George Vogel, 62, has been charged with 16 counts of misdemeanor assault and one count of felony assault on a police officer, after using pepper spray on a group of protesters outside a military funeral in Omaha, Nebraska. The incident took place on Saturday, a little before 10 am, at a service for Staff Sgt. Michael Bock.
Protesters had gathered a half block from the First United Methodist Church to protest at the funeral. The group included members from Westboro Baptist Church, a church known for its high profile protests at military funerals. Counter-protesters gathered nearby.
Vogel allegedly pulled up next to the protesters and fired pepper spray from a large can. The truck Vogel was driving was pulled over by police moments later. Since his child was in the truck he is also facing child neglect charges.
Michael Pecha, spokesman for Omaha police, says it appears Vogel was targeting the Westboro Baptist Church protesters. However, most of the people affected by the spray were counter-protesters.
Westboro members have become nationally known for their belief that soldiers’ deaths are part of God’s punishment for homosexuality. They are often seen protesting at military funerals nationwide.
600 members of the Patriot Guard stood vigil around the church. The Patriot Guard members were invited by the deceased’s family to shield them from the protesters. Scott Knudsen, captain for the Nebraska Patriot Guard, said that the group had no interaction with the protesters, as they keep their backs to them.
(image: Westboro members protesting a funeral, flickr.com/k763)