His father, Albert Snyder, later told the Marine Corps Times how beautiful it was to see strangers come out on the streets of Westminster and salute the funeral procession as it drove to a nearby veterans cemetery. "I've never seen a funeral like this in my life," Snyder said. "It was just amazing to see."
A small group of religious extremists from the Westboro Baptist Church traveled 1,100 miles from their home in Topeka to stage a shocking celebration outside St. John's. The group of adults and children waved signs declaring "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "God hates fags" and shouted offensive slogans -- part of their bizarre gospel, which states that soldiers will continue to die so long as America tolerates gays, Jews and Catholics.
Snyder didn't see those hate-spewing protesters that day. The church windows had been blocked out and the Patriot Guard Riders -- a team of motorcyclists who attend military funerals around the country and separate the Westboro mob from mourners -- shielded the cemetery. But he saw their crude signs later during television news reports. And two weeks after the funeral, he read a rant titled "The Burden of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder" posted on the Westboro website.
The essay accused Matthew's parents of raising their son "for the devil" and teaching him about adultery and divorce. (His parents are separated.) It also said they supported "the largest pedophile machine in the history of the entire world, the Roman Catholic monstrosity." Snyder told CNN that he felt physically sick after read that online tirade.
The 55-year-old father of three has described himself in interviews as a quiet man who attempted to avoid confrontation all his life. But he wasn't prepared to stand by and allow the Phelps clan, who run the Westboro church, to slander his family. "They are very sick individuals," Snyder said to CNN. "It comes down to dignity. No one should be buried with what the Phelps did. Everyone deserves to be buried with dignity."
His fight back started straight away. On June 5, 2006, he sued the Westboro church for defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of distress. The suit didn't ask for money, but stated that the Phelps should pay emotional damages, Snyder's court costs as well as punitive damages for "reprehensible actions." Albert's plan was to cripple the church financially and put an end to its campaign of hate and bigotry.
A jury accepted Snyder's claim, and in 2007 his family was awarded $2.9 million in compensatory damages, plus $8 million in punitive damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress and intrusion upon seclusion. A year after that verdict, a federal judge in Baltimore reduced the total damages to $5 million.
But in 2009, that judgment was overturned by an appeals court in Richmond, Va., which ruled that Snyder would have to pay $16,000 toward the Phelps' legal costs. (Fox News' Bill O'Reilly offered to cover those costs.) Despite those massive setbacks, Albert refused to back down. His lawyers petitioned the Supreme Court, and in March 2010, it agreed to hear his case.
"[Albert] knows what Matt went through in Iraq, and he feels like he can't back down just because this is getting tough, because Matt didn't back down," Craig Trebilcock, one of two lawyers representing Snyder pro bono, told The Baltimore Sun last year. "He's tougher than when we started out. Kind of like something that's been hit so many times, it's become tougher."
"It kind of restores your faith in mankind after dealing with this wacko church," Snyder told The Baltimore Sun last March. "Win or lose, I'll know that I did everything I could for Matt, and for all the soldiers and Marines who are still coming home dying."