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September 25, 2009

Brooklyn pwns Westboro
Posted by Patrick at 02:09 PM * 87 comments

Noting that representives of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church (the “God Hates Fags” people) are currently visiting Brooklyn in order to denounce godlessness and fagitude at such institutions as Brooklyn Technical High School and Congregation Beth Elohim, an editorial in the Brooklyn Paper offers some sound advice:

One of the dozens of commenters on our online story about the Westboro bigotry said counter-protesters at a similar hatefest once dressed as pirates, held stuffed toy parrots and yelled out “Arrrgh, mateys” every few minutes. The media ended up covering the pirates more than the bigots.

We think Brooklyn can do even better. Here are some suggestions:

* Buy an ice cream cone and eat it really messily—so messily that news photographers can’t help but take a picture of the disgusting scene. Say you are protesting the tyranny of neatness in America today.

* Dress up in antebellum garb and hold signs indicating your contempt for the Tariff of 1833. If asked, say you are a Whig.

* Wear a black-and-white-striped shirt, a beret and white face paint and perform a mime piece in protest of the widespread hatred of mimes worldwide.

* Dress up as Mr. Met and wear a huge “Kick me” sign. (OK, that’s not a counter-protest. That’s reality.)

Aside from the fact that it’s startling to see the techniques of street theater being matter-of-factly discussed in a newspaper editorial, these are also good approaches because, like the website God Hates Shrimp and the Chicago anti-Westboro demonstrators who held up signs reading “God hates the new Facebook,” they wrench the frame. They remind everyone that the world is larger than the dismal mutterings of a tiny family cult.

===

Addenda (compiled by TNH):

Many thanks to Charlie Stross for posting a link to that invaluable work, Fred Phelps is a Con Man:

Fred Phelps does not believe what he is doing. This is a scam.

It’s a business. They travel the country, set up websites telling you exactly when they’ll be there, and using the most inflammatory statements all over the place, just to get someone to violate their rights for profit. Then they sue the military, the police force that was to protect them, and everyone that is around them for money. This is a sham, and it is a trap to get people sued. Every member of his family is an attorney. Phelps does not break the law. What he does is try to make you break the law by trying to punch your sensibilities about everything you hold dear, and then sue you and everyone municipality around him to the max.

This is a scam. Whether he believes his posters or not is irrelevant. He’s using this as a moneymaking scheme. Lay one finger on him, do one thing that violates him, and he will sue you, and more importantly, the city, the police department, the US Military, and any private property owner he happens to be standing on to make money off of it.

Thanks also to Avram Grumer, for providing supporting documentation:
[A]ccording to this timeline from the Southern Poverty Law Center, Phelps filed about 400 lawsuits during his 25-year legal career (1964-1989), mostly against the federal government, including a 1984 lawsuit against then-President Reagan for sending an ambassador to the Vatican. Phelps’s estranged son Nathan claimed that Fred would deliberately file frivolous suits hoping his targets would settle to avoid having to pay for an expensive legal battle.

More relevant to the matter at hand are 1993 award of $43,000 to Phelps’s WBC arising from complaints about his picket lines; the 1995 case where Phelps’s grandson spat on a passer-by during a picket, was sued, and the WBC counter-sued; and the 1997 filing of a $7 million lawsuit against the city of Topeka, for failing to protect his picketers.

That timeline ends in 2000, so it doesn’t include the more recent lawsuit against the state of Missouri, over a state law limiting the right to protest at funerals.

The Fred Phelps timeline is the work of those lawful good paladins, The Southern Poverty Law Center. They published it in the SPLC Intelligence Report as an accompaniment to their article about Fred Phelps’ abuse of the city of Topeka:
All concerned agree that the WBC really does hate gays. But at least one church member has said openly that if all homosexuals disappeared, congregants would find some other reason to picket.

And Suzanne James, who recently resigned after eight years in the Shawnee County District Attorney’s office as director of victim services, says Phelps’s opposition to homosexuality obscures a deeper purpose—promoting himself and hurting others.

“I’m so tired of people calling him an ‘anti-gay activist’,” James told the Report. “He’s not an anti-gay activist. He’s a human abuse machine.”

Another sidebar, On the inside, discusses Fred Phelps’ abuse of his family.

I’m not sure who came up with the link to About Fred Phelps on the God Hates Fred Phelps website. It’s a good link.

Finally, one of our readers, posting pseudonymously in the comment thread as SuedByAWBCMoppet, comment #21, has written about his or her own experience of having “…been sued by a member of WBC for violating their civil right to protest.” I recommend it.

Comments on Brooklyn pwns Westboro:
#1 ::: DaveKuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 02:59 PM:

Hmmm, I wonder if a protest modeled on that would work in Frederick, MD?

#2 ::: disconnect ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 03:06 PM:

Sadly, the only way pwnage will be obtained is by having God himself set Mr. Phelps straight. The rest of this is just noise to him and his people. It's just Satan trying to smear their message, or something.

"The media ended up covering the pirates more than the bigots."

But they still covered the bigots.

#3 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 03:31 PM:

The suggestion to "Buy an ice cream cone and eat it really messily" is a nice if subtle touch - because there really are wingnuts on the record as being offended by such crass enslavement to carnal appetite.

Most famously, Leon Kass, the wingnut ethics advisor to George Bush:

Worst of all from this point of view are those more uncivilized forms of eating, like licking an ice cream cone – a catlike activity that has been made acceptable in informal America but that still offends those who know eating in public is offensive. … Eating on the street–even when undertaken, say, because one is between appointments and has no other time to eat – displays [a] lack of self-control: It beckons enslavement to the belly. … Lacking utensils for cutting and lifting to mouth, he will often be seen using his teeth for tearing off chewable portions, just like any animal. … This doglike feeding, if one must engage in it, ought to be kept from public view, where, even if we feel no shame, others are compelled to witness our shameful behavior."

Ah, wingnuts - impossible to parody.

#4 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 03:32 PM:

They cover these bigots because they're so incredibly outrageous and over the top. Some large fraction of news lives on the outrage of the day, and Phelps and company provide a deep, deep well of outrageous awfulness.

#5 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 03:34 PM:

disconnect @2:
Sadly, the only way pwnage will be obtained is by having God himself set Mr. Phelps straight. The rest of this is just noise to him and his people. It's just Satan trying to smear their message, or something.

If the Lord of Hosts Himself were to appear in Brooklyn, accompanied by Seraphim and Cherubim, Thrones and Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels and Angels, all singing in Heavenly chorus while the saints cast down their golden crowns about His feet, if beside Him strode the Lord Jesus with the Sacred Heart in lambent glow while above and about Them and in the breast of every observer stirred the Holy Spirit, I'm fairly sure that Fred Phelps would thrust his grubby little signs in their faces and proclaim that God hated the whole filthy lot of them.

Or not. That's not the point.

Write Phelps off. The question is, how can we ensure he does the least damage to the real people whom he treats as the backdrop for his cheap and tawdry stage-play?

I say laugh at him, or yawn. Don't dignify him with your anger; that's just feeding the troll.

#6 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 03:36 PM:

Just in case anybody hasn't already seen it: Why the Westboro Baptist Church is a scam.

(Works for me, as an explanation.)

#7 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 03:38 PM:

Bob @3, that statement by Leon Kass outed him as a Venerian secret agent.

#9 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 04:01 PM:

They were just outside our campus Hillel last week protesting Rosh Hashanah. Protesting. Rosh. Hashanah. Right. Because Jesus was born Christian, you know.

#10 ::: Evelyn Browne ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 04:18 PM:

Have you seen the Phelps-a-thon? You can pledge money to various social justice causes for every minute that the Phelpses picket a selected site. Brilliant.

#11 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 04:30 PM:

Charlie Stross @6: "Why the Westboro Baptist Church is a scam"

I can't help but notice that the author doesn't provide any actual examples of the Phelps family suing people. When I google "fred phelps lawsuit" I find numerous references to a lawsuit against Phelps, but that's it (on the first page anyway.)

I also found these interesting links:

shorter bio of Phelps (he started out as a civil rights lawyer?!)

longer bio of Phelps (which I didn't read)

Definitely a bad, bad, crazy guy, with his own little family cult. But that particular article seems to be mostly speculation.

#12 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 04:45 PM:

They're trolls, and the usual debate is going on whether it's better to mock them or ignore them. We know that neither approach works very well. Where is my RL disemvoweler?

#13 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 04:53 PM:

A concept, rather than an idea.

TV news always has a reporter on-scene, talking to camera, with the events they are shocked to report going on behind them. Often, the background is little more than symbolic.

It would need timing. It might need a certain cooperation from the local Police. But why not steal the news coverage from Phelps. Something totally harmless, but distracting. A troupe of mimes. A respectable nun riding a Harley Davidson. Two fursuiters driving a WW2 Army jeep, in uniform. A drill sergeant leading a platoon of Elvis Presley impersonators. Zombie Michael Jacksons, moonwalking. A passing impromptu performance of West Side Story. And none of them making any more fuss than any other bystander trying to ignore a TV crew and a bunch of loudmouthed protestors. Something like a stage illusion, a group of Assistants erect a London Police Box, out of which a Doctor appears.

Anybody got a robotic shoulder-dragon?

#14 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 05:34 PM:

abi, #5: Yes. That's exactly why the pirate schtick worked so well -- it turned Phelps into a backdrop, and that won't have sat comfortably.

I mentioned this over on the open thread, but this is a better place for it: the official Phelps-a-Thon website is your one-stop shop for coordinating counter-protest fund-raisers. They just raised over $7,000 for the Indianapolis North Central High School GSA and a local Jewish youth group, both of which were targeted by Phelps yesterday. They make it easy to donate -- select a lump sum or a per-minute amount, pay by check or by PayPal -- and they send the WBC a postcard advising them of how much money their demonstration raised for promoting LGBT equality.

... and I see Evelyn beat me to it at #10. But it's worth repeating.

#15 ::: Bridget ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 06:03 PM:

They protested the funerals of the people killed when that plane went down in a suburb of Buffalo, which is where I live-- dozens of people showed up in angel costumes and completely surrounded them so that the mourners of the plane crash victims wouldn't see them. The Westboro nuts complained, but the funerals went off unharassed, which was what we wanted in the first place.

#16 ::: dr.hypercube ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 06:58 PM:

I'd like to see the local Christian churches leading the effort to deny these folks publicity-oxygen in various locales - to show that Christianity is not a violent and bloodthirsty religion + strike a blow for moderation + etc. You know - the kind of stuff the teevee chinwaggers are always telling the Moslem community to do. *grin*

Marching bands. Playing Black Sabbath.

#17 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 07:03 PM:

There are also the Patriot Guard Riders, a gang of burly bikers who go to the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and have taken to positioning themselves between the Westboro crew and the mourners so they can have a moment of peace.

#18 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 07:10 PM:

Bridget @15, the angel counter-protesters (as you may know, but just for other people reading this thread) date back to the trial of Matthew Shepard's murderers. Good to see that technique is still being used.

#19 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 07:24 PM:

LDR @11, according to this timeline from the Southern Poverty Law Center, Phelps filed about 400 lawsuits during his 25-year legal career (1964-1989), mostly against the federal government, including a 1984 lawsuit against then-President Reagan for sending an ambassador to the Vatican. Phelps's estranged son Nathan claimed that Fred would deliberately file frivolous suits hoping his targets would settle to avoid having to pay for an expensive legal battle.

More relevant to the matter at hand are 1993 award of $43,000 to Phelps's WBC arising from complaints about his picket lines; the 1995 case where Phelps's grandson spat on a passer-by during a picket, was sued, and the WBC counter-sued; and the 1997 filing of a $7 million lawsuit against the city of Topeka, for failing to protect his picketers.

That timeline ends in 2000, so it doesn't include the more recent lawsuit against the state of Missouri, over a state law limiting the right to protest at funerals.

#20 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 07:27 PM:

the dismal mutterings of a tiny family cult.
Patrick, shame on you for disparaging the height-challenged :-)

Dave Bell @ 13:
There used to be a precision drill team that wore Brooks Brothers suits and carried attache cases. The response to "inspect arms!" was to hold the cases out and pop the latch, flipping the case open. That would stop traffic and TV reporters anywhere, I'd think.

#21 ::: SuedByAWBCMoppet ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 08:02 PM:

LDR @11

WBC members, and especially their family members, sue plenty of people every day. Every. Day.

I'm posting this annonymously because I honestly believe that one of the cadre-of-evil known as Westboro Baptist Church would love nothing more than to interpret my comment here as libel and (pur)sue me for expressing it in a public forum.

I have been sued by a member of WBC for violating their civil right to protest (actually, I was sued for verbally abusing a minor). The "victim" was under the age of 12 years old, and the entirety of the case hinged on the definition of what constitutes private property vs. a public space; in this instance, a sidewalk in front of my home. I personally know or know of eleven other people who found themselves in civil court due to incidents that occurred on the same day of protest. The majority of us (9 of 11) were served by the representatives of minors.

The rights of minors to hate the things their parents tell them to hate seems to be a big deal to the WBC. Personally, I feel that telling a bile-spewing child to, and this is almost a direct quote, "get her hell off my driveway" (you know, I thought it was funny at the time) was warranted, noble even. Sadly it was an expensive response. I think picketing someone's funeral procession is deplorable. The judge agreed, but that didn't make my behavior "excusable in the eyes of the court"; and while the outcome of the case wasn't completely tragic (I was ordered to pay a nominal sum and deliver a written apology to the girl), it certainly wasn't found to be frivolous either.

Did I ask for review of what I felt was a totally unjust award? no. I was already thousands of dollars into it.

Did I accept the ridiculous settlement offer from her representation? HELL NO.

Did I have to agonize over that decision for days? Oh yes. For a while I thought that might be the best I could do. I didn't want to lose my home because kids are cute and grown-ups who yell at them are evil.

Are these people evil? Yes, and they are raising generations of evil to come after them. There is no reasoning with them. This is an industry and a business based on a simple truth: God can't love everyone, because then no one would be "righteous"...no one would be special. And they KNOW that God made them special. He proves it to them every time they win in court. He proves it every time they lose in court, because that's just Satan's evil conspiracy putting them through another trial of the righteous. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that breeds a deeper commitment to their process every day. Whether Phelps himself believes in his message is irrelevant. His foot-soldiers do. Completely and utterly.

And have NO doubt and plenty of personal experience that they WILL sue you in civil court if they possibly can. I recommend not engaging them, at all. The suggestions in this post seem like good alternatives, but they will have NO impact on his group. They will hate, they will leave, they will go somewhere else, and they will do it all again tomorrow. And they would love nothing more than a reason to come back and appear as a plaintiff against you in civil court.

And it won't be against Phelps or the WBC or anything that looks even remotely like a political protest in Westlaw or a state/local court records search either. They get you for the nitty-gritty things like verbal abuse, physical obstruction, menacing and threatening a minor, etc. Stuff that looks BAD and makes you want it to all go away. It's all a part of their game.

I caution you not to engage them, not to confront them. That's exactly what they want.

#22 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 08:25 PM:

This is probably a deeply stupid question, but it seems reasonable to go ahead and ask: Based on the data from the Southern Poverty Law Center, clearly this operation (I won't deign to link) is a fairly carefully designed extortion operation. Now, seeing as how the private health insurance industry is alive and well in the US (and will in all likelihood persist für immer und ewig) - why aren't they subject to tax fraud? Clearly, they're making enough money to persist and thrive, isn't that a profitability statement?

(Admittedly, this may be the painkillers talking, and we can't all be as clever as Dr. House under the influence...)

#23 ::: Pedantka ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 09:02 PM:

Evelyn@10, Lee@14--you both beat me to it. I just heard of Phelps-a-thon today and I clapped my hands and cheered out loud from my desk (scared the hell out of my officemate, mind). But it was honestly the most brilliantly cheering thing I've read all week.

#24 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 09:39 PM:

Charlie, Avram, thanks for posting those links just when I was thinking I'd have to dig them up myself. You're on the front page now, as is SuedByAWBCMoppet @21.

#25 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 09:44 PM:

You know, when I expressed modest approval of the tactics suggested by the Brooklyn Paper, I wasn't suggesting "engaging with" the WBC in any way. They're obviously impervious. The only "engagement" I was endorsing is with the rest of the world.

#26 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 09:48 PM:

I like to think that every protester who cleverly takes camera time away from Fred Phelps is a bitterly painful thorn in Phelps' side, and is helping reestablish the balance and sanity of the world.

Think of them as live-action Unicorn Chasers.

#27 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 10:07 PM:

You know, it occurs to me that if the media wants to help, they could do a lot of good by not showing up to film Phelps and the WBC on a predictable schedule. Unpunctual film crews would make it far more difficult, and less profitable, for Phelps to offset WBC travel expenses by scheduling several tightly-timed protests in the same city.

#28 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 10:12 PM:

A couple more links for the curious.

Running From Hell, an article about Nate Phelps. The website it was originally on doesn't have it any more.

The Uncomfortable Grayness of Life, a speech by Nate Phelps about growing up in the Phelps family.

#29 ::: PurpleGirl ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 10:25 PM:

From the Phelps-a-thon website and their own schedule page, they spent Friday, September 25 in Queens at a whole bunch of Jewish congregations and private high schools, and such. Saturday is indeed Brooklyn's turn and then on Monday they plan a protest at a Jewish synogogue back in Kansas.

What awful people they are.

#30 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 12:02 AM:

I love the idea of the local Hell's Angels or their first cousins getting between Phelps's minions/family and people he desires to torment. I love the idea of ordinary folks wearing fake wings and halos doing the same thing.

Fred Phelps and his followers would be nothing without the assistance of the media. If the media did not show up to film Phelps at all, that might do even more good.

#31 ::: Steve Kopka ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 12:07 AM:

Back in March, I was warmed by University of Chicago students and others who mocked local Westboro idiocy with signs such as "God Hates the New Facebook," "Figs Doom Nations," and, my favorite, "Cthulhu Hates Chordates."

#32 ::: Steve Kopka ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 12:13 AM:

How embarrassing. You've got the main Chicago link right in the original post. Well, enjoy "Cthulhu Hates Chordates," which didn't make the story.

#33 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 01:42 AM:

Quoting Leon Kass:

Eating on the street–even when undertaken, say, because one is between appointments and has no other time to eat – displays [a] lack of self-control: It beckons enslavement to the belly.

Beckons? Really? "Come here, belly enslavement! I am talking to you! See me crook my finger at you in a come-hither gesture!"

(I think he meant "betokens". Lightning and lightning bugs, innit.)

#34 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 03:17 AM:

Hey, according to Phelp's website about how God hates the world, I live in the "filthiest country in the world, bar none"!

(Hardly surprising, is it?)

Reading the articles on Nate Phelps, I am of course reminded of the Dysfunctional Families thread. The problem with the Phelps family, of course, is that they want the whole world to be as dysfunctional as they are. Inversion of another sort.

#35 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 07:56 AM:

Fred Phelps is malignly insane. Suzanne James got it right when she called him "a human abuse machine." I don't think his story is about religion, or the United States, or family relations, or the legal system. I think it's about a man who's spent his life hating and tormenting every person he's got leverage on. He pretends to religion because that's the public role that gives him the most leverage. If practicing law had given him more power and opportunity to hurt others, he wouldn't be a preacher.

When I try to think of other people who remind me of Fred Phelps, the closest match I get is Carl Drega, the hateful, snake-brained thug who in 1997 shot up Colebrook NH, the small town where Jim and Debra live.

This is from the long essay, "About Fred Phelps," at God Hates Fred Phelps:

During 1993–94 interviews with the Topeka Capital-Journal, the four Phelps children (out of thirteen, Mark, Nate, Katherine and Dotty) who had left the church asserted that their father’s religious beliefs were either nonexistent to begin with or have dwindled down to nearly nothing. They insist that Westboro actually serves to enable a paraphilia of Phelps, wherein he is literally addicted to hatred.
That's "paraphilia" as in "he doesn't just like hurting other people; he gets off on it." By that reckoning, Fred Phelps spends his waking hours in a perpetual state of masturbation.
Two of his sons, Mark and Nate, insist that the church is actually a carefully planned cult that allows Phelps to see himself as a demigod, wielding absolute control over the lives of his family and congregants, essentially turning them into slaves that he can use for the sole purpose of gratifying his every whim and acting as the structure for his delusion that he is the only righteous man on Earth. ... The children’s claim is partially backed up by B.H. McAllister, the Baptist minister who ordained Phelps. McAllister said in a 1993 interview that Phelps developed a delusion wherein he was one of the few people on Earth worthy of God’s grace and that everyone else in the world was going to Hell, and that salvation or damnation could be directly obtained by either aligning with or opposing Phelps.
I think it's very pertinent that Fred Phelps is addicted to hate. A lot of things get called addictions that aren't; but when I describe people as "addicted" who've gotten hooked on a cycle of self-righteous hate and outrage, I mean it literally. There's been some research and publication on this subject, but that's not where I learned about this effect.

I have narcolepsy. One of the biggest ways I cope is by constantly monitoring my state of awareness, and watching out for patterns. I don't know whether it's the disease or my reaction to it that makes me hyperconscious of stimulants, but believe me, I am.

Many years ago, I was involved in some organizational disputes that left me constantly feeling self-righteously angry. After a few weeks of that, I realized that anger was a buzz. I could distinctly feel the little wave of alertness, energy, muscle strength, and physical coordination that hit me whenever some new thing happened to set me off. That was an alarming realization because I could put it together with patterns I'd noticed in others.

Some months earlier, a person had gotten involved in our local social circles who was constantly in a state of outrage over one thing or another. I noticed that about her because she was ran short of conversation when she wasn't ticked off about something. Besides, you could just see that she derived a lot of energy from her anger.

I could also match that pattern with certain memories of my father. He was an undiagnosed narcoleptic. He also had increasingly frequent episodes of rage in the 60s and 70s. His life had its frustrations -- whose doesn't? -- but there was something inexplicable about what became for a while his nearly constant state of anger. I now suspect that the fatigues of middle age had something to do with it.

I recall a number of occasions when I or my siblings asserted to my mother that Dad liked getting angry. She of course said no he didn't, Dad hated getting angry, et cetera, yadda yadda, didn't we just have this thread? ... Anyway, I didn't agree with her. I'd seen too many times how the onset of my father's anger lifted him up, knitted him together, and cleared and focused his eyes. Unconscious body language doesn't lie.

Looking back, I can see that my father really didn't like getting angry. Not his kind of thing at all. What he did like was not being exhausted and fuzzy-minded all the time. I get that now. As an adult, I'm on clearer terms with my own anger than he ever was with his, but as a matter of policy I'm wary of it, the way someone with a family history of alcoholism who may drink occasionally but is wary of drinking.

Here's the end of that story: Not all that long after I realized that I belong in the class of people for whom anger is a stimulant, I set events in motion that eventually got me diagnose and treated for narcolepsy. Amphetamine is a much cleaner high.

Back to Fred Phelps. We know he got heavily into amphetamines when he was studying law, so he's clearly a man who appreciates stimulants. We also know he’s delusional about his own self-righteousness, and that he really likes hurting other people. I think he’s been running on anger and hate.

Long term, that’s an erosive and depersonalizing drug regimen. There’s probably not a lot of Fred Phelps left inside there.

I devoutly hope that whatever remains is miserable.

#36 ::: Matthew Daly ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 09:36 AM:

dr.hypercube@16: I commend you, but lot of people wouldn't want to see media coverage of rational churches, as that would be promoting religion. I have confidence that they are a part of the traveling circus even though they don't get to perform in the center ring.

#37 ::: Zed Lopez ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 11:09 AM:

At Metafilter, a Brooklynite solicited suggestions for a picket sign to mock them.

Some of them (JESUS HAD 2 DADS) were pretty funny.

#38 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 11:58 AM:

Teresa@35:

As I'm sure you know, but not everyone may, Fred Clark at Slacktivist also wrote some very good articles on offense as an addictive drug, back in July.

#39 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 12:30 PM:

disconnect @ 2: "Sadly, the only way pwnage will be obtained is by having God himself set Mr. Phelps straight."

...and as Phelps stood in the Kingdom of Heaven, the ground beneath his feet growing warmer with every second, he asked God angrily, "Why didn't you tell me I was wrong? If only you'd said!"

"What do you mean?" God asked. "I did tell you. I sent you a son kinder than yourself, I sent defense attourneys to oppose you, I sent you thousands upon thousands of counterprotestors, each with the same message."

"I spoke. You did not listen." And beneath Phelps' feet the floor opened up.

TomB @ 12: "Where is my RL disemvoweler? "

Alright. What you need: a group of six or seven counterprotesters with their "Cthulhu hates chordates" signs and so forth; and ten or twelve people dressed up in WBC outfits, with angry "God Hates Fags," "God Hates America," etc. signs, with "Gd hts Fgs," "Gd hts mrc" on the reverse. You'll also need one steampunk-style Disemvoweller weapon, and a pseudo-Victorian Disemvowellist.

The stage is set thus: the crowd of fake WBCers stand near, though not too near, the real WBC, waving their signs and chanting. The counterprotesters are cruelly outnumbered, and their will to continue falters. Up comes the Disemvowellist, brandishes her weapon, and fires upon the faux WBC. Down they fall in a heap on inequity. Up they stand, angry, ready to continue their protest, only to find that they can't shape vowels--all they can manage is a guttural clicking. Up they look at their signage: lo and behold, their vowels have flown! The Disemvowellist empties her weapon, revealing cut paper vowels which she flings into the air like confetti. Counter protestors cheer. Faux WBC retreats in disarray.

#40 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 12:37 PM:

SuedByAWBCMoppet @ 21: "And have NO doubt and plenty of personal experience that they WILL sue you in civil court if they possibly can. I recommend not engaging them, at all. The suggestions in this post seem like good alternatives, but they will have NO impact on his group. They will hate, they will leave, they will go somewhere else, and they will do it all again tomorrow. And they would love nothing more than a reason to come back and appear as a plaintiff against you in civil court."

Seems like what's needed is a flying corps of pro-bono defense lawyers who'll defend against Phelps' bunch whereever they turn. If they're really doing it for the money--and I think they are--then that is the only thing that will hit them where they hurt.

abi @ 31: "Hey, according to Phelp's website about how God hates the world, I live in the "filthiest country in the world, bar none"!'

Ah, well, Phelps is actually backed by science on this one. The research is being supressed in Europe by the Big Bicycle lobby, but it turns out that bicycle axle grease is not only an incredibly potent greenhouse gas (when aerosolized by wheel rotation), it's also pure manna from the bacterial perspective. It's like some kind of super-agar. As a result, bicycle-dense countries like the Netherlands have bacterial loads thousands of times heavier than car-centric countries like the US. Link.

#41 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 12:37 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @ 35:

There was a BBC documentary called "The Most Hated Family in America". Phelps himself was reclusive and barely made an appearance. The few times he allowed the interviewer to ask him questions he appeared, shall we say, not all there, but covered it with arrogance and bluster.

I think you're right that there's probably not that much left of him.

#42 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 12:49 PM:

Heresiarch @39: And beneath Phelps' feet the floor opened up.

A few days later, the letter arrived at the Pearly Gates, informing those therein of Phelps's latest lawsuit.

#43 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 12:59 PM:

Avram @42:
A few days later, the letter arrived at the Pearly Gates, informing those therein of Phelps's latest lawsuit.

Which was rather a problem, because as the old joke tells us, there are no lawyers in Heaven.

Fortunately, some Earthly lawyers were persuaded to take the case pro Optimo...

#44 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 01:13 PM:

Okay, we'll need an old lawyer and a young lawyer...

#45 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 01:28 PM:

(Always two there are, a master and an apprentice.)

#46 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 01:29 PM:

No lawyers in Heaven *yet*. The SPLC people will make it in, may that be decades from now.

#47 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 01:59 PM:

Texanne #46: Ahem. Abi was referencing the joke, but you're edging into "dump on lawyers" territory. The SPLC are hardly the first lawyers to defend the innocent and victimized.

#48 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 02:09 PM:

David Harmon @47:
I think Texanne was intending praise of SPLC rather than scorn of other lawyers.

It was a silly one-liner, and I retract it entirely.

#49 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 02:43 PM:

Abi read me correctly. I intended no insult to other lawyers, living or dead.

#50 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 02:48 PM:

I certainly think it would be fair to say that the SPLC is an obvious, ready-to-the-hand refutation of the idea that lawyers can't be worthy individuals. Many others are, but the SPLC...well, I personally would be dubious of the worthiness of anyone who could claim with a straight face that the SPLC isn't doing good work, or even Good Works.

#51 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 02:52 PM:

Teresa: Looking back, I can see that my father really didn't like getting angry. Not his kind of thing at all. What he did like was not being exhausted and fuzzy-minded all the time. I get that now. Oh yes. Been there myself. Often enough, in fact, that it's taking some real work adapting to life with more reliable clear-headedness and hope.

#52 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 02:54 PM:

Texanne #49: Oh, I wasn't worried about your intentions, just the potential for it to lead further downward. I'm not angry or anything, I just wanted to nip a potential evil-lawyer jokefest in the bud.

(And yes, I've got lawyers in my family. ;-) )

#53 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 04:52 PM:

Drat. The Phelps group has won an appeal. I wonder if the Supreme Court will take this up?

#54 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 08:53 PM:

I happened to hear a story on the radio today that describes how in one situation, the Phelps' hateful behavior produced a lovely moment.

The show "Radiolab" broadcast an episode titled "New Normal" that includes a segment about Stu Rasmussen, the mayor of Silverton, Oregon. Silverton is a small town, where conservative politics are the norm, and Stu grew up there. The story describes how he very gradually came out as a transvestite. He and Silverton were in the national news last November when he was elected mayor. In the news story, you can hear that he's tearing up as he describes what happened when the people from Kansas showed up with hateful signs. Local folks decided to cross dress and heckle back. There were 200 people, men in dresses and women in mens' clothing, all ages, prancing about the small downtown and yelling back at the Westboro picketers.

#55 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 09:22 PM:

abi @ 45... Always two there are, a master and an apprentice

Sue, or sue not. There is no trial.

#56 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 10:19 PM:

I just thought: why not just carry a sign that says "FRED IN HELL"? Certainly thousands should carry that sign to Fred's funeral, when the cute Goth chick finally comes for him, but I see no reason not to carry it in advance of that blessed event.

#57 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 10:26 PM:

Sometimes poetic justice happens.
A few years back Phelp et entourage showed up in Provincetown, Massachusetts, to do hatemongering bigotry-laded picketing against Provincetown, perhaps the pinkest community on the Atlantic coast.

Now, Cape Codders are hardy types, who think that it's fun to go out in a hurricane to beaches and watch the walls of water come break in from the sea, on the shore, with the winds blowing in howl and the rain pouring down. The day the Phelps Phenatiks showed, though, the weather was so utterly rotten and the rain was coming down so hard, that the Cape Codders who joyously go out to the beach during hurricanes, all stayed inside unwilling to expose themselves to the utterly foul weather.

The Phelps Phenatiks, however, were made of more obdurate stuff, and picketed out in the deluge--to a near complete paucity of audience.... and got soaked. Alas, they seemed to have been spared fatal cased of pneumonia....

When they announced their intention of going to Provincetown and agitating, the head of the Topeka police department told the law enforcement heads on the Cape that what the Phelpses wanted was to cause people to assault them, so the Phelpses had a basis to sue.....

Phelps is responsible for the existence of the federal law limiting the distance to which picketers and protesters can get to funerals.... WBC was picketing funerals of GIs killed in Iraq and Afghanistan with signs such as, "Thank God for 9/11." This outraged Congress, party affiliation was a nonfactor, it was bipartisan outrage for the most part, and the bill requiring a keep away distance became federal law.

==

As regards appropriate responses, perhaps mini Doo-Dah parades?

Hmm, Phelps backwards would be Splehp, and Fred backwards is Derf. Would it be the Worsted Bizzaro Chuck, cross between a sheep suffering from scrapie and an ox with Mad Cow Disease? ....

#58 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 10:37 PM:

Xopher, wouldn't the appropriate sign just say "SQUEAK" in very dark capital letters?*

All this hatred and anger is such as sad frustrating thing, especially when it involves maligning a religion that's supposed to be about love, and getting other people who weren't involved in it to be angry as well.

---
* I suppose you could use a Gothic font, as distinguished from a Goth**-attacting font.
** There were several people at DiscworldCon dressed as Susan Sto Helit. In the movie version of Hogfather she looked maybe more Edwardian than Victorian, or certainly more like either than like Goth.

#59 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 10:45 PM:

Bill, I don't get it. From other things you say it sounds like maybe I have to have read DiscWorld books. I haven't (I know this is heresy).

#60 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 11:11 PM:

I've always thought the best sign to counter the WBC folks would read "God loves EVERYONE ... even Fred Phelps".

As for lawyers in Heaven: St. Thomas More. One could probably scrape up a few others. Moses, anyone?

#61 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 12:25 AM:

These folks are more than tiresome from a near-by standpoint. The thing I find most malicious is picketing funerals of service members who have died in action.


Fortunately the Freedom Riders, who are numerous in our area, show up and give support, mostly doing like the angel people, making noise and providing a block between the P's asshats and the mourners.

i don't have a belief in monotheism, but P and his demonspawn appear to be an excellent reason for God to act in person. As in a giant hand coming down from the skies and the thumb smashing all of them, adults and spawn alike, straight to hell. Or at least into their height into the ground below them. LIke ants.

FP is apparently becoming more and more Alzheimered, or some other dementia disorder. But his asshat children are keeping up the nastiness.

#62 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 02:26 AM:

Bob Oldendorf #3: Ah, wingnuts - impossible to parody.

I dunno, in the case of Phelps, a Mission: Impossible pastiche might be workable.

#63 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 02:55 AM:

Every time I hear about the Phelps cult and its antics, I envision getting together a small army of thin, bearded men, putting them in robes and crowns of thorns, and pins (badges in the UK) that say "Lose Hate Now. Ask Me How" and having them completely surround the WBCers with beatific expressions, in silence, preventing anyone from seeing them -- and incidentally preventing the Phelpsians from leaving their spot without committing assault or something similar by virtue of running down one or more guys. (I know other groups have done similar things. But if these were true Christians, this image would goose them solidly.) And, of course, video of the entire thing...

#64 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 02:56 AM:

If the Phelps group is a racket, why have there been no charges nor lawsuits? Surely there is some applicable law?

#65 ::: janeyolen ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 02:57 AM:

Just as a small data point--it was Fred Phelps who--with his "congregation" burned my book BRIAR ROSE on the steps of the KC Board of Education building. The reason? There was a gay character in it.

You meet the nicest people these days bonding over a book!

Jane

#66 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 04:02 AM:

Xopher: in one of the Diskworld books Death ends up giving up the job temporarily. Because the position is vacant various versions of Death end up created for each species. When Death takes up the robe again later all are reabsorbed with the exception of the Death of Rats, who Bill is referring to.

I think the Pratchett version is more likely than the cute Goth chick, provided we assume that it's not the Death of Rats but the later version of Death that gets so angry at being summoned to take the Diskworld version of The Little Match Girl that he finds a way to bend the rules so she doesn't freeze to death while starving in an alley. The reaction of Death's granddaughter when she finds a berserk taxidermist had made an exhibit with three kittens dancing makes it damn clear that her Grandfather has more latitude in how he carries out his job than is normally shown. I don't think Phelpes would fare as well from him as from the Goth chick.

#67 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 04:03 AM:

David Harmon @52:
And yes, I've got lawyers in my family.

I have a lot of lawyers in my family, starting with my parents. Where do you think I hear all my lawyer jokes?

#68 ::: Ingvar ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 05:32 AM:

Abi @ 66:

I thought you bought them down at the JokeMart, in the Lawyer section, 100 for a dollar, only slightly used!

#69 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 09:05 AM:

Earl Cooley III @ 61... Or an episode of Timothy Hutton's Leverage?

#70 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 11:35 AM:

janeyolen @ 64: You know, I think I remember you talking about that at the time, but I hadn't made the connection. Isn't Phelps a Holocaust denier, too?

Sometimes the idiocy of which human beings are capable just astounds me.

#71 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 12:17 PM:

A lawyer joke that's only slightly used? Wow.

#72 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 01:51 PM:

Xopher @59, I am grateful every day that I waited until my late fifties to start reading Pratchett, since there are so very many new books to read without all that obnoxious fumbling around to find something that I like.

On to the general comment: more than once, as a small-town girl, I've seen abusive preachers and priests bring the whole town to misery with apocalyptic preachings, child abuse (and justifying such abuse from the pulpit), and financial exploitation up to and including outright theft. It's a drawback of modern transportation and communication technology that Phelps has been able to take his act international, but the basic strategy and tactics have been played out over and over in tents and clapboard churches.

That Fred Phelps is also a lawyer and (as Teresa properly observes) an adrenalin fueled rage-addict makes this some kind of perfect storm of bad behavior. Westboro Baptist can make people unhappy at vulnerable points of their lives and derive money by evil means border to border, coast to coast and, electronically, over 360 degrees of latitude. It does focus the mind, though: after awhile unlikely people come to the realization that public preaching of hatred is not a Christian virtue when WBC shows up at funerals they're attending.

#73 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 02:03 PM:

JESR at 71, I waited until my early sixties to read both Pratchett and Bujold.

Am I lucky, or what?

#74 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 02:41 PM:

Mary Frances #69: Isn't Phelps a Holocaust denier, too?

I've read a lot of items comparing his brand of self-contradictory evil to that of Holocaust deniers, but more in the way of a godwinning association rather than actual accusations. His cult did protest at the Holocaust Museum, but it seemed to be more in support of the Jesus Killed By Jews meme than Holocaust denial itself. Do you have a definitive citation?

#75 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 03:42 PM:

Fred Phelps has a bad word for everybody.

Jane, I'd forgotten it was the WBC that burned Briar Rose. It's kind of swanky. Lots of writers get banned, but not that many have their books publicly burned. You could be in worse company.

You Know You're an Editor When: You find yourself wondering whether you could give any of your titles a boost by sending a galley to Fred Phelps.

#76 ::: Dave Robinson ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 03:52 PM:

I wonder if it would ever be possible for Fred Phelps to reach that level of rage where he has his picketers out with signs saying "God hates Fred Phelps?"

#77 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 04:10 PM:

Xopher @59: If you start reading Pratchett in order of publication, you might wonder what the fuss is about. I stumbled into the books in the middle somewhere, fell in love, and only later went back to the beginning. The first book is quite nice (love the luggage), but they do get richer and more wonderful over time -- as one would expect!

#78 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 04:31 PM:

Earl Cooley III @ 73: Nope, all I had was a vague memory. When I did a quick google on "Fred Phelps" and "Holocaust," I came up with a quote from a WBC news release on an Anti-Defamation Leaque webpage, as follows:

“Whatever righteous cause the Jewish victims of the 1930s-40s Nazi Holocaust had, (probably miniscule, compared to the Jewish Holocausts against Middle Passage Blacks, African Americans and Christians -- including the bloody persecution of Westboro Baptist Church by Topeka Jews in the 1990s), has been drowned in sodomite semen. American taxpayers are financing this unholy monument to Jewish mendacity and greed and to filthy fag lust…Homosexuals and Jews dominated Nazi Germany…just as they now dominate this doomed U.S.A…The Jews now wander the earth despised, smitten with moral and spiritual blindness by a divine judicial stroke…And god has smitten Jews with a certain unique madness, whereby they are an astonishment of heart, a proverb, and a byword (the butt of jokes and ridicule) among all peoples whither the Lord has driven and scattered them…Jews, thus perverted, out of all proportion to their numbers energize the militant sodomite agenda…The American Jews are the real Nazis (misusers and abusers of governmental power) who hate God and the rule of law.”

Don't know if that makes Phelps a genuine Denier or not. Still, he's at least a fellow-traveler, I'd say.

#79 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 04:46 PM:

American taxpayers are financing this unholy monument to Jewish mendacity and greed and to filthy fag lust…Homosexuals and Jews dominated Nazi Germany…just as they now dominate this doomed U.S.A…

You know what that reminds me of? The burblings of Francis E. Dec, and particularly his Gangster Computer God worldwide containment policy rant (listen here).

But at least Dec had paranoid schizophrenia as an excuse ...!

#80 ::: Pedantka ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 08:57 PM:

Dave Robinson @ 75: I spent some time earlier today contemplating what should be written on a sign for picketing Phelps's funeral, whenever that blessed event may occur. My best effort was:

'I respect the human dignity of the deceased too much to share my opinion on his current location.'

I think it still needs work.

#81 ::: dave ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 04:10 AM:

People like the Phelpses exist, I suppose, to remind us all that freedom is hard... And apocalyptic revenge-fantasies only ever work in fiction...

#82 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 08:30 AM:

Pedantka #79:

But we're not in the business of fueling outrage in hopes of provoking lawsuit-worthy responses, so why bother picketing someone's funeral.

I really appreciate the con-man explanation. I don't know enough about Phelps or his church to really evaluate it, but it seems plausible at first glance. Why picket the funerals of dead soldiers, something that offends the sensibilities of almost everyone? Oh, because it's a strategy for harvesting lawsuits. It explains how this particular bit of evil can be self-sustaining, or at least self-funding.

It's a marker of the level of law-abidingness of this society that you can actually run this strategy. I wonder, in the US of 50 years ago, if the money would have been worth the constant danger of lynching or a working over by the (in practice, immune from consequences) local police. The intervening years have seen us develop laws and customs and expectations surrounding protests, even deeply offensive ones, that allow the WBC to operate in relative safety.

#83 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 09:03 AM:

KeithS @41: Here's the link to that Louis Theroux documentary. Fred Phelps appears in Part 3 (at the 5:00 mark).

#84 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 10:38 AM:

Pendrift @ 82:

Ah, thank you. The link you gave in the open thread a while back wasn't working any more, and I didn't go searching.

#85 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 12:13 PM:

TNH, on the front page:

I’m not sure who came up with the link to About Fred Phelps on the God Hates Fred Phelps website.

Um, I posted that link, with the text "shorter bio of Phelps."

Thanks to the people who responded to my post #11 with examples of Phelps' litigiousness.

#86 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 01:13 PM:

WBC's gig works because all the lawyers in his cult/clan work essentially for free. So even in cases where the suits that are filed are completely bogus countersuits are a more-expensive option.

When his crew came to my neck of the woods they protested on the (narrow) sidewalk outside the local high school while students were arriving. The school is at the corner of the main road into town. So it was pretty apparent they were looking to get a kid to "assault" them or to get pushed out into traffic to stage an "accident" or (twofer) get a kid pushed out into traffic so they could be wronged by seeing a traffic injury.

#87 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 02:13 PM:

Bill @58, and others:

I think the cute Goth Chick Xopher is referring to in #56 is a Sandman reference. I don't have a link, but this is a series of graphic novels. Death is a character and is drawn as a petite Goth chick. Totally different from Discworld.

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