Virginia businessman Justin Beights vowed Thursday to stage a satirical black-tie gala in Topeka to simultaneously throw a harsh spotlight on anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church and to darkly honor with a lifetime achievement award a prominent official of the National Rifle Association.
In a bizarre twist, Beights said the tribute for NRA mogul Wayne LaPierre would be presented in April on behalf of Westboro Baptist Church. That's right, Westboro Baptist Church — not the group of Fred Phelps followers who have spent decades picketing funerals and other locales across the country, but the advertising and marketing firm created by Beights under that name.
Beights said in an interview that he secured preliminary authorization from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to claim a trademark on the name Westboro Baptist Church. He said he was surprised attorneys affiliated with the Topeka church didn't object.
"If I can spend a little bit of time, have a little bit of fun and diminish the credibility of both groups, even a little bit, I will," said Beights, a Charlottesville, Va., entrepreneur and real estate developer.
While Beights had plenty to say about the NRA and WBC, the actual Topeka church declined to comment and the NRA politely informed Beights it would get back to him. A spokesperson for LaPierre thanked Beights for reaching out to the NRA and indicated a representative would be in touch.
Beights said he didn't expect LaPierre to show up at the gala, but the backup plan would be to locate a replacement who looked similar to the NRA executive and had a sense of humor.
"Wayne’s unbridled passion for the elimination of gun control legislation really made him a no-brainer to be the recipient of our first lifetime achievement award," Beights said. "Without his continued efforts, God would have an extremely difficult time punishing this nation for its acceptance of homosexuality."
LaPierre, who is the NRA's chief executive, survived demands for his resignation this year related to financial mismanagement of the powerful gun lobbying organization. He has previously claimed the constitutional right in the United States to bear arms was "granted by God to all Americans."
The inaugural Westboro Baptist Church gala would be scheduled April 4 and the dinner-and-music roast of LaPierre would raise money for The LGBT Foundation and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Beights said.
It wouldn't be Beights' first attempt at whimsical showmanship to make a political point. In 2018, he proposed that accordion-playing clowns serenade white supremacist Scott Rhodes near Sandpoint, Idaho. Rhodes is affiliated with The Road To Power, a podcasting site that was linked to robocalls in Charlottesville, Va., referring to black people in offensive terms.