Westboro thrives on publicity

BTL Staff
By | 2018-01-15T15:59:03-04:00 March 10th, 2011|Opinions|

BY Keith Orr

I have a history with the Westboro Baptist Church. They picketed me.
I was not the first. Their first pickets go back to the 1980s. They would show up at funerals of people who had died from HIV/AIDS. Outside of the gay community no one was taking issue with this. Legislators were not passing bills limiting how far picketers had to stay away from funerals. In fact, it appeared that most of America had no problem with the WBC.
They first made mainstream news when they picketed Matthew Shepard’s funeral. The brutality of that murder actually brought some compassion from folks outside the gay community. There was even a bit of outrage that this nutcase was picketing this funeral.
The Phelps family has always thrived on publicity. They were drunk with pleasure from all the publicity they got from picketing Matthew Shepard. Pissing off gays wasn’t getting them what they wanted. They needed to piss off a lot more people.
Queers who paid attention understood that WBC pissed people off so that other people would engage them. If they engaged the Phelps physically, the family took them to court. The Phelps also sued local municipalities for not protecting their First Amendment rights.
This is a major source of funding for the Phelps clan.
That is VERY important to note. Let me rephrase it. If the Phelps can get you into court, they make money.
Fred Phelps holds no degree from any religious seminary or other institution. The “Reverend” title is self-proclaimed. Note that I NEVER call him Rev. Phelps. No one else should, either.
Phelps is a disbarred lawyer. He was disbarred for an enormous number of nuisance lawsuits. Several of his children are lawyers. They do the courtwork now.
If you ever go to one of his protests, you will see a guy nearby videotaping everything. His job is simple. He is collecting evidence.
When those planes slammed into the twin towers, the Phelps clan put out a news release that they were happy this happened. It happened because America was being so nice to all of its gay citizens. And then they picketed the funerals of people who died in the 9/11 attacks. As America went to war in Afghanistan, and then Iraq, they started picketing military funerals. Brilliant. That really pisses people off, and they had a lot more lawsuits. If you are a member of the Phelps clan, that means business is good.
One of those funerals was for Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder.
Snyder’s father sued the Phelps Clan. I feel sorry for Albert Snyder. He lost his son to war. And then he had some nutjobs show up at his son’s funeral. I know how horrible it is because Phelps has been doing that to the queer community for 25 years.
But I am very angry with him for engaging the Phelps family in court. What was he thinking? The Phelps clan got a lot of publicity. They LOVE bad publicity.
And they have a Supreme Court judgment in their favor, and I am sure a hefty monetary settlement is on its way, if it was not a part of this judgement.
That will keep them picketing for a long time to come.
And it was entirely predictable. If Mr. Snyder had asked a queer, we could have told him what was going to happen.
I actually completely agree with the Supreme Court decision. If unpopular speech is not protected, well, we wouldn’t have even had an LGBT rights movement. The answer to hate speech is not to legislate against it. The answer is to use the hate speech to educate rational people of your cause.
I am proud that when Phelps picketed me in 2001 http://www.autbar.com/fred_phelps_press_release.htm we beat him at his own game. We raised money instead of him. And the message the media picked up on was our message, not the whack job’s. Other folks have found clever ways of meeting him head on without giving him publicity or money.
I wish Mr Snyder had.

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BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 25th anniversary.