Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, is a brilliant man. He’s a nut too, of course. What separates him so well from other nuts is how well he knows how to grab mainstream media’s attention. Just look at how he and Shirley Phelps-Roper, one of his daughters and WBC spokeswoman, managed the Tucson shooting tragedy.
The organization threatened to picket all six funerals, and as a result, Arizona radio stations threw WBC invitations to speak on a couple one-hour long talk shows in exchange for canceling their picket plans. In this situation, both sides won. The radio stations look like heroes among the mourners of the Tucson tragedy and likely got stellar ratings once Shirley Phelps-Roper opened her mouth on the programs. (Regardless how much the WBC is hated, people like me love watching and listening to sane people trying to argue or reason with crazy people.) In exchange, WBC reaches a wider audience to spread their message and save a bundle in travel costs.
If it wasn’t for exposure strategies like this, the WBC would just be another wacky fringe group like the North American Man/Boy Love Association or the Church of Bible Understanding. It isn’t enough nowadays to picket a gay pride parade, or counter protest a gay rights rally. No one other than the LGBT community and its strongest allies are going to pay any attention to it. Certainly not mainstream media. Protesting at sensitive events like funerals, whether it be for a deceased public figure or a US soldier, is what people are going to go crazy about. Nowadays, the Westboro Baptist Church has earned name recognition nationwide and many parts around the world. Rarely ever does someone need to Wikipedia the group’s name to know who they are and what they stand for.
Fred Phelps is as brilliant as he is crazy though. His vision on life is so tainted by his literal interpretation of the Old Testament and his adult experiences living in Topeka, Kan. In my opinion though, Fred’s struggle combating the underground gay sex operations at Topeka’s Gage Park had the strongest influence to his views of homosexuality.
There are some interesting things about Fred Phelps though—items of him that shook my socks when I read it. I hope they shake your’s too:
Fred Phelps is a registered Democrat. He has ran and failed in multiple Democratic primaries. His partisanship may explain why Fox News staff memebers like Julie Bandera seem to attack WBC more aggressively than most other news personalities.
Even prior to his anti-gay crusade, Phelps made enemies in the Topeka community through his work as a civil rights lawyer. He represented many plaintiffs for racial and gender discrimination. He even received awards from Greater Kansas City Chapter of Blacks in Government and the Bonner Springs branch of the NAACP for his work on behalf of black clients.
One of Fred’s sons, Timothy, said this of his father in the documentary “Hatemongers.” (Go to 3:02 of the part 2 video.)
“Our father had taught us and ingrained in us the notion that there is no difference between any human versus another human. We all are the same blood. It was a bizarre concept to me that anyone would honestly and genuinely believe that different races meant different qualities.”
It makes you wonder if Phelp’s history in civil rights has anything to do with why the Klu Klux Klan disapproves of the Westboro Baptist Church.
Here’s something even more bizarre: Before Fred Phelps ended his practice in the federal court system in 1989, (Phelps was disbarred from practicing law in his home state of Kansas prior,) Phelps filed a lawsuit against then-President Ronald Reagan for appointing an ambassador to the Vatican. Phelps was offended by Reagan’s appointment and claimed it violated the “the separation of church and state,” outlined in the First Amendment. The case was later dismissed by a Federal District Judge.
Fred Phelps is such a fascinating creature. I think there needs to be course about his life, and the genius manner his religious organization took advantage of the court systems and generated incredible media attention.