Hate on Display
The Westboro Baptist Church comes to the White House.
Earlier today, the Westboro Baptist Church, a Topeka, Kansas-based notorious anti-gay hate group infamous for protesting the funerals of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and for its inflammatory “God hates fags” trademark slogan and website, protested outside the White House. The group was hoping, in the words of founder Fred Phelps (whose family members constitute the majority of the group), to “[p]ray for God to SHORTLY destroy Antichrist!”—that is, President Barack Obama.
Since the White House is just a few blocks from the Center for American Progress, I headed down there to speak to both members of the WBC and those participating in a nearby counter-protest.
By the time I got there, the counter-protesters far outnumbered members of the WBC:
The WBC protesters explained that the permit they had been granted required them to keep moving back and forth over a specified area directly in front of the White House. Some of them had American and rainbow flags tied to their ankles so that every step trampled them.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, the daughter of Fred Phelps, garnered the most attention:
Her daughters, Megan Phelps-Roper and Grace Phelps-Roper, ages 23 and 16, respectively, were also in attendance. I spoke to them about their group’s belief system:
I also came upon a passerby engaged in a heated discussion with another member of the WBC:
I talked to him a bit about why he was bothering to argue with a member of an extremist group:
At one point, Shirley Phelps-Roper and another member of the church began singing a taunting songs about dead soldiers:
When the WBC members’ allotted protesting time was up and they headed east, the counter-protesters followed them, taunting them as they walked. Eventually the Phelpses turned back. Shirley took an interview (with the counter-protesters imploring the media not to give her attention) as her daughters talked to a few other bystanders:
Eventually, the Phelpses left. The police set up a line of horses to block the protesters, but it was unnecessary, as one of the leaders of the counter-protest made it clear to the assembled group that they shouldn’t follow the WBC past a certain point.
Once the WBC had departed, I talked to three people who helped organize the counter-protest: Rory McShane, chair of the Maryland Teenage Republicans, Colin MacDonald, a George Washington University freshman, and Kellan Baker, a graduate student who helped put together the concurrent “Phelps-A-Thon” that raised money for every moment the Westboro Baptist Church members protested, netting $500 for Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence.
Jesse Singal is an associate editor of Campus Progress.
“What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality“ at Auburn University, Auburn, AL
“Queer Tour: Big Ideas Conversation Series“ at multiple locations
A Jihad for Love with Parvez Sharma at University of Wisconsin at Madison