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Westboro Baptist Church cancels Ponderosa High, DU Hillel protests for travel complications

Today, the Douglas County School District website kicks off with a "Breaking News" item that reads: "The planned protest by the Westboro Baptist Church at Ponderosa High School's graduation has been canceled by the group due to travel complications." The response from a member of the Counter-Protest Westboro Baptist Church in Colorado! Facebook group, which had planned to face down WBC pickets at the Ponderosa graduation, the DU Hillel and the Denver Islamic Society? "'Travel complications.' Uh-huh."

Of course, the Westboro venom-spewers have played this game before, as illustrated by our January 2010 post "Same sex-marriage debate: Westboro Baptist Church protest falls flat -- because gay haters don't show up." But this time around, the group went to the trouble of informing the Parker Police Department that between six and eight protesters would be on hand at the graduation as a way of demonstrating their displeasure with Ryan Wheeler. A Ponderosa High senior, Wheeler had written a Denver Post essay suggesting that the Supreme Court shouldn't have ruled in favor of the WBC's right to protest military funerals.

Why the cancellation, then? One possibility is the announced response at various picketing locales. The Denver Islamic Society never returned Westword interview requests, so we don't know what its representatives had planned. But the Dougco schools spokespersons encouraged students and parents to ignore the protest, and DU Hillel staffers went a step further. They planned to close the office, so the WBC crew would be left to confront an empty building. Moreover, DU's undergraduate student government passed a resolution condemning the WBC but arguing that student participation in protests would further the church's mission.

No telling if these tactics convinced the WBC (which still lists the Colorado events on its web schedule) to stay home. But it's something to consider the next time the Westboro slugs threaten to darken this state with their presence.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Top 8 Westboro Baptist Church insults against Colorado."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts