A strange scene unfolded at Cleveland’s Public Square on the afternoon of the second day of the Republican National Convention: Raised on a platform above a chaotic sea of police, journalists, and counter-protesters, a group of five Westboro Baptist Church members stood holding signs that read “Fags Doom Nations” and “Divorce Remarriage and Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ Are All Sin.”
The signs of joke protesters expertly imitated the Westboro ones, with nonsense statements such as “God Hates Morning People” almost blending in with the notorious church’s message. The Westboro Baptist Church is known for its anti-gay views, and for staging protests at military funerals.
“We have a duty to warn. If we don’t warn and they go to hell, their blood is on us,” one of the Westboro protesters told Quartz.
Local news website Cleveland.com reported that there were racially charged scuffles at the protest earlier in the afternoon.
As the Westboro group left the stage before 6pm, Vermin Supreme, the bearded, rain-boot-hatted, absurdist political comedian was shrieking into a megaphone, bidding them a hostile goodbye.
The joke protesters and a rag-tag assembly of anti-Trump protesters remained on the square, to the sounds of bongo drums, surrounded by a much larger crowd of police and media.
Thus far, protests in Cleveland appear to be calmer than anticipated, with groups no larger than several hundred showing up to both pro- and anti-Trump gatherings. Cleveland police and officers from law enforcement agencies from all around the country are highly visible patrolling city streets.