Someting good has come out of the Suporeme Court ruling about Westboro "Church." This Article was in the local "Day" newspaper. Defenders of military families at funerals see membership spike Eight thousand people have joined the Patriot Guard Riders nationwide in the week since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a fringe church that stages anti-gay protests at military funerals. When the Westboro Baptist Church makes news nationally, the Patriot Guard Riders see a spike in their membership. This time, however, it's more dramatic, given the attention and interest in the March 2 Supreme Court ruling, which held that the First Amendment protects the church's demonstrations at funerals for U.S. soldiers killed in action. The Patriot Guard Riders shield the mourning family and friends. "I don't want anybody's speech violated, but I also don't want our military denigrated," said Douglas Van Houten of Middletown. "I'm a big enough guy that I can stand between two people, block a view and do whatever is asked of me to show respect for the military. Where would we be without them?" A retired Air Force master sergeant, Van Houten had thought about joining the Patriot Guard Riders for years. The Supreme Court decision spurred him to sign up Saturday. Twenty-one of the new Patriot Guard Riders joined from Connecticut. Nationally, membership now stands at about 221,000, including 1,200 in the state. Typically a few hundred people join per week. "People reacted with anger and disgust, and they want to do something about it. Our organization is uniquely suited to do just that," said Bob Stone, the Connecticut state captain, explaining that the Patriot Guard Riders do not interact with protesters. "We simply shield the service with our bodies and our flags. If they get really noisy, we park the motorcycles there and rev our engines. I don't like doing that. We're not there to put on a show, but whatever it takes." 'Beautiful' reaction A spokeswoman for Westboro Baptist Church, of Topeka, Kan., called the membership increase "beautiful" since it means there will be more people at the funerals to hear the church's "message." "Yay! How good is that?" Shirley Phelps-Roper said Tuesday. "It is so much easier to tell people the message if they get off their dead butts and get out there to the streets." The Patriot Guard Riders formed in 2005 in opposition to the Westboro Baptist Church. Their mission is two-fold - to show respect for the fallen members of any military branch, their families and communities, as well as to protect the mourning family from any protesters, not to counter-protest. Thursday, the Patriot Guard Riders will go to the funeral for Army Spec. David R. Fahey Jr., 23, of Norwalk, who was killed Feb. 28 in Afghanistan when insurgents attacked his unit using an improvised explosive device. He was promoted posthumously to his current rank of specialist. The Fahey family asked the Patriot Guard Riders to attend. A contingent from Connecticut will meet in Danbury Thursday morning, then meet their counterparts for the funeral services in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Fahey was born in Norwalk and raised in Yorktown Heights. Thomas Fahey said in a statement that his nephew was "a man of uncompromising integrity who served both God and country." James "Sneakysnake" Davis, a vice president on the Patriot Guard Board of Directors, said Tuesday, "We have soldiers fighting for our rights today. One is freedom of speech. The very thing they're fighting for, Westboro is using against them when they give their life for this country." Phelps-Roper said she was unsure if the Thursday service was on the church's "schedule of pickets." Westboro Baptist Church, founded by Fred Phelps, proclaims that military deaths are God's retribution for America's tolerance of homosexuality. The Supreme Court case stemmed from the church's protest at the Maryland funeral of a Marine who died in Iraq, Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder. His father, Albert Snyder, sued. The church plans to step up its activities in the wake of the court decision, Phelps-Roper said. Its members protested in East Lyme in 2006 at the services for Army Capt. Jason Hamill. The Waterford High School Drama Club, the Patriot Guard Riders and members of several motorcycle groups acted as a buffer. "Westboro isn't going to change what they're doing, and we're not going to change what we're doing," Davis said. "For us, it's all about honoring that fallen hero for their sacrifice on behalf of all of us, and respecting the family for what they're going through. That's the bottom line."