When asked to a military funeral, they respond. From all over the country they ride, paying for expenses out of their own pockets, standing guard as the mourners mourn, and often act as a buffer zone between the funeral and the Westboro Baptist Church. They are the Patriot Guard Riders, a 501(C) 3 non-profit organization that began in August of 2005 with the American Legion riders, chapter 136 in response to Westboro's protests at military funerals. Their history, posted on their site, further states:
When they heard that the WBC was going to protest at the Funeral of Sgt. John Doles in Chelsea, Oklahoma, they established a Mission Statement, which included getting the families permission and contacting Law Enforcement and other Motorcycle Groups in Oklahoma. They agreed that their ultimate goal was to get veterans and motorcycle organizations involved in every state so that each state could handle the situation internally and not rely on other states to do the job. They were very successful in mustering riders to honor Sgt. Doles and limiting the intrusion by the WBC. After the Chelsea Mission the Kansas American Legion Riders wanted all Motorcycle Groups/ Organizations to be recognized. On the 18th of October 2005 the Patriot Guard name was established and was announced on the 27th of October 2005 to the 100 + motorcyclists present at the Tonganoxie Mission to Honor Spc Lucas Frantz.
Following the missions in South Haven, KS and a later ride in Edmond, OK, Jeff “Twister” Brown, from Broken Arrow, OK, decided to do more than just ride. He saw a need to get a strong nation-wide communications and recruiting program in place. He contacted the original AL riders in Kansas and told them of his plans. They openly shared their experiences, suggestions, and encouragement. Within a matter of days, Brown had formed the Patriot Guard Riders and began a nation-wide campaign to garner support.
Similarly, after a mission ride in Greeley, CO, Hugh Knaus and Jason “Waldo” Wallin answered the call of the newly formed Patriot Guard Riders, becoming the national webmaster and communications director, respectively. Within a matter of days, a mission statement was refined and a website was built, rebuilt, and launched. A call immediately went out to individual riders and groups across the nation to join and ride with the PGR. State Captains were recruited to work more closely with the members in their area.
The growth has been phenomenal. Within a week their membership included many riders from associations like the VFW, American Legion, Rolling Thunder, ABATE, Combat Vets Motorcycle Association, Intruder Alert, Leathernecks Motorcycle Club, and almost five hundred individual riders. To the credit of Hugh and “Waldo”, the PGR website had received almost 566,000 hits in the first two weeks! Patriots from all over America and several foreign countries responded. Emails were pouring in from people wanting to support and join the newly formed PGR.
The Patriot Guard Riders' response to the Supreme Court free speech victory of Westboro Baptist Church:
Statement regarding the Supreme Court ruling
The Patriot Guard Riders are a 501c3 organization of support and caring for our military members, veterans, and families. Our mission is to stand for them in their loss and grief and help them to know that there are still people who are aware of the sacrifice their families have made and to show our honor and respect for their service.
The PGR mission is only completed at the request of the family. It's a necessary part of our respect for them. It also has nothing to do with any organized hate groups that conduct protests to hurt them. We shield our families with our care and support. While we stand that line or escort, nothing matters to us except our hero and family.
We respect the right to free speech recognized in our country's founding documents. It's one of the freedoms that define America. Many of our members have served and sworn an oath to support these rights. As an organization, we have to respect the decision of the courts and though our membership has diverse views on the limitation of free speech. Such limitations have been established previously to object to "hate speech" that only offers protection to designated individuals or groups.
The true travesty in this is that we would ever need to consider the "right" of someone to protest at the funeral of an American military member that has given their oath and life to defend these rights.
The Patriot Guard Riders will always stand to honor and shield our fallen and their families. Our mission is founded on respect, and honor, and the debt we owe those that protect us.
Since the ruling, over 900 people have become members; membership is free, and donations go to support many soldier's and families via their "HOTH & FWSF Projects, as well as other projects nationally. " When invited to a soldier's funeral, when they come into town, they come carrying US flags and present a plaque to the family of the deceased. They have blocked Westboro a variety of non-violent ways, forming flag walls, using garbage trucks, motorcycles and fire trucks according to the York Daily Record, who recently interviewed the group.
The mother of a slain Guard soldier spoke out about the Patriot Guard Riders in Sunday's Bismarck [North Dakota] Tribune:
Lottie Hermanson, the mother of National Guard Spc. Michael Hermanson, says that she understands the Constitution protects free speech, but doesn’t agree with the Westboro church’s tactics.
She says she’s thankful to the North Dakota Patriot Guard Riders, one of many groups across the country that shields families from protesters, for serving at her son’s funeral.
Respect. You wouldn't think a buffer zone would be necessary to enforce it.