I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I watched this. laugh because Russell Brand* just runs circles around these guys from the Westboro Church and they don’t seem to realize when they are being mocked. Fish in a barrel, I suppose. Cry because they obviously believe their hatred; they obviously believe that their narrow, bigoted and violent take on their scriptures is not only right, but the only one. I don’t think they got the message Brand was trying to push on them: they are too righteous in their prejudice for alternative ideas. Or maybe they do and they just don’t care because mockery doesn’t synch with their rigid ideology.
This is hardly new stuff, of course. Michael Moore did a piece on the Westboro Church’s religious hatred towards gays back in 2008, again with his usual humour and in-your-face tactics:
This morning I did some researching online. I was surprised that I knew so little about a group that has had so much attention given to it.
Before this video, I had paid little attention to the Westboro church. I had seen the name in news items, of course, but since they protest in the USA, I didn’t give them a second thought. I recall they hate Canada too, and most were barred at the border from entering this country to protest at a funeral of a man slain on a bus in Manitoba. Being kept out made the church very angry about the “faggy-Nazi regime” in Canada:
I’m not sure why the Westboro Baptist Church spews all this hatred, but there are dozens of videos about them on YouTube, including some disturbing documentary stuff. These folks are scary in the way the KKK, or the Neo Nazis and the Aryan Brotherhood are scary, but even more dangerous. They almost make Scientologists look normal, and you have to be pretty far out on the fringe to do that.
The church has long been subject to reporting, study, commentary, analysis and conjecture. And a lot of ridicule, anger and even hatred, especially online. But I didn’t find a lot that explained them.
In 2001, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote about the church’s late pastor and founder, stating that (based on testimony from his own children) Fred Phelps was abusive, violent and manipulative:
In a series of newspaper and television interviews over the years, three of Phelps’ children — the only three who are estranged from their father — have alleged that they were attacked both physically and psychologically.
Fred Phelps, they say, meant to hurt his children and to turn them against the rest of the world.
Mark and Nathan Phelps and sister Dortha ”Dotti” Bird offer plenty of brutal details — details that their father has long dismissed as “a sea of fag lies.” Nathan told the Intelligence Report that he was beaten with a leather strap regularly. Then, he says, Fred Phelps switched to a mattock handle — like an axe handle — and beat Nathan until he “couldn’t lie down or sit down for a week.” The three charge that Phelps also beat their mother, forced the children to fast and more.
But Phelps’ alleged violence — which his nine loyal children deny — never really caught up with him. A child abuse case was brought against Phelps for abuse of Nathan and his brother Jonathan, Nathan says, but was dropped when the children refused to cooperate with the prosecutor, fearing their father’s reprisals.
The estranged children say that most of the family has stayed loyal because their father has filled them with the fear of God. “He would tear you down and make you feel terrible and there wasn’t any way but his way,” Dotti said.
Looking what they do to their own children in these videos, it’s not inconceivable:
Pretty sad that children are brought up like that, as the brainwashed child soldiers in a bizarre war against reason and values they clearly don’t understand. It’s clearly a cult, and the children are their hostages.
The interviewer below gets some good points that Nat Phelps can’t answer, about contradictions in how they interpret scripture:
But of course, the hypocrisy doesn’t seem to make itself through to the interviewee.
I can’t understand how they aren’t shut down for hate speech, and promoting hate crimes. If I stood on a corner spouting such homophobic drivel, I’d be arrested at least for disturbing the peace. Why aren’t they? How can hate speech be protected by the Constitution?
Gay men and women aren’t their only target, either (although they are certainly the top of the hate list, but the list is long: it basically includes everyone not within their own church circle).
Jews are given time on the hate roster and may be a close number two:
Catholics are targets. So are American soldiers. The church eagerly and joyfully pickets funerals of American soldiers who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan, glorifying in their deaths because, as their church teaches them, these deaths are punishment for Americans being lenient towards homosexuality. “Soldiers die, God laughs” say their signs.
They also carry signs that read, “Thank God for 9/11,” celebrating the deaths of workers in the Twin Towers. They’ve protested in front of girls’ schools, too, with anti-gay, anti-abortion, and anti-Obama signs. They delighted in the destruction and deaths caused by Hurricane Sandy, calling it the “wrath of God” in tweets from their new leader, Shirley, daughter of the late Fred. They celebrated the deaths of miners in West Virginia as sign of their deity’s displeasure.
They glorified the shooter at the Batman movie for killing members of the audience and picketed the prayer service for the slain. Tweets from church members after the massacre read, “God is at work in Colorado” and used the hashtag #ThankGodForTheShooter. They protested at Whitney Houston’s and Steve Jobs’ funerals. (ironically tweeting about it from their iPhones…).
Any and every death, tragedy, natural disaster and accident in America is cause for them to openly and loudly celebrate and express their hatred. Pretty sick, pretty twisted by any standard within a wide range of normal.
Every documentary about the church amazes and disconcerts me:
Look around 12:40 and 14:40 and see brief clips of film from the church about Jews that is almost identical to those produced by the Nazis prior to WWII. And how is this not hate speech?
Now, I’m not an expert on Christianity by a long shot, but when I look at their posters lauding death for American soldiers dying in the Middle East, and hear their comments about how they hate America and American soldiers, I think of Islamist radical fundamentalists, rather than Christians.
I think of similar comments I’ve heard and read in the past from Al Qaeda, from the Taliban, from Hamas, from Hezbollah, from Fatah, from Iranian clerics and leaders. The only difference I can identify is that the Westboro group says they are Christian, not Muslim.
Maybe it’s all play acting. Maybe they are an Al Qaeda cell disguised as Christians trying to infiltrate the religious community and get publicity for their cause. It’s easier to believe that than to believe these people are in any way Christian, at least according to what I think of as Christian teaching (compassion, sharing, caring, tolerance).
Or they could be a cell of Satan worshippers trying to discredit the Christian faith by showing it as a malign, unpatriotic voice of evil?
Of course there may be another explanation. This church consists mostly of members of a single, extended (and rather prolific) family from small one part of Kansas, and I can’t help but wonder if inbreeding plays a role in their collective mental development. That’s also not a new idea – just Google it and read any number of conjectures about the family being inbred.
Freedom of speech is a right, but it has to come with responsibility, too, otherwise it can become mere hate-mongering. You shouldn’t be able to say just anything you want - but these folks can, apparently. They can make the most horrific, nasty, demeaning, bigoted and malevolent statements without fear of legal or social retribution.
In 2006, they picketed the funeral of Matt Snyder, a US Marine killed in Iraq, with their horrific signs saying “Matt in Hell” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” The upset father sued the church, and they were found guilty of hate speech not covered by the First Amendment. The court ordered the church to pay $10.9 million to the father.
The church used the judgment to get more publicity, then appealed. They won their appeal in 2011 on “protected free speech.” The Supreme Court then ordered the bereaving father to pay the church’s legal bills.
That is a stunning injustice and condemnation of the First Amendment
Subsequently, 42 states have put restrictions on picketing at funerals to prevent them from getting so close again. Meanwhile, they use the internet and social media increasingly and with greater sophistication to spread their venom.
But it’s not all mockery and derision on social media and YouTube. The video below is the first of an eight-part documentary on the family and the church, and it’s actually quite chilling to watch. Hannibal Lecter was easier to view onscreen, at least from my perspective. Perhaps that’s because I knew he was just an actor, but these people are real, yet more twisted than I could have ever written about in fiction.
Watch all the parts. Each one will reveal to you yet another disturbing facet of their madness. In part three, around 2:30, you’ll see them protesting a local hardware stores for selling Swedish vacuum cleaners, because Sweden allegedly jailed one of their supporters. Try to unravel that logic.
Now I know quite well that this family doesn’t represent all of America, doesn’t represent all Christians, and doesn’t even represent most fundamentalists. They only represent themselves and their twisted, malevolent, diabolical views. Still, I’d have a lot more respect for American fundamentalist Christians if the rest of them collectively disowned this group and made a public statement that Westboro is a cult. It is neither Christian nor their ideologies supported by other Christian groups.
* Because I watch so little TV, I didn’t know who Russell Brand was before I saw this video. Thanks to my Facebook friends for enlightening me. I also read the Wikipedia entry about him. I have to admit I’ve never seen any of his movies or his TV shows, with the exception of 3 Lions (which I bought in London last fall…) And yes, I know of Katy Perry, his ex-wife and I’ve even heard some of her music, but I’m completely out of the loop when it comes to what or who the glitterati are doing, so I didn’t make the connection with her until I read the article.