God hates everything?
March 20, 2006 5:52 PM   Subscribe

Why hasn't Fred Phelps perished due to violence yet?

This is a serious question, and note that I'm not going to go out and do anything to Phelps (or anyone else) as hurting another human being is against my morals. I'm not also condoning violence against Phelps or any other person. I just want to understand why him being in the limelight spreading hatred hasn't gotten him killed.

Fred Phelps had been in the limelight for more than a decade. He spreads his hatred to various groups of people. He protests at funerals, and his family tells random people off while protesting. He pisses off many people, including people from other countries. Why hasn't someone gone batshit insane and fought back against him?

Wikipedia lists incidents of violence against Westboro including a woman who tried to run them down, but that was twelve years ago and Phelps has been more well known since then with the funeral protests and whatnot.

All people have a very small chance of getting killed by another human being randomly, whether it be a mugging or a drunk driver. Being "famous" increases the chances, although the increase is small. Being famous and spreading hatred must increase the chances even more.

So, do people think that he will die soon (he's 77) or that God will take him away (and not to the pearly gates)? Any Topekans here to weigh on the issue?
posted by daninnj to Society & Culture (34 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If Phelps were to be killed, his supporters would certainly lift him up as a martyr. I'm guessing that most of the people who would like to see him in the ground know that, and don't want to risk it happening.
posted by Gator at 5:57 PM on March 20, 2006

Response by poster: Also, I debated about asking this not only because of the controversy it might cause, but also because Phelps seems to thrive when he is talked about whether positively or negatively. I would hate to support him this way, so please delete this if it gets out of hand.
posted by daninnj at 5:57 PM on March 20, 2006

Perhaps people let him stick around because he's so ridiculous and over the top. He makes the bad guys look worse, and thus may be doing good in a weird, weird way.
posted by brundlefly at 5:58 PM on March 20, 2006

Phelps is alive because the rest of us are better human beings than he is.
posted by stet at 6:02 PM on March 20, 2006

"Summer of Mercy", 1991, Wichita, KS, East Kellogg. Two wayward college youths soaked Fred and the gang when they dared to protest too close to the watery depths of the curbs... Holy water perhaps?
posted by buzzman at 6:27 PM on March 20, 2006

Phelps is alive because the rest of us are better human beings than he is.

posted by BradNelson at 6:46 PM on March 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: But that's most certainly false, stet and BradNelson! While most metafiltereans are not the hatemongering psychopathic messes that Phelps is, humanity at large has some very dark spots, and all of us have in us the potential to be as evil as anyone we can imagine.

I have asked this question... countless times. And not just about the Phelps, I ask it about every top dollar white collar criminal who made hundreds of millions by fleecing working people or taxpayers; every former politico who knowingly profited from or organized and allowed rapes, tortures, and abductions in third world countries. Billions of dollars were knowingly stolen from California, and its citizens, by the scheming bastards of Enron and similar companies. Yet while some criminal prosecution is ongoing, I cannot think of a single case in decades where a multi-millionaire or billionaire has been killed because of their actions, and it makes no sense! Maybe some grandma whose power bill nearly bankrupted her thanks to the Skillings and Fastows has a gangbanger grandson willing to drive to Texas and pop a cap in someone's ass for his Grandmom's. Take Enron very particularly: thousands in Houston lost their jobs, life savings. This is in Texas, a particularly pro-gun state. You mean to tell me not one single person thought "Fuck this, I'm killing Ken Lay!" If even 10 people decided independently that they'd take out someone like that, he wouldn't make it a week- I don't care if he's got a crack security team around him 24/7, or expensive alarm systems at his home: everyone can be got to if you have only the motivation.

The thing that baffles me is that the same people who don't kill Ken Lay would display evidence of the usual malaise when people go out of work suddenly or dramatically like in the closing of a "company town": increased heart disease, suicide, domestic and child abuse, violence, alcoholism, etc. So they'll beat their wives and kids, but they wouldn't even dream of attacking the guy who's financial evils put them out of work or nearly bankrupted an entire west coast state. And we know people can go nuts and shoot OB/GYNs, or shoot John Lennon, or blow up Oklahoma federal buildings, or fly planes into skyscrapers. Eliminationist rhetoric and action abounds: why is it so rare for even attempts to be made on the powerful or public who have any sway?

Surely if 19 people can be inspired to hijack airplanes to kill innocent people, why can't you find 2 to hijack an otherwise empty Cessna, load it with C4, and fly it into Kennebunkport? What, there aren't one or two Nicaraguans or Hondurans who want nothing more than to turn John Negroponte into a bloodied mess on the ground because of what happened to their parents or siblings yeares ago? Why is that those who may even be justifiably angry at some great wrong never. fucking. target. the. people. actually. responsible?!?!?!

The only thing I can think, besides the reality that political violence is largely if not exclusively a right-wing (read: authoritarian and fundamentalist) phenomenon, is that there's some fucked up authoritarian gene in us that makes us refuse to attack the tribal chief, even at our own expense- that people are such innate cocksuckers of power that the idea of killing someone of wealth or influence doesn't even cross their mind, but in their sublimated rage and frustration they will gladly beat, torture, and kill those weaker than themselves- including loved ones or innocent people.

Seriously- martyr, schmartyr. I'd love to see Phelps gunned down. Fuck Phelps- he deserves to die, if anyone does, and humanity has long demonstrated that at heart we as a species most definitely believe that some people deserve to die. Yet we'll execute retarded teenagers in Texas with only a minor blip in the news cycle, but even a failed attempt on someone of prominence is so unusual, so rare, as to be noteworthy.
posted by hincandenza at 6:52 PM on March 20, 2006 [5 favorites]

Because no one thinks it's worthwhile to go to jail for life just to get the satisfaction of snuffing out a person whose views are laughable to 99.35% of good decent people.

It's not a good trade, giving up your whole life just so you don't have to see the occasional stupid heartless protest on TV or in the papers.

Plus, killing isn't the answer.

PS. He's so extreme that he does more good for the pro-gay movement. You know it's true.
posted by visual mechanic at 7:21 PM on March 20, 2006

Best answer: Because Phelps doesn't actually do anything illegal, and people simply don't take him seriously. If a reasonable person repeating only ONE of his talking points, that would be disgusting, but Phelps is pretty much just a caricature at this point. And anyway, his whole "congregation" is his family, and they purposely goad people into committing illegal acts so his family (many of whom are lawyers) can sue them and make money out of it. Whether they believe that 9/11 was a blessing or not, they are HOPING that some family member of a firefighter/office worker/whatever will get so mad that he/she will strike. Most people know better, and reserve their true anger for those who actually deserve it.

My friend forward this email to me, I can't attest to the accuracy but it seems reasonable to me:

Fred Phelps does not believe what he is doing. This is a scam.

It's a business. They travel the country, set up wesites telling you exactly when they'll be there, and using the most inflammatory statements all over the place, just to get someone to violate their rights for profit. Then they sue the military, the police force that was to protect them, and everyone that is around them for money. This is a sham, and it is a trap to get people sued. Every member of his family is an attorney. Phelps does not break the law. What he does is try to make you break the law by trying to punch your sensibilities about everything you hold dear, and then sue you and everyone municipality around him to the max.

This is a scam.

Whether he believes his posters or not is irrelevent.
He's using this as a moneymaking scheme.
Lay one finger on him, do one thing that violates him, and he will sue you, and more importantly, the city, the police department, the US Military, and any private property owner he happens to be standing on to make money off of it.

Let's look at the ways he's trying to get you up in a tizzy to violate his civil rights for profit:
-He says G-d Hates Fags, G-d hates the US Govt, that G-d hates the US Military, G-d Hates you, and G-d justifies the killing of others.
Phelps knows that saying 'G-d' and 'Hate' in the same sentence gets people worked up. He knows that. He knows that people have a knee jerk reaction to that.
-He says that the US Govt and the United States are evil.
This is another hot button with people who love their country. It is intentional. It is designed to make you take a swing at him. He wants 50k USD from you. He wants a powerball winner to swing at him so he gets 100 million dollars. It's that simple.
-He goes after homosexuals, he goes after people who are making sacrifices. Phelps intentionally targets people that are being victimized, or good people doing their jobs to create more outrage. He kicks people when they're down. He does that so someone will come up and defend them. Then he will sue you.
-His boards are laminated on hardwood, because he pulls them out of trucks at least five times a week. He also puts them in bright colors for attention, and makes absolutely sure that you can read them at all time. He's phishing you. Everyone must know that.

The most telling tale about all of Phelp's behavior is the schedule he keeps, and the company he keeps as well. The parties sometimes split up and go to two seperate state funerals to maximize the profitability of them. There are, at maximum, twelve members to the party. They never stay more than thirty minutes (I assume they realize that someone will do something to them the MOMENT they come out of the vans, and really, after that, they get their camera shots to cause the outrage for the next stop, and then they move on) to maximize their profits, because time is money, and really, they're not interested in the message, because they're just interested in the lawsuit.

See? They don't believe this stuff. If they did, they wouldn't have come to Coretta Scott King's funeral. Because in their doctrine, they don't believe that G-d hates black people who tried to promote Christianity. So why were they there? They were there to make a buck when someone slipped up. They were there to petition the police department for a right to protest, and if they didn't get it, take them to court over it.

Basically, Phelps is playing the Ken Lay, Karl Rove, "Smartest Man in the Room" game where he is willing to do anything (if it be lying or stealing, or telling you God hates you) to make himself rich and powerful. This is his scheme, and admittedly, it's clever, but just downright evil to promote so much hatred in the world.

Tell all your friends about this.
This man is a con artist, and he's not a man of religion whatsoever.

After all, he makes everyone around him a lawyer.
That should tell you right now he is not anything

posted by apple scruff at 7:29 PM on March 20, 2006 [3 favorites]

This is a very interesting question, and one that I was thinking of posting myself this week. Not about Phelps in particular, but the general topic of why assasinations are so rare.

I've reluctantly reached the conclusion that people simply aren't as batshit insane as I'd like to believe they are. Sure, I can't turn on the TV without seeing a murder an hour, but how many people do I know who have been murdered, who know someone who has been murdered, or even know someone who knows someone who has been murdered?

And where someone has been affected by violence short of murder, 99% of the time it was a family member or someone they knew. That fact is that it's just not in our genes to go off and kill someone we don't know for some abstract wrong they've committed. Humans are rather abstract about taking offense, but we're pretty concrete when it comes to revenge.

The army has known this for years, and works very hard to train recruits to kill people they don't know who may have never done them any personal wrong. War is not just a situation that you drop people into and expect results.

Similarly, suicide bombers and public assassins of all stripes are notoriously the output (I would say excrement) of extremely dogmatic belief systems. Be they the 9/11 hijackers or Eric Rudolph, they have been actively pushed by others to overcome some very basic human instincts.
posted by tkolar at 7:32 PM on March 20, 2006

Any Topekans here to weigh on the issue?

When I lived in Topeka, it appeared that the locals just ignored him. They're so used to him protesting everything that they just don't pay attention anymore. The shock value is gone.
posted by whatideserve at 7:46 PM on March 20, 2006

Despite our legacy in film noir, gay people do seem to shy away from violence, not necessarily because we're better. I've never seen a fight in a gay bar.

I also think when you come face to him you see what a joke he is. I think he does minimal damage to gay people, nothing compared to people like the Cheney family, Matt Drudge and his fruit fly Ann Coulter, and Ken Mehlman.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:50 PM on March 20, 2006

The guy's a shit. But he has a right to free speech.

His right to free speech protects ours, and everybody having a right to free speech is what protects us from tyranny.

Fred Phelps is an evil jerk, but infinitely preferable to government thought-police and tyranny.
posted by orthogonality at 8:00 PM on March 20, 2006

There are two types of people in the world: Fred Phelps and everyone else. Phelps is a special kind of crazy. Everyone else does not have this Phelps-crazy gene. Only people with the Phelps-crazy gene would kill Phelps for merely being Phelps.

Moral of the story? Don't be Fred Phelps.
posted by frogan at 8:00 PM on March 20, 2006

Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. I'm sure Phelps earns a lot of money for those who oppose him.
posted by o2b at 8:04 PM on March 20, 2006

visual mechanic writes "He's so extreme that he does more good for the pro-gay movement. "

This is so true. I'm tempted to think he's fifth column.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:05 PM on March 20, 2006

Sometimes a cigar is a cigar, and sometimes batshit crazy is just batship crazy. Regardless, he is free to speak what's left of his mind. Freedom can't be a one-way street.

I might lay off the soldiers' families, if I were he, but I think he might actually be looking for martyrdom. Fanatics are like this. I'm not going to help him feel like a prophet.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:21 PM on March 20, 2006

people simply don't take him seriously

I wish that this were true.
posted by desuetude at 8:57 PM on March 20, 2006

I've often wondered this same thing but I think the reality is that people may be infuriated by asshats like Phelps but its hard to justify trading the rest of one's life just to shut one idiot up.

I actually ask myself that question often "Would it be worth it to spend the rest of my life in prison to....?" Its a good way to calm down.
posted by fenriq at 9:08 PM on March 20, 2006

With quotes like these, how can you take him seriously?

Phelps said his is actually a mission of love and not hate, despite his frequent use of the word hate...

Stewart said he hopes Phelps and his followers make a contribution to the economy of the area.

"I hope they stay at hotels, eat at expensive restaurants and spend a lot of money while they are visiting our area."

While Stewart is not afraid to speak out about his sexuality and issues surrounding it, he says it does not dominate his life.

"My sexual orientation does not define me as a person, and it never did,’’ he said.

"Right now, as mayor, I’m more interested in potholes, utilities, taxes and mainstream issues like that and how we are going to deal with them. I’m not spending a lot of time worrying about this (Phelps).’’

For the curious, an inspiring follow-up article.

(Plattsburgh is here. It's not exactly in blue America.)
posted by A dead Quaker at 9:11 PM on March 20, 2006

I've been listening to his old school baptist hour broadcasts and actually reading a little bit of his stuff to see what the fuss is about. The funny thing is that the more I listen to him, the less upsetting any of it becomes and the more the whole thing takes on the flavor of performance art, when it's not straight-out living caricature. I wonder if most people who'd worry about him long enough to wonder if they should kill him wouldn't eventually come to the same conclusion with sufficient exposure.

Or become totally mesmerized Phelps-bots.

/prepares pilgrimage to Kansas
posted by weston at 9:27 PM on March 20, 2006

I think the really crazy folks might tend to agree with him.
posted by fshgrl at 9:31 PM on March 20, 2006

I think it's possible that he hasn't pissed off the right people yet. Notice how he avoids gang banger funerals.

Some good has come out of Phelps's ridiculous antics - the Patriot Guard.
posted by drstein at 9:36 PM on March 20, 2006

Although.. I really am surprised that nobody has at least paintballed the crap out of the Phelps turkeys.
posted by drstein at 9:37 PM on March 20, 2006

The real question: why do people listen to people like Phelps? If nobody paid him any attention he would be nothing.
posted by Termite at 9:52 PM on March 20, 2006

I'm with hincandenza. It's something I've thought about and never really understood. Certainly, I've thought, if I had a disease that for sure would bury me, I'd take out Phelps and a few of his kin before turning the gun on myself. Fortunately, I'm perfectly healthy so, instead, my anger takes form in useless ways.

But yeah, it's a good question.

I guess I've always assumed the answer was "Because all the people who should be head-on-a-sticks are right wing fuckers and left wing fuckers are pacifists."
posted by dobbs at 9:59 PM on March 20, 2006

Ha! I'm not the only crazy one. Guess the secret service will be making TWO house calls tonight... see you in Gitmo, dobbs! :)

Actually, some of the answers here really make sense, vis a vis Phelps: he's not important, he's a nuisance at most, and he hasn't pissed off anyone who would bother wasting time on him. skallas' point scares me: I'd kind of forgotten how people like Eric Rudolph had something of a cult following in the areas he was hiding in, and that a lot of these crazies- from Phelps to Coulter- have big money quietly backing their nuttiness.

But yeah, to the point of Phelps, at most he'll probably get beaten up because he's just a stupid hate-filled old man and not worth the time and effort- really, I hadn't thought of the guy since the last time someone posted something about the bastard. Besides, it sounds like he all but invites it anyway as a lawsuit happy punk. But he's also probably careful as drstein notes to avoid protesting groups that might not treat him so kindly (soldiers, gangbangers, and others not so restrained in their physical exuberances, shall we say).
posted by hincandenza at 11:49 PM on March 20, 2006

Fred Phelps is the right wing's NAMBLA.
posted by crabintheocean at 6:03 AM on March 21, 2006

Does he actually show up himself at these protests?

I ask because the last two time he was supposed to come to Canada (back when he still legally could - I believe now he wouldn't get accross the border because of our hate speech laws) apparently a family member or two showed up, but never much more than that and certainly never Phelps himself.

It'd be hard to target someone who wasn't there.
posted by aclevername at 6:27 AM on March 21, 2006

crabintheocean: I thought NAMBLA was the right wing's NAMBLA.
posted by adamrice at 8:00 AM on March 21, 2006

skallas writes "The money he gets from the real silent majority out there pays for some decent security. Those who can spot a real threat a mile away, etc."

Thing is though, a mile away isn't all that hard of a shot. Kills at twice that distance are possible. And unlike making bombs or something, single shot high power rifles are legal, readily available, and don't require a lot of income to procure or practise with.

Like hincandenza I'm often amazed more people don't fly off the handle and start shooting.

Look how long it took to catch the beltway snipers. And they only caught them when they did because the gun was dirty. A couple guys with terminal cancer (from the chemicals they were exposed to in violation of the law or something) via Big Nameless Evil Corp; or even just screwed out of their pension while the CEO is sipping margarita's in the Bahamas curtosy of his golden parachute; could do a lot of damage to some of the evil bastards and get the others thinking.

Especially if they were a) otherwise law abiding and b) travelled around a lot. Avoid patterns at all cost. Never hit the same state twice in a row. Switch coasts. Do three assassinations in a week then take a month off. Target oil execs this week and Finance guys next. Target people at work, home and play; morning noon and night. And for god's sake don't leave intentional clues proving how "clever" you are.
posted by Mitheral at 1:32 PM on March 21, 2006

I think weston's on to something. Before I knew much about Phelps I was truly hurt and offended by him. Now I just think he's crazy. I even feel sorry for his abused children, as horrible as they may be. He's a pathetic, mentally ill maniac. While I can't say I'm sorry for him, I don't think he's compose mentis. He's a sad old man, a loser and zealot.

If I were a murderer, I'd probably focus my rage on someone more influential, like Mehlman or Coulter. Note to the FBI: I'm only speaking hypothetically. I really don't want to kill anyone.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:44 PM on March 21, 2006

Project ShootTheRich first meeting at Mitheral's house! :)
posted by hincandenza at 8:04 PM on March 21, 2006

I'm not advocating lead based equalization, revenge or culling, I'm just saying it seems so easy. America and to a lessor extent Canada seem to have no lack of crazy people (whether we're talking about the guys shooting abortion doctors, women raping their sisters or celebrity stalkers). Why are the target of the nutters never guys like Phelps and Lay and why aren't there _more_ nut cases in general? The last attempts I can remember were John Paul II, Regan and that loon Chrétien fended off with a statue.

PS: Meta'd. A lot of the comments there could easily have been posted here.
posted by Mitheral at 8:20 AM on March 22, 2006

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