UPDATED: Westboro Baptist Church plans to picket Kent State

The Westboro Baptist Church tweeted a statement Tuesday about plans to picket Kent State over suspending junior wrestler Sam Wheeler over anti-gay tweets.

Kara Taylor

The church’s Twitter account, @WBCSays, created the hashtag #StandWithSamWheeler and repeatedly tweeted about an event at Kent State tonight without a time or place announced for where they would protest.

The group tweeted a statement Tuesday calling Kent State “intolerant, cowardly bullies” for suspending Wheeler after he tweeted anti-gay remarks about University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, who came out last week.

Kent State Police Chief John Peach said the university is prepared to make safety provisions for the general Kent State public and anyone involved in the supposed protest.

“They do have the freedom of speech and we don’t want to violate that, as long as they don’t violate the rules of the university,” Peach said.

Peach said there has been security provided at these types of events for more than 40 years, and they will certainly provide for this event.

“I know there is great speculation about them coming here, but the university is not overly concerned about them coming,” Peach said.

University spokesman Eric Mansfield declined to comment on behalf of the university and the athletics department.

He referred questions about protests to Kent State’s policy register regarding sound-amplification equipment, which states that sound equipment may not be used on campus at any time if it disrupts university functions without prior authorization.

The church first tweeted in support of Wheeler on Monday, saying it was going to picket Kent State and wrestling coach Jim Andrassy about Wheeler’s suspension.

PRIDE! Kent president Brandon Stephens said he was “mostly shocked that such a well-known, infamous organization is producing such an act at our university.”

Stephens sent an email to members warning them to be careful.

“They are dangerous, hateful and mean people,” Stephens wrote in the email. “Things often get heated when they are involved. A bunch of these people are lawyers, so be careful, know your rights and know their rights.”

He also reminded members of PRIDE! Kent’s mission to “send a message of hope and solidarity to the rest of the students at Kent State University,” and instructed them to go PRIDE! Kent’s office in the first floor of the Student Center for more information.

“The executive board of PRIDE! is talking to Kent administrators about a potential counter protest,” Stephens said. “They do have a history of being very vocal and violent, that is something we have to keep in mind when putting members out there.”

Stephens is not sure if they will protest at Kent State, but said there was serious speculation that they might.

PRIDE! Kent posted on its Facebook page Tuesday night that they plan to take action if the church comes to campus. Westboro Baptist Church has not responded to calls about when they plan to picket.

Students at the University of Missouri built a human wall in support of Michael Sam last Saturday to block off Westboro protesters picketing at the university’s NCAA basketball game against Tennessee.

The Westboro protest group arrived with anti-gay hate signs to the school, and the students who formed the wall sang their alma mater with their backs to the WBC.

Contact Kara Taylor at [email protected]. Madeleine Winer contributed to this report; contact her at [email protected]