What's the best way to shut down Westboro Baptist Church?
July 2, 2013 8:38 PM   Subscribe

So, recent events have re-brought WBC to my attention, and to what terrible people they are. What is the best way to just...get rid of them. I'm looking for both short-term (like at a specific protest), and long-term ideas to stop them as a group. I saw this post, and it had some terrific ideas of what to do at a protest, but I'd certainly welcome more. I've signed petitions to get them officially labeled as a hate-group, and just saw the White House response to some of the petitions, but it doesn't seem like enough. So what can I do? Where would my time/money/effort be most useful? Many thanks in advance!
posted by csox to Society & Culture (35 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Absolutely no media ink or pixels, ever.

Absolute ignoring by everyone at their protests except for the people who physically block their protests by standing in between then and mourners.

Arrests by the police if they do anything illegal.

I think that would pretty much do it.
posted by cairdeas at 8:44 PM on July 2, 2013 [23 favorites]


This is not an answer to your question but for what it's worth, the hate group designation isn't meaningful. The White House doesn't label organizations as hate groups. Groups like Southern Poverty Law Center label hate groups but again, the designation doesn't have anything behind it. It's not like, oh no, SPLC called us a hate group, now we have to tell all of our donors we're a hate group or anything.

WBC thrives on attention - from the media, from people like you, from anything. Stop giving it to them. Have you heard the expression, when you roll around in the mud with a pig, you both get dirty but the pig likes it? Stop rolling around in the mud with WBC. Maybe that will eventually make them go away, probably not, but you'll be happier for it. Just stop. Right now.
posted by kat518 at 8:50 PM on July 2, 2013 [11 favorites]


Westboro Baptist Church consists almost exclusively of Fred Phelps and his family members. The mainstream Baptist conventions don't recognize them as Baptists. Other very conservative churches that don't exactly embrace gay rights want nothing to do with them. The jury's still out on what will happen to the group as a whole once Fred Phelps dies.

I recognize that WBC says incredibly hateful things right now, but honestly, working to change policies in more mainstream denominations that oppose gay rights is the bigger long-term fight. See also this insightful comment from a past Westboro Baptist thread on the blue.
posted by ActionPopulated at 9:08 PM on July 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


at this point I think the best thing to do is not show up at their protests, not watch documentaries about them, not click on articles about them, and not mention the latest horrible thing they do on social media. It's literally just a couple of dozen people stirring up shit, the endless parade of people paying attention to them, to try to show the rest of the world just how terrible these people are are unfortunately, a large part of the problem. There's not many social problems that can be improved simply by ignoring them, I think we can be glad that this is one of them.
posted by skewed at 9:12 PM on July 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


What is the best way to just...get rid of them.

Ignore them. They earn a living from suing people that interfere with their right to protest.
posted by empath at 9:21 PM on July 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm all for ignoring them as much as possible, but it rankles me that they're just such bullies, especially at funerals. If I end up at one of their protests, it would be as a person who physically blocked them from the mourners, with my back turned (and in all honesty, probably headphones in and shades on). It just seems like in this day and age, with PSA's against bullying, there'd be a better alternative than just ignoring them. ActionPopulated, thanks for pointing me towards that comment. You were right, I did find it insightful.
posted by csox at 9:26 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is one of the prices we pay for living in a society that believes in freedom of speech and assembly. There's no solution, or rather, all the solutions are worse than the disease.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:29 PM on July 2, 2013 [29 favorites]


Yeah, they make a lot of noise but they don't appear to do great from the recruitment side.

Three years ago they protested a Lady Gaga concert, and they sent out a press release in advance to let people know they were going to protest the concert. I think they also made a parody video where they sang a song about Lady Gaga burning in hell or something. And that is when it all clicked for me, that there's no way to interpret anything they do as anything other than, "Pay attention to me! Pay attention to me! Pay attention to me!"

I suppose if there's a legal fund to defend anyone sued by them, maybe that's something outsiders could fund, to help starve them out of their source of income.
posted by RobotHero at 9:34 PM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you'd like to do something that creates lasting social good, while also getting the satisfaction of sticking your thumb in the WBC's eye, consider making a donation "in honor of" Fred Phelps to an organization for LGBT rights or religious tolerance.
posted by kagredon at 9:46 PM on July 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Long term Fred Phelps is going to die. Actually, that's probably a short term outcome too. Good chance the group will fracture and fade after his death.

I firmly believe the solution and proper reaction to speech you don't like is more free speech. Counter protest. Donate to groups they hate. To me, that's the American way to confront this problem.
posted by sbutler at 10:09 PM on July 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


As they thrive on attention, you may want to consider shaming and petitioning the news organizations that give them that attention. Ask them why they covered that church, but not the protest of 20 people at xyz event. Ask them if they are attempting to support them with the coverage. Write even-handed articulate letters to the editors of newspapers attempting to shame them for giving them coverage.

That's what the organization wants and needs to survive (ie: make its protests successful) - an audience. News organizations that cover them are literally profiting from their protests as well as continuing to give them the attention they demand and require.

Cut off their oxygen supply (the media) and I'm not sure they really can survive (or continue their media grabbing attention).

If everyone did this (IMO), and revolted against the ones giving them power (ie: a voice), perhaps they would wither away into the obscurity they deserve.
posted by el io at 10:28 PM on July 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


I am not happy with "ignore them," either, but I've come to the conclusion that that is the best course of action. Unfortunately. Once Fred Phelps dies, it's entirely likely that the church will fade away...eventually, they will stop their absurd "protests". Just remember they are trolls--they thrive on attention, and bad attention is just as valuable as good attention. What am I saying? They only get bad attention but look how this tiny church is world famous. Petition your local newspaper and TV station--pressure them to never run a WBC story, especially if it's yet another stupid funeral protest. If enough people unite to pressure the media, they'll feel a sting if they actually run a story on them. Sorry to say, but even this question and thread is empowering them just a teeny tiny bit.

Having said all that, I think there are a limited number of people who can in fact make a difference. If I were the store manager of a supermarket where the Phelps's shopped, I'd tell them they aren't welcome. If I were a gas station manager, I'd tell them they aren't welcome. If I were selling lemonade outside my house, I'd tell 'em to move along, I ain't sellin you no lemonade. I am unsure about how legal that is, and the WBC is chock full of sue-happy lawyers, but surely the folks in that community could put a dent in their ability to make it through the day.
posted by zardoz at 11:08 PM on July 2, 2013


At one point in this country, Al Capone was a rich, charismatic gangster that ran roughshod over a major American city. Who knows how many deaths he was responsible for? He openly flaunted the law, paid off police and politicians, and intimidated juries. He spent his later years in prison. What did he finally do his time for?

Tax evasion.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen over the little things.

When this group breaks up, it'll be a little thing. Taxes or corruption or some kind of petty malfeasance that snowballs.

So, there's the model. No amount of protest or counter-protest will make a dent in them. What people should be doing is calling government agencies in Kansas and asking questions about the enforcement of taxes, zoning ordinances, employment rules, building codes, school truancy, etc.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:18 PM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


this might sound contrarian, but since WBC is a job for the Phelps Family the best thing we can do is offer them a better job or find some reliable way to cut out their donors by offering something better. Just as the Scientologists have lost members who have gone on to practice more non-violent Scientology, we should ask if the people who have left WBC still believe in the church's literalist view enough to offer an alternative work program for the Phelps family. I think it is fair to say WBC will endure for at least 50 more years.
posted by parmanparman at 2:01 AM on July 3, 2013


I was reading this morning about a group who are countering the far-right English Defence League by setting up a similarly named group, which started as a joke and then became a protest movement. It's an interesting idea - essentially comic non-violent protest.
posted by mippy at 3:15 AM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


It just seems like in this day and age, with PSA's against bullying, there'd be a better alternative than just ignoring them.

Not really. Turns out that the First Amendment protections for freedom of speech and freedom of religion functionally include the freedom of asshattery. They have a constitutional right to do what they're doing. You may not like that, but you do plenty of stuff that other people don't like, so maybe don't take it too personally.

This is one of the few instances where something we learn from the internet applies to real life rather than the other way around: Don't Feed the Troll.
posted by valkyryn at 3:43 AM on July 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


As they thrive on attention, you may want to consider shaming and petitioning the news organizations that give them that attention

This will be ineffective, for the same reason that Chocolate Pickle so eloquently stated: "This is one of the prices we pay for living in a society that believes in freedom of speech and assembly. There's no solution, or rather, all the solutions are worse than the disease."

In other words, citizens can't, and really shouldn't, be able to unilaterally decide what is covered by the news media.

I agree with the more effective ideas in this thread.
posted by girlmightlive at 4:10 AM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


In other words, citizens can't, and really shouldn't, be able to unilaterally decide what is covered by the news media.

A group of citizens asking the press to stop covering a story is as far from 'unilaterally' doing something as i can imagine.
posted by empath at 4:16 AM on July 3, 2013


This sort of censorious, we-must-do-something impulse is a large part of why the WBC and other loathsome groups from PETA to the Klan are still around. Every message seems more important when the speaker alleges attempts to suppress it; the speaker then becomes Galileo in some listeners' minds rather than the guy collecting jars of his own piss and yanking molars and yelling about Bilderberg. The single best thing you can do about the WBC is decline to be even remotely interested. They are banal and like hearing themselves talk; they don't make any impact on thoughtful people.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 4:39 AM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


A group of citizens asking the press to stop covering a story is as far from 'unilaterally' doing something as i can imagine.

It will still be ineffective. Basically no form of media will allow people, a group of citizens or otherwise, to tell them what they should or should not cover. I'm just telling the OP not to expect the outcome s/he wants from the hands of a newspaper editor.
posted by girlmightlive at 4:43 AM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


It will still be ineffective. Basically no form of media will allow people, a group of citizens or otherwise, to tell them what they should or should not cover.

That is really not true, and reader/viewer boycotts have been effective quite often. Ultimately, if media aren't serving the wishes of their reader/viewership, they aren't doing a good job as media.
posted by empath at 4:43 AM on July 3, 2013


Plus they bow down to advertisers and government all the time in terms of what they cover.
posted by empath at 4:45 AM on July 3, 2013


they're just such bullies...

You may be a "bully" in the eyes of some, if not now, maybe one day. This pendulum often swings extreme. The tactics you use to make them go away could be used on you. Better to ignore them. Better for the community and nation.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:38 AM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hadn't thought about WBC in well over a month. Seeing this Ask gave them the power to get back into my head again.

Ignore them, so that they lose that little bit of power that they have left. If they get in your face by harassing people in your local community, do what you need to do to help the harassed ignore them too (physically blocking/shades/headphones, etc.). But don't seek them out to drive them out of existence.

Just let them fade away.
posted by sparklemotion at 6:45 AM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The only solution is to build a society wherein nobody would want to join them. The result is that age will dwindle their numbers and they go away by natural attrition.

I suspect that we have a society wherein 99.99998734749781% of would not want to join them. That's pretty damn good (for the mathy, that's (316,143,000 - 40) ÷ 316,143,000 × 100%).

As others have said, considering this percentage the best action is to ignore them until they break the law.
posted by plinth at 6:52 AM on July 3, 2013


Spend time and money volunteering and donating to causes that they are against. If you want, you could tie it to their protests (ex. For every minute WBP protests a theatre troupe for performing RENT, pledge to spend a minute of your time helping out at a gay rights organization or for each minute they protest a funeral, make a care package for US troops ).

This won't make them go away. At the same time it might make you feel better, and you would be making a positive difference in your community.
posted by donut_princess at 6:54 AM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just got my rant on in Metatalk. I recommend celebrating anti-WBC protestors, get media attention for them. If WBC came anywhere near my home, I would go be a silent witness with a message of peace to counteract their hate. I'd probably make award certificates for every person who stood in protest against them.

It's important that cities allow them to legally exercise their freedom of (hate) speech. They make money by suing cities who stop them, and getting monetary judgements. Someone in the MeTa thread called them cynical to the point of sociopathy, which I find quite accurate.
posted by theora55 at 7:10 AM on July 3, 2013


Ignore them, turn up to shield funerals if you feel like doing something concrete. If you must go along to one of their appearances then do so to ridicule them, do not under any circumstances grant them the dignity of taking them seriously. But really, "oxygen of publicity" and all that.
posted by epo at 7:15 AM on July 3, 2013


Ignoring them and energetically supporting positive groups is probably better.


But I do have this idea about sending them piles and piles of silly postcards from all over the world. No blistering rhetoric, just pictures of kittens and unicorns and knock-knock jokes and "Jesus loves you!"

Which would likely have no effect but does make me smile.
posted by bunderful at 7:50 AM on July 3, 2013


Or Fred Phelps fan fic. An alternate universe in which he is an awkward, insecure baby brontosaurus.
posted by bunderful at 7:54 AM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nthing the idea that, really, one shouldn't waste time or energy trying to shut WBC down. While it's galling that they exist, it's really better to ignore them and direct your energy into positive activities. I also enjoy the counter-protests that set up a wall of people to block them out when they're picketing funerals or whatever. (If you live in a town where they're holding one of their protests, it can be good fun to show up and mock them - and you'll meet some nifty people, too. Sadly the last time they were here I was out of town, but a lot of my friends went to drown them out.)
posted by jzb at 8:06 AM on July 3, 2013


Thanks all, and my apologies for inadvertently giving them more attention. I'll go with ignoring them, unless they're physically in my extended community, and continue donating my time/money to pro-LGBT groups. (And Bunderful, thanks for the laugh...this has been a difficult past few days, and humor is much needed)
posted by csox at 8:12 AM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I came here to say essentially what Chocolate Pickle says here, but if I'd said it it wouldn't have been as concise or articulate.

Look, I really really loathe the Westboro Baptist Church. I think they take the idea of free speech to its darkest corner and they thrive on the anger that is lobbed at them for doing it. It's a vicious cycle. I think that our job here (as people who appreciate free speech but really don't like what they say) is to remove ourselves from that cycle. Don't give them press. Don't take pictures of them and post them on the front pages of newspapers. Don't give them an audience.
posted by Elly Vortex at 8:13 AM on July 3, 2013


That is really not true, and reader/viewer boycotts have been effective quite often.

Name one. Seriously.

I think you're confusing advertiser boycotts rather than media boycotts. That is something totally different. It's not "we're boycotting your media product," it's "we're boycotting your advertisers."

And note that even these usually fail:

"However, the boycott did little economic damage to Fox and to Married… with Children. A year after the boycott, nearly all the defecting advertisers had returned, and ratings were higher.[4] Rakolta herself felt that her boycott had contributed to the show's higher viewership.[4]"

See also: Washington Post Declares Rush Limbaugh Boycott Nearly Over, Failed

You're not going to stop the news from covering Phelps if people want to watch trainwrecks.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:10 AM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


"A group of citizens asking the press to stop covering a story"

You already have that right. Change the channel. Click off the page. Don't buy the paper.
Otherwise, become a stockholder and vote.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:50 AM on July 3, 2013


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