green in Tucson after radio stations in Canada and Arizona agreed to give Phelps-Roper airtime. Later Wednesday, the church also agreed to not protest the funeral for U.S. District Judge John Roll or other victims in exchange for airtime on a nationally syndicated radio show.
Green, Roll and four others were killed in the Saturday shooting rampage targeting U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. More than a dozen other people were wounded.
Phelps-Roper said instead of going to Arizona this week, members will go to New York for an interview on the conservative Mike Gallagher Show on Monday.
Gallagher told the AP it will be the third time he has agreed to have Phelps-Roper on his show — the others were in exchange for Westboro members not protesting at a funeral for Amish children in Pennsylvania or for victims of the Virginia Tech shooting rampage.
“No question it’s a painful process,” Gallagher said. “Believe me, I’m doing this show with a heavy heart. I don’t like the idea of giving them the satisfaction of this, but I believe my radio airwaves are less important than them hurting families.”
He said the timing of his offer to the Topeka church flies in the face of the debate raging over whether conservative talk radio contributed to the shooting spree in some way.
“For all of the accusations that talk radio is so destructive and the claims that vitriol of conservatives has led to Jared Lee Loughner’s actions, here’s an example of talk radio doing something I think is pretty good — to stop families from being harmed by the Phelpses,” Gallagher said. “Nothing else has seemed to work.”
He said Phelps-Roper will get an hour on his show, but not without being challenged by prominent conservative Christian author and commentator Dinesh D’Souza.
Dean Blundell, a talk show host for Toronto radio station 102.1 The Edge, said he interviewed Phelps-Roper live on air on Tuesday and that another interview was planned for Thursday. Steve Sanchez, who has a talk show on the Christian radio station KXXT-AM in Phoenix, is hosting her for half an hour Saturday.
Both hosts said the interviews were part of a deal in which the Topeka-Kan.-based church agreed to skip Green’s funeral.
“This is ultimatum time,” Phelps-Roper told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “The only reason anyone steps up to make a deal is they have a motive. We got two things for kicking this to the side, stepping aside from that funeral.”
Blundell said he has a longstanding agreement with Phelps-Roper that he’ll give her radio time if she stays out of Canada. He said she has been on his show dozens of times.
“If everybody on this planet knew who she was, 10 out of 10 would say she’s crazy,” Blundell told the AP. “Even crazy people would know she’s not right in the head.”