Monday, July 9, 2012

Texas A&M 'Maroon Wall' Thwarts Westboro ‘Church’ at LTC Roy Tisdale Funeral (Update)

First, the important information.

Lieutenant Colonel Roy L Tisdale, US Army, was shot to death by one of his soldiers during a safety briefing at Fort Bragg, North Carolina on 28 June 2012.  The shooter, who had been implicated with two others in the theft of a $1700 toolbox, also slightly wounded SPC Michael Latham before fatally turning the gun on himself.
Lt Col Roy L Tisdale

LTC Tisdale was a native of Alvin, Texas (south of Houston) and a member of the class of ’92 of Texas A&M University, a member of its historic Corps of Cadets (Company D-2) which gives the university its strong military background.  He was commissioned into the Infantry and had served with such units as the 2/18th Infantry, 1/30th Infantry, 1/509th Infantry, and 1/38th Cavalry, and served twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan.  He was Commanding Officer of the new 525th Brigade Special Troops Battalion of the 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, XVIII Airborne Corps, since it activated in January 2012.  His awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal (V), Purple Heart (possibly three), Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Senior Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge, Ranger Tab, Expert Infantryman Badge, and Combat Infantryman Badge, as well as apparently a Tunisian Parachutist Badge. 

Son Lane Tisdale, surrounded by family and supporters, at the funeral of his father.  Col Tisdale's mother Linda is behind Lane, with wife Kim at his side.

He is survived by his mother Linda (her husband previously deceased in 1991), wife Kim, brother SFC Charles Tisdale, daughter Megan, and son Lane.  An ardent Texas Aggie, Lt Col Tisdale was laid to rest at the Aggie Field of Honor, a cemetery in College Station, Texas, home of Texas A&M.  Remarks at his funeral at Central Baptist Church included those by State Senator Steve Ogden (R-Bryan/College Station), Major General Rodney Anderson, Colonel Jim Dunham of the Corps of Cadets, and friend and classmate Lieutenant Colonel Steven Ruth.

The honor guard, composed of members of Tisdale's command.  Daughter Megan is to the right, with mother Linda behind.

The above is what constitutes the information contained in an obituary, at once generally typical yet personally tragic.  I did not have the privilege of meeting Col Tisdale, but his death touches me as an older brother of the cohort of thousands who served in the Aggie Corps (class of ’72, Squadron 9, in my case).  LTC Ruth asked a woman, one of many people who lined the streets as Col Tisdale’s body was brought in from Austin, if she perhaps knew him, to which she replied, “He is a son of Aggieland – there are no strangers here on this road.”  God speed, Colonel Tisdale, and may He bless your family in this time of healing.

It was distressing, then, to learn that the funeral of this ‘soldier and knightly gentleman’ had become a target of the contended and contentious ‘Westboro Baptist Church’ of Topeka, Kansas.  I have no idea, nor do I care, where ‘Westboro’ comes from, but that is the most accurate term in its title.  They call themselves a church (estimated at 40 people, though they claim 100), but it is composed almost entirely of family members of its leader and 'pastor', Fred Phelps (born 1929), who makes the term ‘fire and brimstone’ look benign.  As for his claim to be ‘Baptist’, that word is so diluted in American experience as to mean practically anything, but in this case the best version would be ‘non-denominational’, and worst (and more accurately) ‘Phelpsian’.  At any rate, standard Baptist conventions and associations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention and the World Baptist Alliance, reject and condemn them.  Phelps rages from the pulpit and any other venue against his multitudinous sins of America (particularly homosexuality, Judaism, Roman Catholicism, and the US military) and exults over the deaths of American service members, claiming that God hates them as punishment for the sins of the country.  Phelps claims to be a Calvinist, but considering the wide range of his targets, apparently the Elect include only his family.  A unaccustomedly mild quote from Shirley Phelps-Roper, one of his more stentorian daughters: “We are to supposed to blind their eyes, stop up their ears and harden their hearts so that they cannot see, hear or understand, and be converted and receive salvation.”  Hardly Calvinist, or rational for that matter.

Shirley Phelps-Roper in one of her quieter moments

Significantly, his large family is also incorporated into a law firm, eleven of his thirteen children being lawyers, dealing primarily with civil rights cases, though Phelps himself was permanently disbarred in 1977  for perjury in his vituperative and protracted attack in a lawsuit on a court clerk who did not respond to his demand for a transcript as quickly as he would have liked.  (Having lost his case, he declared upon his appeal that he had eight witnesses that would back up his accusation in court that the clerk was a "slut" -- his word, among others -- but affidavits were obtained from all eight stating that this was untrue and that Phelps had never contacted them.  In 1985, nine Federal judges filed a disciplinary complaint against him, and Phelps agreed to stop practicing law in Federal court.)  That hasn’t stopped Phelps, a lifelong Democrat, from running for a variety of state-wide offices, and his son was a delegate for Al Gore at the 1988 Democratic National Convention.  The family cum law firm cum ‘church’ is best known for travelling the country to loudly protest in outrageous fashion at funerals of service members, financed by lawsuits they then file when they claim that they are harassed by the bereaved family and friends.  It is an obscene assembly (no hyperbole intended) that exults in its narcissistic media circuses, made more so by the judgment in their favour in the Supreme Court case (where they were supported by the ACLU) of Snyder vs Phelps (2011), resulting in a ruling of 8-1.  Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion, which included, “What Westboro said, in the whole context of how and where it chose to say it, is entitled to 'special protection' under the First Amendment and that protection cannot be overcome by a jury finding that the picketing was outrageous.”  Justice Samuel Alito, the lone dissenter, said that the Mr Snyder in this case only wanted to bury his son in peace, but the protestors “brutally attacked” his family in order to gain notoriety.  “Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case.”

Having now set the stage, imagine the reaction from the College Station community when this perverted ‘church’ issued a press release (reading it gives one a hideous flavour of their attitude) claiming that it would picket and demonstrate at the Tisdale funeral. There is hardly any place where the phrase “Don’t Mess With Texas” is more apt than the environs of Texas A&M, one of the more conservative and patriotic areas of the former republic and unique state.

One group that has sprung up in response to the Phelps family circus has been the Patriot Guard, a group of military veterans who are, shall we say, motorcycle enthusiasts.  They make it a point to attend funerals that are threatened by the Phelps family, to create a wide buffer, both in distance and sound, between the graveside and this insanely clownish posse.  The Guard was there in strength and provided an escort for the cortege.

The otherwise newsworthy note of the event, and typical of the Aggies, was the spontaneous move by several of them to create a ‘Maroon Wall’ (the color for A&M) to further protect the family and congregants at the service at the real Baptist church and at the graveside.  A small collection of students and former students (A&M has no ‘alumni’), such as Chris Ryan and Ryan Seliza, used social networking to put out the word:
It is proposed that we respond with True Aggie spirit.
In response to their yelling, we will be silent.  Like Silver Taps, like Bonfire Memorial.
In response to their signs of hate, we will wear maroon.
In response to their mob anger, we will form a line, arm in arm.
This is a silent vigil.  A manifestation of our solidarity. 
At last estimate, some 750 responded, linking arms in the 94o heat and forming a human barricade, backs turned to where the Westboro circus would be (and the Patriot Guard standing nearby).  Fellow organizer Lily McAlister said:
We are standing here quietly.  We are here for the family.  We are positioned with our back to them.  Everyone has been singing, there’s no yelling back.

Texas Governor Rick Perry (class of ’72, Squadron 6) commended the human shield:
Texas A&M has a long history with our nation’s armed forces, so it’s no surprise Aggies would rally behind a fallen service member and his family.
In any event, Westboro ended up being a no-show.  A childish response from them, pertaining to news of the Maroon Wall, was “Ha! We didn’t even show up!”  John the (real) Baptist spoke of separating the wheat from the chaff (Matthew 3:12), and I must believe that God in His infinite wisdom will deal with them in their time, and perhaps pity may be mixed in His judgment.  That is for God, for I can muster little pity for them on my behalf, and I pray His forgiveness in that regard.  But in the meantime, I am comforted by the words of Matthew 7:21-23: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? . . .   And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” 

For the Aggies and other kindred spirits who preserve the dignity and peace that allow the family to grieve as they should, we have nothing but heart-felt thanks for a proper demonstration of what is best for times like these. 

“There are no strangers on this road.”

Update: Another touching note, from after the funeral – the Stephenville Empire-Tribune, hometown of Ryan Slezia (’08), has more information about how the Maroon Wall came about, and adds:
Before the plans were finalized, the group called on Tisdale's widow to make sure their presence was welcome and learned they were "definitely wanted there."
And their presence obviously brought peace to the fallen lieutenant colonel's loved ones....
"The next day, they went back and made a [correction] to his obituary," Slezia said. "They added the 'Maroon Wall' as a survivor."
To wit:
As of the afternoon of July 5, 2012, it can be added that Lt. Col. Roy Lin Tisdale, Texas Aggie Class of ’92, is survived by the Maroon Wall, a tribute symbolic of the love, respect and honor of former students for their fellow Aggie. No better example can be found of just what it means to be part of the Texas Aggie family. The most powerful statement of all against hate was made, in complete, reverent silence.
Update: As to the no-show status of the Phelps circus, it is rumored that a police patrol, perhaps members of the Texas Department of Public Safety, became concerned about a tail-light on one of the trailers or vans of the caravan while the family was having a meal enroute.  The resultant investigation and repair was a likely factor in the delay, along with the news that their scheme had been placed in check.


  1. It is a serious sin in the eyes of God to harass a mourner. It's one of the rare sins that even states the results of what will happen as a result: The person showing cruelty to a widow and orphan will die from sword and thy wife shall be left a widow and their children shall be orphans. I couldn't make this stuff up. Karma will come back to strike at these despicable people who call themselves Godly.

    1. I believe that would be Exodus 22:22-24, for those who wish to invoke an imprecatory prayer -- suitable for a counter-protest sign at one of their covens/rallies.


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