When Marine Sgt. Michael Guillory was killed in action last December, word quickly spread that Westboro Baptist Church, a group that travels the country picketing funerals for fallen members of the military, was headed to Slidell. St. Charles Parish Cpl. Doug Richardson hopped on his motorcycle and headed to St. Tammany Parish to support Guillory’s family as a member of the Patriot Guard.
The Patriot Guard is a motorcycle club whose members attend the funerals of U.S. armed forces members, firefighters and police at the invitation of the deceased’s family. The group was originally formed in 2005 to shelter and protect families against protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church, who claim that the deaths of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are divine retribution for America’s tolerance of homosexuality.
"It’s a pretty sick thing they do," Richardson said. "That day we had more than 1,000 show up to support the family and Westboro never showed their face."
Richardson has gone on missions for the Patriot Guard for nearly three years. He heard about the group on the Internet and liked what they were doing and what they stood for.
"At the time I was a new motorcycle owner, so I signed up," he said.
When Richardson and the rest of the Patriot Guard arrive at a funeral, they stand in a line with each person holding a U.S. flag on a staff or on a pole. Though the initial goal of the flag line was to shield family members from protestors, Richardson said Westboro Baptist Church rarely travels to Louisiana.
"The entire mission is about support," he said. "It originally came about as a counter to Westboro Baptist Church, but the main reason we are there is to show the family that we are there for them. It’s all about support."
Richardson has lost count of how many funerals he has attended, but whenever he is available, he travels to be there as a member of the Patriot Guard.
"Anyone is free to come and participate in the Patriot Guard...you don’t have to join," Richardson said. "We only have one requirement and that’s respect. It’s all about the veteran who gave his life and respecting him and his family."
Though Richardson was never in the military, a decision he regrets to this day, he comes from a long lineage of military members. His father was in the Army and his stepfather and both of his grandfathers were in the Navy.
"It’s something that has always been close to my heart," Richardson said. "It’s an honor to be able to pay respect to these men and women who basically gave everything for us."
The Patriot Guard doesn’t only travel to military funerals. When St. John Parish deputy Brandon Nielsen was killed in the line of duty, members of the Patriot Guard attended his funeral. Richardson was there as well, but as a member of the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office Color Guard.
"I was torn between whether I wanted to attend as a member of the Patriot Guard or the Color Guard, but I eventually chose to go as a Color Guard," Richardson said. "I have never been so proud to have been a part of both organizations as I was that day."
Because of his service in the Patriot Guard and his work as a deputy in St. Charles Parish, Richardson was recently named the American Legion Law Enforcement Officer of the Year.
In addition to his Sheriff’s Office work as a member of the Color Guard, Richardson is a field training officer for newly hired deputies as well as an instructor at the Sheriff’s Office training academy. He also participates in fundraising events for the Wounded Warrior Program and is active in Club Scouts Pack 267, Webelos and Lightning Patrol.
Richardson resides in Destrehan with his wife, Marua, and his two children, April and Doug Jr.