Protesters from a Kansas church that has received national attention for its anti-gay and anti-Semitic messages had their rental van’s tires slashed when they visited Stanford University this morning, a member of the church said.
Five members of the Westboro Baptist Church protested this morning outside the Taube Hillel House, home to a Stanford Jewish student organization.
While the church members were picketing outside the building, the group’s van had three of its tires slashed, according to church member Shirley Phelps-Roper.
University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin said campus police are investigating the vandalism to the group’s rental van. She said campus officials had reached out to the Westboro members and offered a reserved parking spot and security for them after seeing reports that their vehicles had been vandalized at past rallies around the country.
However, Lapin said the group instead decided to park about a block away from the Taube Hillel House.
About 1,000 counter-protesters from Stanford showed up for a demonstration “in favor of tolerance and supporting diversity and community,” and the event was “generally very peaceful,” Lapin said.
Before traveling to Stanford today, the Westboro members also protested outside Gunn High School in Palo Alto, where three current students, an incoming freshman, and a recent graduate have committed suicide on nearby Caltrain tracks since May.
Lapin said campus police believe a group of counter-protesters from the Palo Alto protest may have followed the church members to Stanford and committed the vandalism. No arrests have been made in connection with the incident.
Lapin said the rental car company provided the group with an alternate means of transportation for the rest of the day. The church members plan to picket at several different sites in San Francisco, including two Jewish schools and a courthouse.
Phelps-Roper said the incident will not stop the group from its other protests today.
“It doesn’t change anything, we simply did what we do and got to the next picket,” she said.
The rally outside Gunn High School involved about 150 Gunn students and supporters who gathered nearby for a counter-protest, Palo Alto police Lt. Sandra Brown said.
Brown said “everything went relatively smoothly”, and although there was a lot of yelling back and forth across Arastradero Street, which separated the groups, overall the event was “relatively peaceful, just a lot of singing, a lot of signs,” Brown said.
The school’s start time had been pushed back about an hour so most students would not be disrupted by the protesters, according to district officials.
The Westboro group has traveled throughout the Bay Area this week, picketing outside several sites, including a high school and Twitter headquarters in San Francisco on Thursday.
Nina Grotch with the Anti-Defamation League says along with anti-gay and anti-Semitic rhetoric, the church also espouses anti-black and anti-government rhetoric.
The Anti-Defamation League has coordinated with various sites where Westboro members planned to show up this week to provide information about the church and its tactics.
Grotch said the Anti-Defamation League encourages people to not engage with the church members, because “they’re just there to provoke.”