Westboro Baptist Church

Westboro Baptist Church

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Updated Aug 28, 2014 at 04:22PM EDT by Brad.

Added Dec 17, 2012 at 08:12PM EST by Don.

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About

Westboro Baptist Church is an American church founded by Pastor Fred Phelps known for promoting anti-gay and anti-Semitic views. The church often organizes protests in which members hold signs reading “God Hates Fags” and praising various tragedies and disasters.

Online History

Funeral Picketing

The group has been known to attend daily picketing in Topeka and travel nationally to protest at the funerals of select individuals, including several gay victims of hate crime or AIDS-related deaths, war veterans who were killed during service and even victims of natural disasters and tragic massacres. The church has been involved in anti-gay movements since 1991 when Fred Phelps launched “The Great Gage Park Decency Drive,” picketing a park in Topeka, Kansas where he believed homosexuals were meeting to have sex.[40] In October 1998, the church gained national attention after protesting the funeral of hate crime victim Matthew Shepard. As of March 2009, the church claims to have participated in over 41,000 protests in over 650 cities since 1991.

GodHatesFags.com

On the web, the church’s messages are mainly spread through the provocatively titled website GodHatesFags.com[2], registered on January 22nd, 1997.



The church has launched several sister sites as well, including GodHatesAmerica.com[4] (registered May 20th, 1999), GodHatesTheWorld.com[3] (registered January 18th, 2005), AmericaIsDoomed.com[5] (registered July 31st, 2005, now defunct), PriestsRapeBoys.com[6] (registered July 31st, 2005), BeastObama.com[7] (registered December 21st, 2008) SignMovies.com[8] (registered April 5th, 2009), JewsKilledJesus.com[9] (registered April 23rd, 2009), GodHatesIslam.com[10] (registered September 22nd, 2010) and GodHatesTheMedia.com[11] (registered November 9th, 2010). As of December 27th, 2012, the @GodHatesFagsWBC Twitter[1] account has accumulated nearly 4,000 followers.

Death of Fred Phelps

On March 16th, 2014, Nate Phelps, a former member of Westboro Baptist Church and the son of the founder Fred Phelps, posted a Facebook status update[51] saying that his father was “on the edge of death” at a hospital in Topeka Kansas. In addition to this news, Phelps also revealed that his father was ex-communicated from the church back in August 2013, following an alleged fallout with the board of male elders over the treatment of fellow church members.




Nate Phelps’ status update was quickly picked up by U.S. news outlets[52] and spread across Twitter[55] and Reddit[53][54], where many critics of the church reacted to the news with enthusiasm, some of whom went as far as to suggest a protest event at the founder’s funeral service, while others urged against taking an-eye-for-an-eye approach. On March 19th, shortly before midnight, Phelps died of congestive heart failure.




Notable Episodes

March 2006: Snyder vs. Phelps

Westboro members have been protesting military funerals since as early as 2005, when protests were held at public funerals for slain soldiers in Michigan, Alabama, Minnesota, Virginia, Colorado and Idaho[29], claiming these deaths are caused by America’s tolerance of homosexuality. On March 10th, 2006, members of the church picketed the funeral of U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder after he was killed in a car accident while serving overseas. In addition to the protest, the church condemned his parents for raising their son as a Catholic, claiming that they “raised him for the devil.” His father, Albert Snyder, sued Fred Phelps, two of his daughters and the church itself for defamation, intrusion upon seclusion, publicity given to private life, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy.[30] On October 31st, 2007, the jury awarded Snyder a combination of $10.9 million dollars in various damages, which was overturned in an appeal by the church on September 24th, 2009. Since the church’s signs were considered hyperbolic and figurative expression rather than actual facts, which is covered under the First Amendment right to free speech, in October 2010, the courts ordered Snyder to pay the legal fees for the Church, amounting in $16,510.[31]



The final decision in the case was made in March 2011 when the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the hateful speech of the Westboro Baptist Church was protected under the First Amendment.[32] However, in August 2012, The Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act[33] was signed into law, providing a slew of new benefits to veterans, including a provision on funeral protests. Under this law, protests may not take place two hours before or after a funeral service and they must be held at least 300 feet away.[34] Violating this would lead to up to $50,000 in statutory damages.

February 2011: Feud with Anonymous

On February 16th, 2011, an open letter[35] to the members of Westboro Baptist Church was posted to AnonNews asking them to cease their protesting and close their websites. This came on the heels of the church’s announcement[36] that they would be picketing the funerals of the six people killed in Arizona[37] during a shooting that also critically injured Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Two days later, a second open letter[38] was posted to AnonNews claiming that Westboro congregants had written the first letter themselves as a trap for WBC to steal IP addresses.[39] Despite this, Westboro responded on the 19th telling Anonymous to bring it. On the 24th, a masked hacker appeared on the David Pakman Show with Shirley Phelps (shown below) in which he continued to claim WBC drafted the first letter to themselves while hacking the website during the segment.



December 2012: Connecticut School Massacre

Following the Connecticut School Massacre on December 14th, 2012, Westboro Baptist Church leader Margie Phelps tweeted at United States President Barack Obama that gay marriage was to blame for the shooting.

Also on that same day, church representative Shirley Phelps-Roper announced via Twitter that the church planned to picket the Sandy Hook Elementary School to praise God for the shooting. Two days later, Phelps-Roper’s Twitter was hacked by someone claiming to be Twitter user @CosmoTheGod.




The same day, a Pastebin[12] was created containing the personally identifiable information of several church members. On December 17th, Gawker[17] published an article reporting that Anonymous had launched #OpWestboro to attack the Westboro Baptist Church and its members. The article noted that several church members’ credit card numbers had been leaked and that Cosmo the God had violated his parole in order to take over Phelps-Roper’s Twitter account. On December 21st at 6 PM EST Anonymous members issued a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on godhatesfags.com followed by pizza orders, prank phone calls and fax spam causing the group to disconnect many of their phone lines.[22] However, the group announced this was not the end of #OpWestboro, directing people to a Twitter account[23] for further news.

Anti-WBC White House Petition

On December 14th, 2012, largely in response to the church’s announcement of a picketing rally at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a petition was created on the White House “We the People”[13] website calling for the Westboro Baptist Church to be recognized by the government as a hate group, which amassed over 155,000 signatures in the first 72 hours. By December 27th, the petition received more than 270,000 signatures, making it the most popular movement ever on the site.[18] Two days after the hate group petition launched, three separate petitions[19][20][21] asking for the government to investigate and revoke the church’s tax exempt status were created. As of December 27th, each one has exceeded the 25,000 signatures necessary for government acknowledgement with more than 172,000 signatures combined.



Counter-Protests

December 2008: Phelps-A-Thon

Following a Westboro threat to protest a December 2008 Boston production of The Laramie Project, a play about the reaction to Matthew Shepard’s murder, activist Chris Mason launched a telethon-style protest where people can pledge online to donate money for every minute members of the Westboro Baptist Church actually protest. On December 12th, both groups gathered outside of the theatre (shown below) while people were able to donate online.[24] By the time the play began, the Phelps-A-Thon raised more than $4600, with nearly $800 of that coming from people at the theater.[25] Following the success of the counter protest, high schools in Missouri[26], Savannah, GA[27] and Boulder, CO[28] held their own Phelps-A-Thons to subvert Westboro protests in their areas.



Rainbow Home Painting

On March 19th, 2013, The Huffington Post[50] reported that Aaron Jackson, a founder of the charity group Planting Peace, painted a house directly across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church compound in the style of a rainbow gay pride flag (shown below). The project was referred to as the “Equality House” to protest the church’s stance against homosexuality.



Facebook Brandjacking

On April 17th, 2013, Redditor grink submitted a post titled “Westboro Baptist Church’s Facebook Page Hacked by Anonymous” to the /r/funny[41] subreddit, featuring screenshots of a Facebook page titled “Westboro Baptist Church” with a logo associated with the hacker group Anonymous (shown below). In the first three months, the post gained over 5,700 up votes and 250 comments.



The same day, several news sites reported that the Facebook page had been hacked, including The Washington Times,[42] Heavy[43] and The Frisky.[44] Shortly after, the news sites The Daily Dot[45] and NBC News[46] reported that the page had never been owned by the Westboro Baptist Church and was merely an example of “brandjacking,” a practice that involves assuming the online identity of another entity.

Same-Sex Ceremony

On July 14th, 2013, members of the New-York-based Satanic Temple visited the grave site of the mother of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps to perform a ceremony between two same-sex couples (shown below). On July 17th, the metal news site The Gauntlet[49] published an article with the Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves, who claimed the “Pink Mass” ceremony made Phelp’s mother a lesbian in the afterlife. On the following day, the ceremony was reported on by the new sites Gawker[47] and IBI Times.[48]



Reputation

The church has been widely criticized for its outspoken views and high profile picketing stunts. According to the non-profit news blog Nonprofit Quarterly,[14] political commentator Bill O’Reilly has called the church “evil” and “despicable.” The Anti-Defamation League[15] has labeled the church “virulently homophobic” and accused its members of being anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-American and racist. The church has been labeled as a “hate group” by the nonprofit civil rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center.[16]



Search Interest

External References

[1]Twitter – @GodHatesFagsWBC

[2]GodHatesFags – Westboro Baptist Church Home Page

[3]GodHatestheWorld – God Hates the World

[4]GodHatesAmerica – God Hates the World

[5]AmericaisDomed – America is Doomed

[6]PriestsRapeBoys – Priests Rape Boys

[7]BeastObama – Antichrist Beast Obama

[8]SignMovies – Westboro Baptist Church Movies

[9]JewsKilledJesus – Jews Killed Jesus

[10]GodHatesIslam – God Hates Islam

[11]GodHatesTheMedia – God Hates The Media

[12]Pastebin – Leaked WBC Personal Contact Information

[13]We the People – Legally Recognize Westboro Baptist Church as a Hate Group

[14]Nonprofit Quarterly – Students Support Targets to Oppose Westboro Baptists

[15]Anti-Defamation League – Westboro Baptist Church

[16]Southern Poverty Law Center – Westboro Baptist Church

[17]Gawker – Westboro Baptist Church Plants to Picket Sandy Hook

[18]Huffington Post – White House Petition To Recognize Westboro Baptist Church As Hate Group Becomes Most Popular Ever

[19]We the People – Investigate the IRS Tax-Exempt Status of the Westboro Baptist Church

[20]We The People – Remove the Westboro Baptist Church’s 501©(3) tax-exempt status, and make it retroactive.

[21]We The People – Revoke the tax exempt status of the Westboro Baptist Church & re-classify Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group.

[22]#OpWestboro – What Happened?

[23]Twitter – @OpWestBoro

[24]Phelps-A-Thon – Home

[25]Dig Boston – PHELPS-A-THON

[26]Phelps-A-Thon – Clayton High School

[27]Facebook – Phelps-a-thon Savannah

[28]Westword – Phelps-a-Thon at Boulder High School pays it forward

[29]Seattle Pi – His church was bombed, and now he protests funerals of the war dead

[30]MatthewSnyder.com – Complaint

[31]Wikipedia – Snyder vs. Phelps

[32]Huffington Post – Westboro Baptist Church Wins Supreme Court Appeal Over Funeral Protests

[33]House Committe on Veterans’ Affairs – The Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012

[34]Huffington Post – Honoring America’s Veterans Act Signed By Obama, Restricting Westboro Military Funeral Protests

[35]AnonNews – Open Letter to Westboro Baptist Church

[36]Huffington Post – Westboro Baptist Church To Picket Funerals Of Arizona Shooting Victims

[37]Wikipedia – 2011 Tucson Shooting

[38]AnonNews – An(other) Open Letter to Westboro Baptist Church

[39]AnonNews – Message to the Westboro Baptist Church, the Media, and Anonymous as a whole

[40]Southern Poverty Law Center – Topeka: A City Bulled into Submission by the Westboro Baptist Church

[41]Reddit – Westboro Baptist Churchs Facebook Page Hacked

[42]Washington Times – Westboro Baptist Churchs Facebook Page Hit By Anon Hackers

[43]Heavy – Anonymous Hacks WBC Facebook Page

[44]The Frisky – Anonymous Hacks (Spoofs?) The Westboro Baptist Church’s Facebook Page

[45]The Daily Dot – Anonymous didnt hack the Westboro Baptist Church on Facebook

[46]NBC News – Anonymous brandjacks Westboro Baptist Church on Facebook

[47]Gawker – Satanists Turn WBC Founders Mom Gay in Ceremony

[48]IBI Times – Satanic Temple Turns Westboro Baptist Church Founder Mom Gay

[49]The Gauntlet – The Satanic Temple Performs Same-Sex Ceremony at Westboro Baptist Church Leaders Family Gravesite

[50]The Huffington Post – Westboro Equality House

[51]Facebook – Nate Phelps’ Status Update

[52]The Huffington Post – Fred Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church Founder, Is ‘On The Edge Of Death’

[53]Reddit – Search Results for Fred Phelps

[54]Reddit – Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church, near death

[55]Politico – Pundits take Phelps reactions to Twitter

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