On January 22, 2008, Australian actor Heath Ledger died. On that very same day, the fanatical Westboro Baptist Church posted a news release chock-full of their hate-filled vitriol that announced their intention to picket the funeral.
The cult-like hate group, which claims that it is their love for all that inspires their actions (to save the souls of homosexuals), appears to have enormous resources. They often fly on short notice to picket funerals of homosexuals, trangendered people and — most recently — they have even added soldiers to their list of targets. They claim that events like 9/11, Hurrican Katrina and all the major catastrophes and wars impacting the US today are God’s punishment to the nation.1
It’s time to use their own fervor against them.
Calling All Angels
In November of 2007, MetroWeekly published an article called Avenging Angel about Romaine Patterson, the co-host of the Derek & Romaine show on Sirius Satellite Radio’s gay channel, OutQ. From the article:
Patterson garnered national attention for organizing a peaceful counter-protest against Phelps and his minions during the trial of Shepard’s killers. Appearing as angels, Patterson and her allies wore large white wings blocking Phelps’ ”Matt Burns In Hell” signs from view. That effort launched Angel Action in 1999, an international initiative that promotes peaceful counter protests against hate-driven demonstrations.
The impact was profound.
When Romaine arrived at St. Marks Church in Casper, Wyoming for Matthew’s Memorial service she was shocked by what she found outside standing across the street. It had been said that, due to the massive media attention Matthew’s death had garnered, there were going to be protests at the service. No one could have prepared Romaine for the hate she would see that day.
As the snow fell and people crowded around the church, Romaine couldn’t take her eyes away from the neon colored signs that stood out in bright contrast to the snow. A baptist minister by the name of Fred Phelps led the small group of protesters holding signs reading, “God hates Fags”, “Matt in hell”, “AIDS cures Fags” among many others. On a day of mourning Romaine was only reminded of the hate that took the life of her dear friend.
In early April, 1999 the trials for Matthew’s accussed killers began. Upon hearing the rumor that Fred Phelps intended to protest outside the court house, Romaine came up with an idea. She founded Angel Action a peaceful protest in order to share a message of peace, compassion and love in a time where everyone was focused on the issue of hate.
Fred Phelps showed up in Laramie with a dozen “God Hates Fags” picketers, but he was quickly silenced when Romaine’s angels showed up at the court house. Phelps and his group were surrounded by a dozen counter-demonstrators in flowing white angel costumes with 10-foot wingspans rising seven feet high. The angels turned their backs on Phelps, smiled and silently blocked him from the view of passersby at that time. The impact that the angels had on the residents of Laramie would not be felt until much later when the angels started getting requests for “do it yourself” angel kits to be used all over the country.
That was an amazing action, but it didn’t end there. What it stood for was an opportunity — an opportunity to oppose the deadly spread of hate by inspiring hope in a peaceful manner. Patterson’s first press release about the angels essentially said it all in the first paragraph:
Before you stands a band of angels. They come from a number of backgrounds: they don’t represent any one group; they don’t represent any one religion, sex, race, age, or sexual orientation. They are merely a group of people who joined with me because they believe in honesty and truth. So often we find that people are willing to make a lot of noise about what they believe to be true. We don’t believe that we have to say anything at all. Aside from this brief explanatory statement, our actions will speak for themselves. Just one look and the truth is plainly clear. Our focus is to bring forth a message of peace and love. Hatred is running rampant through our everyday lives. But as a group, we choose to lift ourselves above that hatred. We feel as so many others do, that love and compassion for our community and our humanity are the answers that so many people are desperately searching for.
Isn’t that what we’re all hoping to do? Through our various actions, contributions, writings, rantings and accomplishments, we’re all seeking to establish a progressive foothold against the onslaught of hate, lies, racism, prejudice, homophobia and greed.
The Fred Phelps clan and many others like them will always be around, but they need not be effective in their crusade to twist hatred in the name of “morality” into a tool of oppression and destruction.
There’s a way we can help.
In the Arms of An Angel
We can make a difference, and bring about change, by using the crass opportunism of fanatical “ministries” against them. A friend of mine hit upon the idea just the other day.
The best way to deal with Phelps and his clan is to bring back the angels. Remember the folks with the white robes and big wings who created a wall of white between Phelps and everyone else at Matthew Shepard’s funeral. Wherever the Phelps people go, there should be angels.
The other thing to do is create a national Phelps Phund. Anyone can join. You agree to pay $1 or whatever amount for every minute Phelps actually protests. (This has been done very effectively in several places already.) So if Phelps is out there for an hour, you donate $60. Get enough people doing this and you raise tens of thousands of dollars to fight AIDS or some other important cause. Then the money is donated in Phelps name and you place a thank you page on the web, “Thank you, Fred Phelps for raising 10K for Homeless Gays, AIDS, Veterans Relief, etc.” And you update the total every time Fred protests.
That effectively neutralizes Phelps in a way that most people will cheer. You do what the peacock does, you eat the poison berries and turn them into something beautiful.
And here’s where you really turn it into a win. Every time Phelps gets media coverage, you alert the media to the Phelps Phund so that the media has the opportunity to put a positive spin on Phelps’ publicity seeking, by showing how other folks are responding. That creates even more money for the Phelps Phund.
Eventually, you get to write an open letter to the Phelps Phamily. “Keep it up. As long as you continue to display the naked ugly face of hatred and bigotry, you are arousing the good people of this nation to stand for making a real difference. Every minute you protest – ka-ching – another thousand dollars goes to … etc.” So that eventually, the Phelps Phamily is not just neutralized, but neutered. The way to beat them is to make them feel futile.
It’s a great idea. A “Phelps Phund” that will help turn the poison berries of Fred’s picketing peers into a message — and funding source — capable of beautiful things.
So, this is what needs to happen:
1. People who can help design the Phund to ensure proper fiscal management — how do we manage it, how do we disseminate it, how do we report it — need to add their thoughts to the comments thread.
2. People who can help manage the Phund and help with media contacts and crafting the appropriate counter-hate message should respond in comments.
3. All people who are interested in helping but don’t feel they can respond to #1 or #2 should disseminate this post to every person or organization that they can for more input, support and assistance. Please note every significant contact that you send a message to in the comments below. Do ~not~ put the contact informaiton there, in order to avoid troll activity — let the trolls do their own digging. Before you contact anyone, please check the threads to see if that person or group has already been contacted, and try to avoid replication unless the contactee prefers to see a higher degree of interest.
It’s time to put up an effective counter op to the rampant insanity and hatred that is currently under-opposed and inadequately — but beautifully — challenged.
UPDATE: (12:31 am EST, 26 Jan 2008)
From the news:
Baptist Union of Australia president Reverend Ross Clifford said Australian baptists were not associated with the Westboro church.
He said the thoughts and prayers of Australian baptists were with Ledger’s family and friends in their grief and sadness.
“The intention of … Westboro Baptist Church members to picket the memorial services is completely inappropriate,” he said.
“Their statements are increasingly extreme and counter-productive.”
Meanwhile, back in the bat-cave…
Westboro parishioner Shirley Phelps told Sydney radio station 2Day FM she would picket services.
“I’m going to picket him in two places,” she told 2Day FM.
“I’m going to stand outside of any public memorial service that he has here.
“And then the other place I’m going to picket him is when they prop him up to worship his dead, rotting carcass further at the Oscars. I’ll be right outside by the red carpet.”
The church has ruled out travelling to Australia for the funeral.
Ledger’s family will hold a private memorial in New York today.
A public remembrance has also been proposed for Los Angeles in the coming days.
Ah, nothing like a good god-fearing lunatic with self-righteous wrath…
1. Yes, they are indeed insisting that all tragedies that befall our nation are God’s punishment, and they rejoice over the death of “soldiers and sinners” alike. Here’s a link to a page containing a YouTube clip of Tyra Banks interviewing Mrs. Phelps and two of her daughters. See how far you get before you have to stop it…