*The infamous Westboro Baptist Church is planning to come to the Hillel at Stanford University on Friday, Jan. 29 at 8:00 AM. For those unfamiliar with this zealot group and its disgraceful history, we at ***Fiat Lux****will spend this week giving you a rundown of what the Westboro Baptist Church is, what it stands for, and who its members are. Our coverage of the WBC began with my publication of an extremely inflammatory letter they sent me to explain why they were coming to Palo Alto. In part one of the Countdown to Westboro Baptist Church at Stanford, I looked into Fred Phelps, the man behind the WBC. In part two, Ruthie Arbeiter tried to find some method to their madness. Tonight we continue with the legal history of the Westboro Baptist Church. In part three, I examined WBC’s complicated history with the law. This is a look into some of the counterprotests that the WBC has spawned, and possibilities for tomorrow.
Any group as unlikable as the Westboro Baptist Church that goes around bothering people and gloating in the face of the most horrific tragedies is bound to invite some counter protesting. And any group as absurdly outlandish and adamant in the righteousness of its claims as the WBC is going to invite a number of different reactions, chiefly mockery.
The Phelpses love themselves some signs, because signs send a message in pictures. As such, getting in the shot with a sign mocking them can go a long way to ruining their attempt to warn the sinners of earth. Look over this list of the funniest anti-WBC signs (I really insist you do), and see if it doesn’t bring some levity to this otherwise tragic situation.
For the single person on the go, a sign is hard to beat. It takes a minimum of effort, and if you get close to them, will turn what is otherwise a sad and hateful event into something everyone can laugh at.
In Kansas, when the Phelpses were picketing shortly after September 11, 2001, Jared Dailey saw them and made a sign out of plywood reading “Not Today Fred,” and soon he was joined by dozens of his neighbors in solidarity. Since then, “Not Today Fred” has become something of a rallying cry against Phelps and WBC.
There have been other cases where counter protests have proven effective. After WBC went to University of Wisconsin-Stout to picket in response to the deaths of three students in a house fire, 1,ooo students reportedly shouted down the WBC with chants of “go home, go home,” forcing them to leave 15 minutes into a scheduled one hour protest.
if you go the mockery route, there’s a lot of material to work with. For example, the WBC was at Twitter yesterday. Twitter! And yet, Megan Phelps-Roper has a Twitter. Also, they protested a production of Fiddler on the Roof. Seriously, they spent today in San Francisco at Twitter and Fiddler on the Roof. I can’t think of anything gayer and Jewier than that.
The church has recently taken a bold stance against… Lady Gaga. There’s even twittery evidence of people trying to use Lady Gaga against them, and Megan… enjoying it? This guy makes the case that Megan Phelps-Roper (age approximately 23) feels compelled to protest with her family, and does not enjoy it. Under that theory, it certainly makes sense that she would be carrying on a semi-flirtatious Twitter back and forth with Clerks director Kevin Smith.Whether it is true or not that Megan is uncomfortable in the church, I am of a mind that one of the most powerful actions of protest would be to express to the younger generation of Phelpses that we love them, and that they don’t need the hate–I know 23-years-old isn’t that young, but it’s important to say that it’s never too late, though the second generation is certainly too old to be helped at this point. About a quarter of Fred Phelps’ children abandoned the church, and perhaps if at every protest we specifically target the third generation, it’s still not too late to let them know there is another way to go through life.
Beyond that, there are a number of ideas I’ve heard floating around that sounded interesting. One is simply to stand in silence and hold mirrors up. Another is to get people to pledge to donate money (possible for a cause directly antithetical to the WBC’s beliefs–Haiti would count here) for every minute they are in a particular place, so that their presence at least brings some good.
My favorite practitioners of anti-WBC activity would be the Patriot Guard Riders. I’ll describe. The formula for the Patriot Riders is pretty simple. Take a whole bunch of military veterans who are really pissed about the WBC picketing military funerals (among other things), and put them on on motorcycles, forming a ring around the Phelpses (maintaining the legal distance). Then, rev the engines, drowning out the hate speech.
Whatever you decide to do, remember that violence will likely land you in jail, get you sued, and in general make the scene more dangerous for innocent bystanders. The video below is the type of chaotic scene that we should make sure to avoid tomorrow. In any case, be safe out there!
If you are interested, a wide range of groups on the Stanford campus have banded together to form “Stanford United,” and they will be holding “a peaceful gathering in celebration of our diversity and our unity as a campus community.” If you are interested in attending, please follow the guidelines posted below.