Turning the Tables
March 26, 2010 9:09 PM   Subscribe

University of Illinois Student Counters Westboro Baptist Church Protest (YT video)

In caes anyone can't view the video, here's a description. I added the links and emphasis.
The Westboro Baptist Church, a hate group that chartered themselves as a church to get away with their harassment of Queer groups, Jews, military families and others, conducted a tour of Chicago on March 8th.

The group of five lonely haters targeted Jewish centers, protesting everything more modern than the middle ages at Hillel's at UIC and the University of Chicago before holding their signs outside of the Israeli consulate.

Hundreds of queer rights activists rallied against the Westboro group. Activists used humorous and satirical signs to mock WBC. UIC student Jason Connell used the appearance of the hate group to raise money for queer rights groups such as Human Rights Campaign, International AIDS Foundation and Chicago based Jerusalem Open House. Donations were named in honor of the Westboro Baptist Church and community thank you cards will be sent from the non-profits to WBC leader Fred Phelps. Connell called it a, "Lemons to Lemonade" situation.
posted by zarq (38 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This isn't a new concept. But it's nice to see it being turned on WBC.
posted by zarq at 9:11 PM on March 26, 2010

Thanks for posting this. Is it the "best of the web" naw... but, that's not the point.. we don't always need exciting, wonderful, whatever....

Here's a young guy taking a reasoned, purposeful approach to these idiots being in his community.. damn...good for him... let this stand as an example...
posted by HuronBob at 9:17 PM on March 26, 2010

Here's a young guy taking a reasoned, purposeful approach to these idiots being in his community.

Yes, but these idiots seem immune to mockery. Indeed, they seem to thrive on it. The more people protest against them, the more energized they get.

They should be ignored as if they were invisible.
posted by three blind mice at 9:38 PM on March 26, 2010

Good stuff.
posted by nola at 9:42 PM on March 26, 2010

Is it the "best of the web?"

I think maybe it is.
posted by 3.2.3 at 9:43 PM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

They should be ignored as if they were invisible.

That actually doesn't do anything either, other than make people forced to witness it feel crappy for a while afterward. Why not counter with something positive? It's not done for any benefit of the WBC anyway - it's done for the general public so they can leave with a positive experience rather than a negative one. And some real connections were made at the counter protest and the talks held afterwards. WBC is a lost cause. Building community out of what could be a demoralizing and frustrating encounter isn't.

Ignoring stuff, contrary to somewhat popular belief, doesn't always make it go away.

As others have said, this isn't the first time this approach has been taken when the WBC comes to town, and it's been overwhelmingly positive for those that participated or witnessed the counter protests. So go them. Shine on, you crazy diamonds.
posted by custardfairy at 10:06 PM on March 26, 2010 [5 favorites]

I'm seconding the vote for best of the web. This is a great idea. It's even better than the silly counter-protest signs, which I love! I just hope more people follow suit.
posted by lexicakes at 10:09 PM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Those assholes were here in town this week. Seems like the locals did some mocking here too.
posted by chiababe at 10:13 PM on March 26, 2010

Yeah, hey, good on him. Right on, Jason!

Using the WBC's immediate, physical presence as an incentive for immediate donations to organizations countering WBC's message is a fine thing. Better, IMO, than the options he mentions at the start of the clip, that is, yelling at them from across the street or ignoring them.

good looking guy, too. bet he gets laid like linoleum.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:32 PM on March 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

I really like the idea of using the presence of WBC as a catalyst for good, it doesn't happen often (ever?)

Good for you Jason, 3 cheers!
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 10:47 PM on March 26, 2010

"If Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church are coming to your area (check their picket schedule online), let us know and we will add a Phelps-A-Thon for your community. We can work together to raise money for your local gay/straight alliance, LGBT community center, Jewish Community Center, Temple, or whatever organization is applicable."

My high school was going to be picketed by WBC this week and organized a Phelps-A-Thon to raise money for the school's Gay/Straight Alliance, but they were a no-show.
posted by parudox at 11:22 PM on March 26, 2010

Yes, but these idiots seem immune to mockery. .

I think thats the whole point of this idea; mocking and chastising them just invigorates them even more; it gives them exactly what they want. So instead, this guy lets them do what they do, but uses their presence to accomplish something positive.
Brilliant, I say.
posted by DZack at 12:00 AM on March 27, 2010

Great idea and all that, but the video is conspicuously lacking in evidence of anyone actually responding to the idea by donating money. Talk is cheap, can we hear the results of his effort, with actual dollar figures? That is what is necessary to piss off Phelps.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:20 AM on March 27, 2010

Fred Phelps is responsible for me getting a PO Box.

After the tsunami hit China in 2008 a press release came out by these WBC wingnuts. It was one of the most hateful screeds I'd ever read.

I decided to write Fred and let him know I was praying he was "called into the arms of Jesus soon."

Last thing I wanted was this nutter having my home address. I also asked for a photo of his googly-eyed daughter. She's 9 kinds of creepy and her eyes burn with the righteousness of the insane. These people lack all humanity.

He didn't write back.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:38 AM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

He didn't write back.

Consider yourself lucky.

My wife gets antisemitic faxes from WBC (addressed to her by name) at work on a regular basis. She works for an apolitical Jewish non-profit, and her name and contact info (along with many of the organization's other officers) are its website.
posted by zarq at 6:36 AM on March 27, 2010

They came to my school last year, but had to stay off campus because it was private property. Students came in droves to the LGBT-sponsored breakfast, far away from the protests. I went to go see the WBC because I wanted to see hate personified, and it was simultaneously one of the scariest and most pathetic sights I've ever seen.
posted by pecknpah at 8:12 AM on March 27, 2010

A friend of mine volunteers as a counselor at an abortion clinic here, and they use this tactic to pretty good effect. Basically, in addition to their other fundraising strategies, they've set it up so that supporters can pledge $N per protester per day for one or more days.

Let's say I pick April 17th and pledge $40, and when the 17th rolls around there are 10 wingnuts outside the front door waving dead baby signs and spitting at women. Then that's $400 that they've earned for the godless babykillers just by showing up. If five of the wingnuts stay home, they keep $200 out of the heathens' pockets. If all ten stay home, they keep all $400 out.

Obviously, it's a bit of a charade. If I support the clinic enough to make an open-ended pledge like this, and all the wingnuts stay home on "my" day, I'll probably turn around and donate through some other channel later on. Still, it makes a good visceral argument against the massive, scary, lynch-mob-style protests that these guys sometimes like to use. "Hey, just so you know, by turning up en masse like this, you've earned us enough money to perform one more abortion free of charge! Thanks ever so much for looking out for poor womens' reproductive rights. Have a nice day!"
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:44 AM on March 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Is there any truth to the rumor that WBC is wealthy from lawsuits against folks who attack them, and that this is a consistent source of income for them?
posted by libcrypt at 8:50 AM on March 27, 2010

Is there any truth to the rumor that WBC is wealthy from lawsuits against folks who attack them, and that this is a consistent source of income for them?
posted by libcrypt at 4:50 PM on March 27 [+] [!]

The guy left a comment-reply to that video, thus:

"@vorbalhorde That's what I thought until I looked into it. Unless they have had settlements out of court, they haven't won any law suits...in fact they are fighting off a $5Million judgment AGAINST them that is going to be reviewed by the Supreme Court later this year.

See my dogstar7 interview with Jonathan Phelps in the Related Videos done on the same day."
posted by Drexen at 9:03 AM on March 27, 2010

By the way, I think this is the interview he's referring to.
posted by Drexen at 9:08 AM on March 27, 2010

Consider yourself lucky.

Yeah, I work where we get the faxes all the time as well. Some of them are downright stupid, most are offensive beyond belief, and some of them baffle me. I just don't get where they are coming from. Delighting in the deaths of people who do not share your god is nothing new. I guess these people have taken a small step forward, since they aren't actively killing the people they disagree with.

I don't quite get their agenda either. Their efficacy is obviously shitty. They have so few followers that they make many cults look robust.

I doubt if they've had more than a few dozen conversions, and I am guessing they have cemented more people's opinions than they have persuaded.

I know when I am often on the fence on an issue, and I am not really vested in the outcome, I will often lean toward the side that aren't assholes. If I was a college kid trying out new identities and I had exposure to these people they would push me fan away from their agenda.

Way back in the early 90s Phelps visited my college campus at least annually. Usually there would be some student that would engage them, and another student imploring the first to ignore they nutters.

The WBC are like live action internet trolls.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:49 AM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Give them more attention- that'll show 'em!
posted by hamida2242 at 10:24 AM on March 27, 2010

Lemons to Lemonade strategies work. Hate groups thrive on direct confrontation but they usually can't deal with being the pretext for working against their goals. They also frequently take silence as tacit consent - which is why ignoring them can actually egg them on.

Combating them takes skilled community organizing. Naive unorganized opposition is just fuel for them, but they aren't very adaptable, so good tactics and strategy can hand them their ass.

It usually comes down to demonstrating the community will erect a moral barrier against such behavior.

When the Lutherans think hate groups are a problem, the haters are finished. Not because there's anything special about Lutherans, but if they're convinced, so are most people.
posted by warbaby at 10:32 AM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't quite get their agenda either. Their efficacy is obviously shitty. They have so few followers that they make many cults look robust.

I doubt if they've had more than a few dozen conversions, and I am guessing they have cemented more people's opinions than they have persuaded.

It's useful, I think, to look at how the prophetic books in the Old Testament work. Very often, nobody listens to the prophet at all. He is mocked and scorned, and they doesn't manage to make any difference whatsoever in people's beliefs and behavior. But if he resists the call to prophecy — as Jonah does, for instance — he is punished by God. The message is that if you are called as a prophet, you have to speak out, even if it does not do any perceptible good whatsoever.

These are the stories that Phelps is inspired by. Good works are not the point. Conversion and evangelization are not the point — Phelps basically never talks about salvation or belief. Rather, the point is to do what the Biblical prophets and righteous men did: to speak up against the violation of ritual law, whether or not anyone listens. The story of Lot is instructive here too: if you remain righteous and speak out against the sins of the world, there is a chance that you and your family will be spared when the rest of the world is destroyed. I suspect that those following Phelps do so out of fear of ending up like Lot's wife. Gotta stay on-message and never, ever look back or when the sinful world is brought down in flames, you'll go down with it.

You may feel that Phelps is missing the point. I agree wholeheartedly, and I'm about as pro-religion as it gets around here. I think it's pretty clear that dude has not comprehended a word that Jesus said, and even from a Jewish point of view he's being prideful and wrongheaded as all fuck by putting himself up on the same pedestal as the great men of the Tanakh.

But you've gotta know your enemy. He acts the way he does because he thinks he's a prophet, and he's going to keep acting that way until he realizes he isn't one (unlikely) or dies. That's why ordinary political deterrents — mockery, shame, rational arguments — just bounce off him. Part of his job description, as far as he's concerned, is being undeterred by that stuff, and he's scared shitless that God will punish him if he doesn't live up to the job description. Similarly, I doubt that starving him of attention could make a difference. His job is to go on prophecying whether or not anyone listens, and he'd rather preach to an empty room than face his God's wrath.

So why bother counterprotesting? Simple: damage control. We have to show his victims that they aren't alone. We have to show ordinary, reasonably humble Christians — ones who see themselves honestly as followers of Jesus and not as God's one true mouthpiece on earth — just how ridiculous this guy is from a Jesus-centered point of view. And we have to show the cynical pseudo-Christians of the world, the schemers and tax-dodgers and moneygrubbing televangelists, that there's no profit to be made by emulating him. But Phelps doesn't seem to fall into any of those categories. As far as I can tell, he's not motivated by feeling, reason, money or power, but by pure psychotic fear of divine punishment, and that makes me sad because it suggests that there's probably no help for him.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:52 AM on March 27, 2010 [17 favorites]

My high school was going to be picketed by WBC this week and organized a Phelps-A-Thon to raise money for the school's Gay/Straight Alliance, but they were a no-show.

This is apparently a common technique for them - just threatening to show up gets them a ton of publicity and drama, whether or not they actually do.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:49 PM on March 27, 2010

Is there any truth to the rumor that WBC is wealthy from lawsuits against folks who attack them, and that this is a consistent source of income for them?

...in fact they are fighting off a $5Million judgment AGAINST them that is going to be reviewed by the Supreme Court later this year.


It was originally a $10.9 million judgment against the church, but was reduced to $5 million. On March 8, 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Snyder v. Phelps, (Docket No. 09-751, March 8, 2010).
posted by ericb at 2:16 PM on March 27, 2010

From the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Fred Phelps timeline
"1964: Before the end of his legal career in 1989, Phelps will file some 400 suits, mostly in federal court. Estranged son Nathan Phelps will claim later that part of his father's strategy is to file frivolous lawsuits in the hope that his targets will settle to avoid the costs of defense.

1969: Until the mid-1970s, the Phelps family's main income reportedly comes from using the children to sell candy door to door for several hours each day.

...1985: Nine federal judges in Kansas sign a disciplinary complaint against Phelps, five of his children and a daughter-in-law, alleging the seven made false accusations against the judges.

In a separate complaint, Phelps, still practicing in federal court, will be censured in 1987 for writing abusive letters this year to potential defendants threatening lawsuits if his demands were not met.

...1989: In a settlement of the 1985 disciplinary complaint against him and several family members, Phelps agrees to permanently stop practicing in federal court so that members of his family may continue practicing.

Also as part of the settlement, daughter Margie is suspended from practicing in federal and state courts for one year, son Fred Jr. for six months."
posted by ericb at 2:30 PM on March 27, 2010

The Stanford Review:
Meet Fred Phelps.

The “Logic” Behind Phelps’ Teaching.

The Law and WBC.
posted by ericb at 2:34 PM on March 27, 2010

Is there any truth to the rumor that WBC is wealthy from lawsuits against folks who attack them, and that this is a consistent source of income for them?
"Phelps [has] had some notable wins. He won nearly $20,000 in a 1978 case against a school. In the mid-1990s, he absolutely took the City of Topeka and Shawnee County to the cleaners, winning around $200,000 in compensation for legal fees. It is worth noting here that these legal fees are presumably paid to 'Phelps-Chartered' law firm (founded by Fred Phelps, and its current roster of attorneys is either directly or by marriage related to Phelps), then recycled back into the WBC rather than paying outside lawyers.

Still, one wonders if that is enough money to sustain the church, even if we assume the WBC is winning a wide variety of smaller settlements being won across the country (with help from the ACLU), it does not seem as lawsuits alone would provide enough money to run an organization that allegedly spends $250,000 a year on picketing. That they have tax-exempt status as a church helps.

...All in all, it seems that the Phelpses use the courts more as a weapon than a means of earning a living–although I frankly have no idea how they can support themselves. Are there family members earning a legitimate living? Do they sustain themselves on donations? One shudders at the thought. I’m not a lawyer, but it does seem that if you should not engage the Phelpses and their affiliates because they will sue you, and that will be annoying, likely resulting in legal bills and a general waste of your time." *
posted by ericb at 2:42 PM on March 27, 2010

When is Fred Phelps going to DIE already? Isn't he like close to 90? I know he's brainwashed his entire family of inbred queer-kicking robot lawyers, so it doesn't matter if he dies, but it's the principle of the thing. *Three* Ramones are dead and Fred Phelps lives? Mr. Rogers is dead and Fred Phelps lives? Pope John Paul II is dead and Fred Phelps lives? And so on.
posted by DecemberBoy at 3:27 PM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

As ericb's link notes, there's almost zero evidence that Westboro is making money by filing lawsuits against people who engage them. The last time this came up here, there was a link to a comment at Making Light from someone who was sued by Westboro for mistakenly telling a little Westboro kid something like "get the hell off my driveway" when the kid was actually on a public sidewalk in front of the commenter's house. That's exactly the kind of mistake Westboro watches for and is happy to take advantage of. But even in that situation, the person being sued reports their punishment was being "ordered to pay a nominal sum and deliver a written apology to the girl." That and court costs was a major pain, surely, but it's far from support for the strange rumor that Westboro's getting rich of lawsuits.

The Westboro folks clearly know the law very well and aren't scared to use it if a lucky situation turns up for them, but spreading the idea that we should be afraid to engage them because they sue at the drop of a hat doesn't seem the smartest strategy.
posted by mediareport at 4:13 PM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oop, by "court costs" I mean "their own legal costs" - the person didn't say they were required to pay Westboro's legal fees.
posted by mediareport at 4:15 PM on March 27, 2010

Same idea as link about, but at CNN.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:46 AM on March 31, 2010

Newsmax: O'Reilly Pays Legal Bill for Fallen Marine's Father
posted by zarq at 8:52 AM on March 31, 2010

Hey, something that O'Reilly has done that I find admirable.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:55 PM on April 1, 2010

A family of six carrying signs that read “God hates fags” faced more than 500 counter-protesters singing “All You Need Is Love” on the Drake University campus this morning.

Further Background.

Somewhere, the spirit of John Lennon is smiling tonight. :)
posted by zarq at 6:02 PM on April 10, 2010

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