Ron Paul

Friday Fun Link: Fred Phelps, Superstar

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Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, the "God Hates Fags" guys, have a secure role in our culture—they're the geeks in the dunk tank. Phelps' goofy, cultish church slithered onto the national scene in the late 1990s when they picketed the funeral of Matthew Shephard, the gay college student murdered in Wyoming.* That brought them so much attention that the church started to picket any event with big media buzz and a tenuous link to the church doctrine that America was doomed by God for tolerating non-marital sex—especially gay sex.

The group's Q-rating was fading badly by 2001. But like the kids say, 9/11 changed everything. Phelps' church was quicker than Jerry Falwell in blaming the terrorist attacks on America's refusal to ban buttsex and execute fornicators. So they picketed memorial events and when the first casualties followed the Afghan war, they started picketing soldiers' funerals. And that's what turned them into rent-a-geeks. If you're a radio or cable host who needs to beat up on a group of kooks, who better than 1) religious freaks who 2) literally hate the troops? It was all good fun until states, followed by the U.S. Congress, passed wide-ranging bans on funeral picketing with the express purpose of shutting down Phelps. (Note that Ron Paul voted against it.)

Last year the comic-documentarian Louis Theroux spent some time living with the church, trying to pick their brains and watching the volcanic anger that comes their way at their protests. Theroux used it all for the BBC documentary The Most Hated Family in America, now available for free on Google Video. For some reason the HTML embedding is evaporating whenever I put it into a blog post, but the direct link is here.

Tangentially related: Last year's Donnie Davies prank was one long, extended goof on Phelps. Here's his "God Hates Fags" music video, which I really want to see the WBC's reaction to—they'd probably get the joke, after a while.

*fixed this sentence; I'd misremembered some facts about Shepard.

NEXT: Blood, Spite, and Fears

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  1. Matthew S was not “lynched.” He was murdered.

  2. Depends on how you define “lynch.”

    To execute without due process of law, especially to hang, as by a mob.

    I think the case can be made that he was lynched.
    Or we can stop splitting semantical hairs.
    Your call.

  3. A lynching is a murder.

  4. There’s some serious looking into religion this week at H&R!

    That, or some ball bearings (it’s all ball bearings nowadays – perhaps you need a refresher course) needed adjusting.

    “I think the case can be made that he was lynched.”

    yes. and that’s sickening. hrumph.

  5. Let’s get this one out of the way:

    “Buttsecks? rly?”

  6. a lynching is a large group of idiots murdering a presumed innocent. Matthew’s death was simply a murder. No less horrific, but he was not dragged from a prison cell and strung up by a mob.

    Murder is bad enough. Why does anyone need to call it a lynching?

  7. Duh! “A lynching is a murder.” does not equal “a murder is a lynching.”

  8. “YER GON’ EAT’CHER BABIES!”

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=U0P9elMQgrc

  9. From Wikipedia: “GodHatesAmerica.com and others expressing condemnation of homosexuals, Roman Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Swedes, Canadians, Americans, and other groups.”

    I’m currently at work on a monitored network, so I tend to avoid overly ‘controversial’ sites.

    Can anyone go to the site and verify if he hates Swedes (I’m not sure if that is just some WikiEditor joke). Not that random hatred of homsexuals, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Canadians, or Americans is alright, it just seems really really really extra bizarre to hate Swedes. I mean, what is he a Norwegian descendent bitter about about the Treaty of Kiel or something?

  10. “Buttsecks? rly?”

    Rly!

  11. It’s not semantics. Please look up the word, in the first place.

    It matters to make the difference. This was not an episode of locals getting riled up because the “boy” (possibly) committed an offense, and deciding to kill him in defiance of the usual justice.

  12. Gimme that Ole Time Religion!

    LOL.

    I am begining to think that all religion is simply a Rorschach test. One sees what one wants and suddenly believes ones own opinions to be confirmed by “holy revelation”.

    Then the real nutjobs go on to believe this is sufficient reason to enforce those beliefs with violence/law.

  13. Phelps needs to learn the concept of hate the sin, love the sinner.

  14. Can anyone go to the site and verify if he hates Swedes (I’m not sure if that is just some WikiEditor joke).

    Yes, he hates Swedes. Phelps started railing against Sweden when a minister named ?ke Green got a month in prison for “anti-gay hate speech.” This was a year or so before the tsunami, which killed scores of Swedish tourists. Predictably, that ginned up the church to bash Swedes some more.

  15. bzial –

    apparently there’s a site “godhatessweden” or something like that. It’s basically against the oversecksed, socialist, gawdless residents of “Tre Kronor”

  16. Matthew S was not “lynched.” He was murdered.

    Well, he was beaten and then tied up against a fence and left to die. Close enough, I’d say.

  17. sorry for the double.

    NoStar – the problem with that pov is that the operative word is “hate”.

    No thanks.

  18. Matthew Shephard, the gay teenager lynched in Wyoming.

    He was a couple months shy of his 22nd birthday. Not a teenager.

  19. Well, you learn something new everyday. Simply wacky.

  20. They call it “Homo-fascist Sweden.”

    Their website is a hoot. They have bigtime attitude.

    The word “fag” is a contraction of the word “faggot” (or, “fagot”). When traced through its etymological history, the word “faggot” simply means “a bundle of sticks used as fuel.”
    […]
    For those geniuses out there who are asking, “are you saying that God hates burning pieces of wood?”, the answer is “no, we’re using it as a figure of speech, just like the Bible uses it.”

    If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was put together by Landover Baptist.
    It’s also incredibly disturbing, so I think I’ll go take a long hot shower in my mind.

  21. He was a couple months shy of his 22nd birthday. Not a teenager.
    Twentysomething is bad enough. Why does anyone need to call him a teenager?

  22. bzial –

    no kidding. I first heard about the site from someone who was protesting Andrew Sullivan’s visit to campus (back when). The d00d was protesting that a “fag” was allowed to speak.

    He then proceeded to talk, with amazing, increasing frustration in his voice, about “Sweden”* and ended with telling about that site.

    Amazing.

    * since he was responding to a “Sweden” in his mind and on that web site, it seemed to have nothing to do with the actual country.

    Also – didja know there’s a store called “Merkin World”?

    “so I think I’ll go take a long hot shower in my mind”
    High – a good time for some mental BATIN!, too!

  23. But the BBC should really be censored for this.

    The money stolen under threat of imprisonment from normal British tax-payers financed this love note to Phelps.

    I’ve seen a lot of offensive crap, and more than a few outright lies promulgated by the beeb in my time, but this takes the cake. It is simultaneously anti-American and pro-homophobe. I hope the severely over-taxed ordinary bloke in Birmingham appreciates how his licence fee has gone to waste.

  24. “to enter heaven; there’s no back door.”

    Funniest thing I’ve heard in a while.

  25. Ethan,

    it was evil, but no, it is not “close enough.”

    lynching is not simply brutal murder

    lynching is the complete short-circuiting of the justice system (in which the justice system is usually complicit)

    No, No, No! Matthew Shepard was not lynched! He was not dragged from his home, or prison cell, by an angry mob of locals with the tacit support of local law enforcement. His murder was not “swept under the rug” like a lynching.

    In a lynching, the murderers go free, and may even be celebrated. Matthew’s murderers are in jail.

    It is a very very very important difference.

  26. Why does anyone need to call it a lynching?

    It’s useful propaganda to couch it in such terms.
    Just as a crime against a black man sounds worse if you call it a “hate crime”.

  27. Howard Stern has a God Hates Fags mother/son tag team on his show every once in a while, competing for prizes in a Jeopardy-style tournament. Those folk are hilarious, and at the same time, deeply disturbing. It’s no sweat off my brow hearing that bilious garbage from some ignorant grownup, but hearing it from a ten- or twelve-year-old boy just makes me sick.

  28. ed – are you serious?

    what the fuck do you think happened to the guy?

  29. VM,

    some people are angry that a gay man’s death got more attention than some other deaths.

    Yawn.

  30. I dunno, Lichtenburg, given the correlation of percieved sexual deviance and the lynching of blacks in the post-Reconstruction US, Shephard’s murder fits better with the actual practice of lynching than does yours, which seems to be informed by watching to many Westerns. Thank you for playing, though.

  31. Violent homophobia certainly makes this moose angry….

    *looks at picture of labrador. all better.

    (and probably focusing on the other side’s semantic points distracts from the larger, much more important issue that a young man was brutally murdered because he was a threat to the other yahoos’ “manhood”)

  32. It is a very very very important difference.

    Probably not to the victim.

  33. If the atheists are correct, nothing matters to the victim anymore.

  34. Even if we’re not, unless hell is relieving your death over and over, and heaven is avenging it. Even then, the motive is far less important than the dying part.

  35. David,
    Agreed. That is what makes “motive laws” like hate crimes so counter productive.

  36. ed – are you serious? what the fuck do you think happened to the guy?

    He was murdered. “Lynching” usually infers the hanging of a black man by white southern racists. So using that term to ddescribe what happened to a white homosexual who was killed by two other white guys seems to me to be politically motivated and calculated to elevate it to more than what it was: a murder.

  37. Furthermore, “hating” your victim doesn’t make the crime any worse. Dead is dead, regardless of the thought processes that lead up to the crime.

  38. lynch:

    transitive verb

    to put to death (as by hanging) by mob action without legal sanction

    http://www.m-w.com (Merriam Webster Online Dictionary)

  39. Lynching has nothing to do with race, religion, or orientation. No doubt the majority of victims of lynching in this country have been white males who were raised protestant. The key component of a “lynching” is that it is an extrajudicial murder caried out by a mob or group of people. The Sheppard case was clearly a murder, not a lynching. He was killed by two individuals he met that night at a bar. Whether his homosexuality played any part in the murder is heavily disputed (though the initial reporting of the incident treated it as a forgone conclusion).

  40. I maintain that the most important elements of a lynching are that the murderers usually receive no sanctions and the community (at least the one with power) is usually OK with it. As I said, MS’ murderers are in jail; that alone means he was not lynched.

  41. FD&S

    “No doubt the majority of victims of lynching in this country have been white* males who were raised protestant.”

    * [!?!?!?!?] If this isn’s a typo, I’d like some evidence. I’d been under the impression that the majority of victims of lynching were black.

  42. So, I guess the call was to keep splitting semantical hairs.

  43. highnumber:

    definitely!

  44. By the way, if any of you take a wrong turn in Iraq, get captured, then abandoned, then “rescued” by GIs, then made a propaganda hero, then outed, you will have been Jessica Lynched.

  45. yeah – but ed saved the day with his 4:02. Nice save!

  46. Did anyone even notice that Weigel edited his post to take “lynched” and “teenager” out?

  47. ja. Mr. Sheppard wasn’t a teenager – and maybe he didn’t want to get into the semantic games that you warned us against, yet some of us (i did) got caught up with?

  48. Here’s his “God Hates Fags” music video, which I really want to see the WBC’s reaction to – they’d probably get the joke, after a while.

    If you believe the Wikipedia entry, there appears to still be some controversy as to whether this is really a hoax?

    It appeared to be a pretty clear-cut case of hoaxing to me…and I don’t get why gay rights groups would be so upset about it, when it is fairly plainly mocking homophobic religious whackjobs.

  49. This guy does protest anywhere. When I graduated from KU Law in the mid-90s a few of his mouthbreathers were protesting outside our graduation ceremony. To this day, I have no idea why. Maybe it’s b/c he was a disbarred KS lawyer. In fact, his whole family are lawyers in KS. I knew an attorney who worked with one of his daughters…she was apparently as crazy/mean as him. And the attorney who told me this was a pretty right-wing Christian himself.

  50. I went to school with the columnist who first suggested that Phelps was being backed by someone who wants to make religious people look like extremists. I have never seen anything in the 3 years since to make me disagree with that assertion. Look at the way they are covered in the news and it seems that they are being given

    “Freddie Phelps and His Inbred Whelps” as they are known by cops (most of the members of his “church” are in his family) make their living by running right up to the legal limit, and inciting their opponents to cross that line, thus to take their money in court.

    They are known as the “UGs” by Patriot Guard Riders (short for “Unwanted Guests”). Pretty much describes them.

  51. It pains me to say this, but in the case of Phelps & Co. I think it might be a mistake to laugh at him and dismiss him as bilious but ignorable kook. (Usually I’m all for laughing at boorish people). Phelps is a piece of work.

    There’s a supposed biography of him floating around the net here. I have no idea if it’s genuine. It portrays Phelps not just as a crazyman for JAY-SUS, but a sadistic child abuser and wife beater, a drug addict, and a profoundly disturbed person whose purpose in life is to inflict pain on vulnerable people.

    Don’t get me wrong, Phelps and his litter of imbecilic spawn deserve all the derision and vitriol thrown their way, but sometimes I feel like the man also deserves to be burned alive. Or, more appropriately, tied down, injected with live HIV, and repeatedly ass-fucked by a huge hydraulically-powered dildo until he’s unconscious. But then, I supposed if that happened he’d just be getting the attention he craves.

    Surely we can all agree this fuck should shut up, right?

  52. Googling “faggot etymology” gives various, contradictory, ambiguous readings. As does life itself.

  53. “It was all good fun until states, followed by the U.S. Congress, passed wide-ranging bans on funeral picketing with the express purpose of shutting down Phelps. (Note that Ron Paul voted against it.)”

    Maybe Ron Paul thought this wasn’t a federal issue. That doesn’t mean the states shouldn’t regulate funeral-picketers.

  54. You people act as if God does NOT hate fags? What in the hell is wrong here? Matthew S was not lynched or murdered . . . he was summarily sent to his well-deserved judgment in the hottest of heated places in God’s Big Universe House. Only you un-churched, godless freak atheist libertarialins don’t know that!

  55. “resen | April 27, 2007, 3:51pm | #
    FD&S

    “No doubt the majority of victims of lynching in this country have been white* males who were raised protestant.”

    * [!?!?!?!?] If this isn’s a typo, I’d like some evidence. I’d been under the impression that the majority of victims of lynching were black.”

    Some outlaws in the old west, too, for instance, Deacon Jim Miller:
    http://outdoorsbest.zeroforum.com/zerothread?id=589517&postid=7155054

  56. Some important points on the Matthew Shephard murder (they apply also to the James Byrd case in Texas:

    When Matthew Shephard’s body was discovered the local authorities began an immediate investigation. The perpetrators were apprehended within hours of this.

    Absolutely no one in town expressed any sympathy for these suspects.

    No one in authority did anything that indicated that this event had any sanction from local law enforcement.

    In fact after a trial that convicted the murderers the only people who showed any mercy were Matthew’s parents who pleaded with the jury to spare their lives on the grounds of their opposition to the death penalty.

    This, in fact, does not fit the historical template for a “lynching”. In old-style lynchings all of the “respectable” townsfolks turned out to bring “justice” to a “malefactor”. And any prosecutor daring enough to challenge them soon found he was unable to impanel a jury willing to bring a conviction against the killers.

  57. Syd

    Thanks for the link. I’d heard of Deacon Jim Miller, but had no info.

    My favorite guy with a hemp necktie was Henry Plummer, the sheriff [!! – Radley Balko, take note.] who was lynched in Montana in 1864. There is a decent Wikipedia article about him.

    One of the legends about Plummer is that, caught in an attempted ambush, he pulled his gun and got off 6 shots in 5 seconds, killing one of his attackers and wounding three others. I emphasize this is legend as I have never found any verification of it.

    Going back to my earlier point, I still question FD&S’s assertion that the majority of lynching victims were white. I think FD&S may have meant to say the opposite, but I am quite sure that, between 1840 and 1950, the majority of victims of lynching in the US were black males.

  58. “This guy does protest anywhere. When I graduated from KU Law in the mid-90s a few of his mouthbreathers were protesting outside our graduation ceremony. To this day, I have no idea why. Maybe it’s b/c he was a disbarred KS lawyer. In fact, his whole family are lawyers in KS. I knew an attorney who worked with one of his daughters…she was apparently as crazy/mean as him. And the attorney who told me this was a pretty right-wing Christian himself.”

    Agreed. I grew up in Topeka, and my dad was a (conservative) evangelical minister. One day he and about 5 other pastors from churches in town gathered on the front steps of the Capitol building to pray for the city and government, and Phelps showed up to protest. My dad was pretty miffed as to how he found out about it in the first place, not to mention why exactly it was worth protesting.

  59. I was under the impression lynching is the extra-judicial killing, by a group of individuals in a community, of someone known or presumed to have committed a crime meriting execution as punishment.Despite popular misconception, most executed by lynching in the US were white and the practice was certainly not confined to the South.

    Most of the people who were lynched commited the offense for which they were executed.

    Lynching, vigilantism and perhaps vendetta, as we understand them in our society, would presumably be the method of sanction against heinous criminals in an anarchist society.

  60. “Furthermore, “hating” your victim doesn’t make the crime any worse. Dead is dead, regardless of the thought processes that lead up to the crime.”

    It may not make any difference to the victim but I think it can be argued that some “hate” crimes have greater impact on the communities they occur in than ordinary crimes.

    If homosexuals, racial minorities, etc. are being specifically targeted because of their minority status, then the crime becomes an act of terrorism in addition to murder.

    Burning a cross on someone’s lawn might be a petty act of vandalism but if the purpose is to intimidate and create fear in an entire group of people then it’s effects might be a little more far-reaching than if it was, say, a flaming bag of dog poo.

    I think that’s the argument behind hate crime laws. I don’t know that they accomplish anything but I do think that they have more to do with punishing a person for the collateral damage their crime causes.

    Imagine if you lived in a town where people of your particular group were being harassed, beat up, even murdered and the perpetrators were making it clear that they were out to harm people like you. Even if you were never attacked, knowing people were targeting you might have a little more effect on your quality of life than if the crimes had been isolated incidents involving personal gripes.

    Of course it’s pretty damn hard to determine when a crime has this effect and when it doesn’t and I doubt hate crime legislation would do much to curb it anyway.

  61. In fact after a trial that convicted the murderers the only people who showed any mercy were Matthew’s parents who pleaded with the jury to spare their lives on the grounds of their opposition to the death penalty.

    There’s something I find particularly disturbing about this.

    And anybody who wants a good laugh should check out Phelp’s Wikipedia page. They’re protesting at a funeral of a one year old girl who was beaten to death and think that Colbert and Stewart signal the end of the world. He’s also apparentley a fan of Castro.

  62. And anybody who wants a good laugh should check out Phelp’s Wikipedia page. They’re protesting at a funeral of a one year old girl who was beaten to death and think that Colbert and Stewart signal the end of the world. He’s also apparentley a fan of Castro.

    Phelps is probably a Castro fan because Castro doesn’t like gays very much, which is something Castro’s Western leftist apologists don’t like to admit.

    For once I agree with you on something.

  63. Phelps has, in the past, supported Al Gore and other collectivists, so why not Castro?

  64. RE: Sweden

    Yes, there is a Phelps website http://www.godhatessweden.com

    “Sweden is a land of sodomy, bestiality, and incest,” according to the first page. I think a Swedish judge made a ruling that Phelps found offensive, hence his condemnation of the whole country. It may have had something to do with hate speech against homosexuals, I don’t remember the details. Louis Theroux’s BBC show records the Westboroans picketing a store that sells Swedish-made vacuum cleaners.

  65. God damn it. F*ck this “lynch” vs. “murder” argument.

    How many posts now have failed to mention ed’s mistaken use of the word “infer”? Like, a hundred?

    infer = to deduce from statements or evidence what is not already explicit, which is something the listener/reader does
    imply = to suggest a proposition from a series of statements, without ever making it explicit, which is something the speaker/writer does

    Thank you.

  66. Lichtenberg’s assessment of the documentary’s tone indicates a severe lack of listening comprehension skills.

  67. In a world where dieties disapprove of cigarettes and promiscuous women wear diapers as hats, one man has the guts to stand for what is right. This Summer, Fred Phelps leads the charge against evil in “Westboro Baptist Church Pt4: Campus Crusaders.”

    “Madness? THIS IS WESTBORO!!!!”

  68. I stand corrected. “Lynch” is not the proper word to use to describe the crime.

    Cheers.

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