THOMASVILLE, GA (WALB) –A radical church group from Kansas known for picketing at military funerals plans to demonstrate in Thomasville Friday at Senior Chief Petty Officer Blake McLendon's funeral.
Authorities in Thomas County say they have no confirmation that the Westboro Baptist Church will actually show up, but they are prepared to make sure the funeral happens without incident.
Word is spreading quickly of the possibility that the controversial Westboro Baptist Church will picket in "lawful proximity" at a war hero's memorial Friday.
"I heard it this morning and I was stunned," says Randy Fields, the lead pastor of The Gathering, a non-denominational church. "I've seen it across the nation but here in Thomasville? Yeah, I'm struggling with it."
"We know a lot about this group. We're prepared," promises Lt. Steven Jones of the Thomas County Sheriff's Office. "Our goal is for this to be a very smooth ceremony. A ceremony in the way it is intended to be."
Westboro Baptist Church released a statement saying they will use their 1st Amendment rights to preach the word of God and spread the message that soldiers are dying for the sins of America. They say they actually pray for more American troops to be killed.
"I just have a problem when you take a section of his word and put it against the rest of the Bible," Fields says. "And here we have the ability in America to be free and Blake died for those freedoms that allow this group to come do this stuff. It's such a paradox. But I do think you can cross the line on that."
Community leaders are hoping people will do nothing more than show up with their American flags along the funeral procession route, like this portion of Pinetree Boulevard. And law enforcement agencies say anyone who causes a disturbance will be dealt with accordingly.
Lt. Jones assures people, "No one will interrupt, disrupt, or disturb this service or this procession. This ceremony and service is an emotional thing for all of us. We just want people to focus on why we're there and what the service represents."
"Just remember Blake," Fields adds. "He's a real American hero, and that's what tomorrow is all about."
And they're calling for people to ignore anyone who might be in attendance for any other reason.
A city ordinance states a group must have a permit in hand no less than 48-hours before a scheduled protest or picketing demonstration.
As of noon Thursday, authorities say no one has applied for one of those permits.