Politicians, religious leaders and police huddled Monday to decide how to respond to a hate group from Kansas that plans to protest at synagogues and schools in the Great Neck area this week.
The officials' message to the public: Ignore the group, the Westboro Baptist Church, which is scheduled to protest here on Friday.
The group targets homosexuals and Jews, among others, and is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a national nonprofit civil rights law firm. On the Westboro Web site, it says that since 1991 it has conducted "41,226 peaceful demonstrations opposing the [homosexual] lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth."
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens) said, "These are very wacky people. It's a cult. . . . Don't be there. Don't, even out of curiosity, walk by to see what they are doing." Without public and media attention, he added, the group would lose its ability to be heard. The group has also gained infamy by protesting at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying it is protesting America's tolerance of homosexuality and because the military allows gays to serve in it.
The group did not respond Monday to messages seeking comment.
Monday's meeting was organized by North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman, and included public officials such as Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice and Nassau Police Commissioner Lawrence W. Mulvey.
Kaiman said it was important that the community be unified in its handling of the protest. He said the group thrives on confrontation and publicity. "One cannot reason with people that demonstrate at soldiers' funerals, synagogues, churches, and public and private schools with hateful, offensive speech," Kaiman said. "We do not want to show respect to them by engaging them in a dialogue or even shouting at them as they shout at us."
Nassau County Police Commissioner Lawrence W. Mulvey said there is a possibility they may not even show up, even though they have permits to protest"They are not a violent group," Mulvey said. "They just use some hateful language and stir the emotions of the community."Rice said, "It is hateful speech and it is disturbing they are coming here during the High Holy Days" between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Alan Goldsmith, executive director of Temple Beth El in Great Neck, one of the synagogues where the group plans to protest, said Sabbath services would go on normally. "We're going to not give them what they want, which is confrontation," he said.