Westboro Baptist Church Protestor

Westboro Baptist Church Protestors

Westboro Baptist Church is an unaffiliated Baptist church, at least technically. In actuality, it is one of the most abhorrent and rabid hate groups in the United States.  And on this lunchtime bike ride I stopped to watch a couple of its members, who were here in D.C. actively protesting on the sidewalk on Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in front of the White House.

The church originated in 1955 as a branch of the East Side Baptist Church in Topeka, about three miles west of the Kansas State capitol. East Side Baptist Church initially hired a man named Fred Phelps to be an associate pastor, and then promoted him to be the pastor of their new church plant, Westboro Baptist, in a residential neighborhood on the west side of Topeka. Soon after it was established, Phelps broke all ties with East Side Baptist. Since that time it has basically been a family-based cult of personality built around its patriarch, Fred Phelps. And despite Phelps’ death in March of 2014, the church continues to remain focused on the hatred he cultivated.

Typified by its slogan, “God Hates Fags,” the Westboro group is best known for its harsh anti-gay beliefs, and hate speech which is usually directed against LGBT people, Jews and politicians. The hateful rhetoric can often be seen in the crude signs its members carry at their frequent protests, like this one. The group began its “picketing ministry,” meaning their practice of holding controversial protests to raise awareness of the church and its beliefs, in 1991 in a nearby park in Topeka, alleging it was a den of anonymous homosexual activity. Soon their protests had spread throughout the city, and within three years the church was traveling across the country.

The group claims to claim to have picketed more than 40,000 times, and claims to conduct an average of six protests in different locations every day. Many of the targets of the group’s protests seem to be chosen at random. Examples of places where the group has picketed include Kansas City Chiefs football games, the Indianapolis 500, Broadway musicals, the headquarters of Twitter, President Obama’s daughters’ schools, Comic-Con, public appearances by Bob Dole, and Justin Bieber concerts.

But it was in 1998 that Westboro came into the national spotlight, when they were featured on national news programs for picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man from Wyoming who was beaten to death by two men because of his homosexuality. Since that time the Westboro group, also sometimes referred to as “Phelpses,” have made a point of picketing at funerals for the publicity and notoriety in generates. They have conducted protests at: the funerals of three students who were killed in a house fire at the University of Wisconsin; the funerals of the victims of the Sago mine disaster in West Virginia; the funeral of former Mormon Church president Gordon B. Hinckley in Utah; the Arizona funeral of Christina Green, a 9-year-old victim of the 2011 Tucson shooting in which Representative Gabrielle Giffords was also shot; the Sandy Hook School shooting victims’ funerals in Newtown, Connecticut, and; recording artist Michael Jackson’s funeral in California.  And as if protesting the funerals of tragic deaths of gay individuals and celebrities were not extreme enough, the group expanded to include protesting at the funerals of American military members killed in the service of their country.

I guess I can sum up my thoughts and impressions of the protestors I watched and the group they represent by saying that they enabled me to find the only thing on which I can say that I side with the Ku Klux Klan.  The Klan, the white supremacy hate group which has been known to use terrorism aimed at groups or individuals whom they oppose, recently felt the need to repudiate the Westboro Baptist Church and its beliefs and activities.  The Klan even participated in a counter-protest when the Westboro group held a protest at Arlington National Cemetery.  Exactly how evil does your organization have to be to have the Ku Klux Klan say, “Ummm … yeah … they’re too extreme and evil for us.”

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