‘Most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America’ comes to the Triad
Westboro Baptist Church, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America,” is coming to Greensboro and High Point on Nov. 18. That morning, members of the Topeka-based organization will demonstrate outside the campuses of High Point Central High School, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Guilford College.
The title of the 2007 BBC documentary “The Most Hated Family in America” isn’t just hyperbole. By celebrating the deaths of United States soldiers, victims of gay-bashing and victims of school massacres, the organization founded in 1955 by Fred Phelps, and consisting mostly of his children, grandchildren and their spouses, has earned bipartisan condemnation.
Accurately describing Westboro Baptist Church requires quoting its offensive rhetoric. The WBC website is godhatesfags.com, and its members are infamous for not only that slogan, but “Thank God for Dead Troops” and “Jews Carry Water For The Fags.” The WBC believes tolerance of LGBT rights has earned America “God’s hatred” and that all United States citizens other than themselves “will burn in Hell.”
WBC’s “public preaching schedule” includes a press release about High Point Central, which states the high school “has bellied up to some false religious systems” and accuses the school’s Ethics Club, Gay Student Association Club and Fellowship of Christian Students of “misplaced pride and the lust of the flesh.”
For decades, WBC has attacked not only LGBT+ people but Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Jews and atheists. According to its doctrine, all other religious groups are “Satanic frauds practicing Arminian lies,” with Muslims and Catholics particularly singled out for “devil worship.” The Anti-Defamation League calls WBC “a small virulently homophobic, anti-Semitic hate group.”
Headquartered in a compound at 3701 SW St. in Topeka, Kansas, WBC espouses a mixture of Primitive Baptist and Calvinist theology, declaring itself a defender of the Five Points of Calvinism: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints.
The 2014 New York Times obituary for WBC founder Fred Phelps stated that the church “is made up almost entirely of his family members.” Those, according to the WBC website, include 13 children, 11 of whom are attorneys, 54 grandchildren and seven great-great-grandchildren. Phelps founded Westboro Baptist Church in 1955. He earned his law degree in 1964 and won multiple civil rights cases (for which the Kansas NAACP honored him) until 1979 when he was disbarred for his abuse and defamation of a female court reporter.
Despite this, his estranged son Nate Phelps told CNN his father was a racist who mocked his own clients. “He would talk about how stupid they were and call them dumb [n-word]s.”
Westboro Baptist Church achieved international notoriety in 1998 when it picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old gay man beaten to death in Laramie, Wyoming. WBC also protested funerals for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and has picketed the funerals of gay victims of murder and of people who died from AIDS.
In 2009, WBC picketed the school attended by Malia and Sasha Obama, calling the president’s daughters “satanic spawn” of a “murderous bastard and his shemale sidekick.” In 2013, the organization picketed the second Obama inauguration and denounced President Obama as “the Antichrist.” The organization has been much more muted in its attacks on President Donald Trump. In 2017, WBC condemned Trump’s adultery, but later that year, tweeted that Trump’s transgender military ban was “a good start.”
According to the 2015 Business Insider article “The reviled Westboro Baptist Church makes a ton of money by suing communities that don’t let them protest,” WBC members “are required to give 30 percent of their income to the church, which is tax-deductible for the donor since WBC is technically a religious organization. And since it’s essentially a family church, that money goes back into the family. Many of its members have well-paying jobs in the medical and corrections fields.”
The most powerful WBC member is not a Phelps, but former filmmaker (and former atheist) Stephen Drain, who first encountered the cult while working on a documentary about it that he intended to call Hatemongers. Instead, Drain converted to WBC and, according to the Daily Beast, may have led a successful coup against Fred Phelps before his death.
As the Westboro Baptist Church has become increasingly infamous and reviled, a variety of communities have successfully counter-protested, non-violently (if sometimes literally) silencing WBC protester’s message of hate. In Greensboro, Club Orion bartender Josh Gore hopes to do something similar. Gore, also known as Queen Khaleesi (“or just Queen”), and founder of The Queendom, gave YES! Weekly the following statement:
“My good friend Payton McGarry and I have both worked in the political canvassing field for years, and once we caught wind of the Westboro Baptist Church coming to our city, we took action quickly, putting our combined strengths together to bring about Greensboro’s defense against Westboro’s hateful rhetoric: The Westboro Counter-Protest & Sidewalk Pride Parade. We will be blocking them out of view with a wall of beautiful people holding up Pride flags, as well as taking a page out of another’s clever book on how to block out the hateful fanatics, providing people with kazoos. We will block them out and drown them out. When they finally leave Greensboro, I want them to leave in a silent van filled with nothing but their own regrets.”
The counter-protest will be held Monday, Nov. 18, from 10 a.m. until 11 p.m., at the intersection of Spring Garden and Josephine Boyd Streets in Greensboro. Details and updates available at the Westboro Counter-Protest Facebook event page.