Negate the Hate: How to Turn Westboro Baptist Hate Group Protests into a Force for Good

Left: Westboro cultists protesting the Oscars outside Hollywood High School in 2009; right: Lampinelli
Left: Westboro cultists protesting the Oscars outside Hollywood High School in 2009; right: Lampinelli

If there is a bipartisan consensus about anything in this divided country these days, it’s that the Westboro Baptist Church protests at military funerals are an affront to decency.

Across the spectrum — supporters of the military, gay rights activists, Democrats, Republicans, independents and the apolitical — everyone agrees that the Westboro’s Pastor Fred Phelps and his family’s tactic of showing up at soldiers’ funerals with signs proclaiming “God Hates Fags,” “Pray for More Dead Soldiers,” “God Hates America” and “Your Son Is in Hell” is outrageous, unpardonable behavior.

Preying on the grief of the mothers and fathers, husbands, wives and children of soldiers

The Phelpses welcome the scorn, of course. The funeral protests are calculated to provoke outrage, a fact that makes them evil.

Efforts to stop them from harassing military families at funerals have backfired. Confronting them only brings them more of what they want most: attention.

So how can they stifled without feeding their craving for attention or trampling on their First Amendment rights? It turns out there may be a way after all. But first, let’s look at what drives them.

As it is in most cults, the Phelpses are deeply invested in a twisted, logic-free ideology that God has revealed to them and them alone. It goes something like this:

Every calamity that confronts the United States is a punishment from God because of what the Phelpsists perceive as America’s tolerance of homosexuality. Because America does not follow God’s law by rounding up gay people, executing them in public squares and bathing their corpses in their own blood, the United States is doomed.

So they hate gay people. Most right-wing religious extremists do. But why protest at military funerals?

According to cult dogma, it was because of its no-kill policy toward gays that God attacked America on 9/11. In the wake of the attacks, rather than hearing God’s message and commencing mass executions and blood-bathing of gays, George Bush went to war in the Middle East in order to promote and defend the homosexual lifestyle. Because the rationale for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were to protect America’s freedom not to kill gays, soldiers killed in those wars are therefore going to hell.

Seriously.

The funeral protests are calculated to affront the sensibilities — to provoke outrage in order to attract attention.Their ultimate goal is to goad a veteran or, better yet, a gay activist into physically attacking them. Not only would it draw yet more attention to their cause, it would position them as victims for the cause.

Legal recourse doesn’t work either. The Phelps cult’s greatest triumph so far came in March when the Supreme Court ruled against the father of a soldier killed overseas who had sued the Phelpses after they protested at his son’s funeral. The case not only put the Phelps cult at the top of the national news for a few days, it secured their place in U.S. history.

So that’s the quandary. How do decent people counter the evil being done by attention whores without inadvertently giving them more of the attention they need so desperately?

There may be a way that is both simple and sensible: Use their own hatred and addiction to attention against them and convert it into a force for good.

Last week, comedian Lisa Lampenelli did just that, and raised $50,000 for a gay health organization as result:

When insult comic Lisa Lampanelli presents a $50,000 donation today in New York City to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the nation’s oldest HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care services provider, the memo on the check will credit Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church for the money.

Before her concert Friday night at the Topeka Performing Arts Center, Lampanelli used her Twitter account to pledge $1,000 to the GMHC for every protester sent to her show by the Pastor Fred W. Phelps-led church noted for its campaign against homosexuality.

Lampanelli said Tuesday she got the idea after recalling that several years ago someone told her he had made a contribution to a homosexual cause in the name of the WBC as a way to tweak the church.

“I figure I’d just take it to a larger scale,” said the comic, who added she decided: “I’ll just put my money where my mouth is. I should donate to charity, especially the stuff I believe in.”

Lampanelli is a longtime supporter of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and the GMHC. She attended the 25th annual AIDS Walk New York in 2010, the proceeds of which benefit the GMHC and other New York-based HIV/AIDS organization.

Back in March, a group of gay activists in Los Angeles had planned a similar fundraiser after the Westboro cultists announced plans to protest the funeral of Elizabeth Taylor because of her pioneering work combating AIDS. The plan then was to raise donations for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation based on the number of Phelpsists who showed up at the funeral. However, Taylor was buried quickly, without a lot of fanfare, which thwarted the Westboro protest.

The beauty is in the simplicity: Negate the hate.

The message to the Phelpsists is “Bring it on.” But just know that for every protester you muster at a military funeral or gay event, thousands of dollars are being raised to help the targets of their hatred: the families of fallen heroes or to advance health care and civil rights for gays.

This is an idea whose time has come, and it appears to be going viral. Let’s hope so.

Negate the hate. Pass it on.

One comment

  • May 26, 2011 - 10:41 am | Permalink

    Better yet: If Westboro shows up at your event, make your donations in their name & be sure to thank them publicly for their support. MUAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.

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