Westboro Baptist Church: A hate group (as previously designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League) on a mission, with the tax-exempt status of a religious organization as its reward. The group is best known for its anti-gay picketing at military funerals. The members apparently think that god smites soldiers in retaliation for America’s stance on gay equality, that god smites little children because Americans don’t shun gays. President Obama dealt Westboro a blow by signing the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 into law, which not only provides a variety of benefits to military personnel, but also requires that protests like those of the Westboro gang can’t be held closer than 300 feet from military funerals, and are banned two hours before and two hours after a service.
Said President Obama, “We have a moral sacred duty to our men and women in uniform. . . The graves of our veterans are hallowed grounds.” Tell that to Fred Phelps and his Adams Family’esque daughter, Shirley.
It seems like a true no-brainer to brand Westboro Baptist Church, led by Fred Phelps, along with his oh-so-creepy daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper (does that mean somebody married her?!?), as a hate group. They picket military funerals, along with funerals of high-profile people like Steve Jobs. They made known their interest in picketing the funerals of the Sandy Hook massacre victims, which prompted a swift response from the hacker group Anonymous: “We will not allow you to corrupt the minds of America with your seeds of hatred. We will not allow you to inspire aggression to the social factions which you deem inferior. We will render you obsolete. We will destroy you. We are coming.” In addition to the threat posed by Anonymous, motorcyclists lined up to bar the hate-seeking-missiles of Westboro from intruding on the funerals of the tiny slain victims in Connecticut.
Although it’s important for the public to be aware, simply designating the few highly disturbed members of the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group is not going to change their collective agenda. A supreme push-back on the part of average people might, though – simple thwarting might actually be effective. The Patriot Guard Riders block their passage. Motorcycle groups rev their engines and form a blockade. Over 500 counter-protesters showed up to confront Phelps and his gang of creepies in Louisiana; one of the Westboro members ran his mouth and swiftly found himself ass over teakettle at a gas station in Missouri; a couple of the members were detained for questioning by local law enforcement. With any luck, they missed the funeral.
When it comes to people like the Phelps crew, a little bit of ass-kicking seems to be in order. But staying strictly within the law that says nobody can be beaten to a pulp just for being an evil, hateful crazy person, real people can exact their pound of flesh: When Westboro comes to town, gas stations should suddenly run out of gas. When Westboro rolls up, grocery stores and restaurants should suddenly run out of food. When Westboro hits town to target a local funeral, hotel owners should be sold out. Nobody can help it if the Phelps’ vehicles happen to run over a few well-placed nails lying around near the funeral site, after all, or if locals’ vehicles suddenly stall in the Phelps’ path. Might just be god’s will.
Petitions are great things for public awareness, but identification is only part of the solution; there should also be strict regulations governing any group labeled a hate group. Tax-exempt status: Withdrawn. Free reign to terrorize at will: Strict limitations within the purview of the First Amendment (such as what the Act signed into law by President Obama imposed). All religious groups should shun them. Locals in the towns they visit should shadow them. Disgust and rejection of Phelps and his merry band of renegade haters is sort of bi-partisan, one of the few bi-partisan issues left. As Crashing Vor from the Daily Kos noted, “With all the deep and bitter divisions in our society, the fact that people I could never imagine agreeing with on any subject share this credo has given me a new, well, faith. We apparently do have a sense of decency, at long last.”
Isn’t it pretty to think so?