Members, supporters of the Westboro Baptist Church announce May 19 demonstration

Infamous church group plans protest of Budweiser plant

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A notorious, Kansas-based church deemed a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League has announced plans for a protest of Cartersville’s Anheuser-Busch brewery this Sunday.

According to a May 9 press release, members and supporters of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) intend on demonstrating outside the Budweiser plant from 11-11:30 a.m. on May 19. Representatives of the organization said that the protest is in response to the $54.6 billion a year company’s partnership with GLAAD — previously the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation — to manufacture limited-time-only aluminum cans stamped with a rainbow design to celebrate LGBT Pride Month.

In a slur-filled release, a WBC representative accuses Anheuser-Busch of “selling out to the filthy” and declares “Eberhard Anheuser and Adolphus Busch are likely spinning in their graves at such debauchery.” 

The vitriolic release additionally states “God hates drunks” and alleges the company has “thrown its weight behind the sodomite agenda.”

The Daily Tribune News reached out to representatives of the church multiple times for comments. As of press time, Westboro Baptist Church officials have yet to respond.

Established in the 1950s in Topeka, Kansas, by Fred Phelps, the Westboro Baptist Church began drawing controversy in the early 1990s when members of the church took their vehemently anti-homosexual message nationwide.

The group drew further ire when they started protesting the funerals of military personnel killed in action, oftentimes showing up at services carrying signs reading “Thank God for 9/11” and “Pray for more dead soldiers.” That eventually led to a Supreme Court ruling in 2011, in which the high court held that such demonstrations are entitled to “special protection” under the First Amendment. 

“Give that Westboro’s speech was at a public place on a matter of public concern,” Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts wrote in the court’s opinion, “such speech cannot be restricted simply because it is upsetting or arouses contempt.”

Since then, the group has either protested or attempted to protest at funerals for children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and those slain in the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. 

The same day as the planned protest in Cartersville, members and supporters of the Westboro Baptist Church have announced similar demonstrations at graduation ceremonies at Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College and Spelman College.

According to an Anheuser-Busch media release, the target of the church’s scorn — a redesigned Bud Light package that replaces the brand’s trademark creed with “words of inclusivity and support” — will be served at bars throughout the nation next month. The company intends on donating $1 to GLAAD, up to $150,000, for each case of the rainbow-printed bottles sold from May 27 to June 30.

“Bud Light has been a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community since the ‘80s and we are excited to continue our longstanding partnership with GLAAD by collaborating with them on this new commemorative bottle that celebrates the LGBTQ+ community and everything GLAAD does to support it,” Bud Light Vice President of Marketing Andy Goeler is quoted in a press release. “The way we see it, our beer is for everyone to enjoy, so we are looking forward to seeing Pride bottles at bars throughout the month of June and beyond.” 

The Daily Tribune News reached out to representatives of Anheuser-Busch about Sunday's planned demonstration. 

Miles Ritenour, Bud Light's director of marketing communications, said that local brewery "will have the appropriate security measures in place" ahead of Sunday's planned protest.

He noted that the Pride-edition cans are neither brewed or bottled in Bartow County.

"Bud Light has always aimed to promote inclusivity and be a beer that people from all walks of life can enjoy," he said. "Bud Light's Pride bottle supporting the LGBTQ+ community and our longstanding partnership with GLAAD is an extension of this principle."

The group’s protest announcement was news to Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor. As of Monday afternoon, he told The Daily Tribune News that no representatives of the Westboro Baptist Church had yet reached out to the County government to obtain a demonstration permit. 

“I haven’t seen or heard of anybody applying for a permit yet,” he said. “They could apply at either [the City or the County], but I don’t think they’ve been in the County to apply, because somebody would’ve told me from downstairs.”

While Taylor said the brewery is technically within the jurisdiction of the City of Cartersville, he said he wouldn’t be surprised to see an increased law enforcement presence at the plant this weekend.

“I haven’t talked to the sheriff about it yet or anything, but I’m sure when the sheriff hears this — if he hasn’t already — that he will beef up security around the brewery,” he said.

It remains unknown how many demonstrators or potential counter-demonstrators plan on showing up at Sunday’s protest — that is, if members of the Westboro Baptist Church make the scheduled appearance in Bartow at all.

Whether or not the planned protest takes shape, City of Cartersville Police Department Public Information Officer Lt. Mike Bettikofer said local law enforcement officers will almost certainly be onsite at the brewery Sunday. 

“We’re definitely going to make sure that we monitor what’s going on, and we’re going to make sure that we’ve got manpower available for that,” he said. “I know we’ve dealt with some of that here in the past, and not the too far away past, but anytime there is some sort of assembly, there is a process that we go through to make sure that it’s a peaceful assembly.”