Westboro Baptist Church attempts to lure Anonymous into attacking it?

Last week, many news sources reported that the Anonymous movement had issued a threat against the notorious real-world trolls at the Westboro Baptist Church, comprised mainly of the extended family of Fred Phelps, who picket AIDS funerals with "God Hates Fags" signs, as well as trolling Jewish groups, military funerals, and other sensitive sites.

Now, some members of Anonymous have issued a press release disclaiming any threats against the Church. They claim that the Church had trumped up the threat in order to lure Anonymous supporters into launching a denial-of-service attack on the Church's site, which the Church could backtrack and use as the basis of a series of lawsuits against Anonymous participants.

I believe it. Close observers of the "Church" have opined that Phelps and his family have no particular strong beliefs, but that rather they are aggressive litigants who use shock tactics to lure private individuals and local police and governments into attacking them or abridging their rights. The family then brings lucrative civil action against all parties. It sounds like a sweet little racket if you're an utter sociopath.

If the threat from Anonymous was really trumped up, it's a pretty fine forgery, one that shows a high degree of attention and subtlety from the Phelps side -- someone there is a damned fine mimic of hacker bombast. It's also clever in that it attacks Anonymous in its weakest spot: the absence of any visible, formal governance structure makes it hard to sue or shutter Anonymous, but it also makes Anonymous vulnerable to these false-flag attacks and hoaxes (and it means that Anonymous has no institutional basis with which it might, for example, hire attorneys to sue Phelps or defend its members should Phelps sue them).

"You thought you could play with Anonymous. You observed our rising notoriety and thought you would exploit our paradigm for your own gain," said the group in a press release.

"When Anonymous says we support free speech, we mean it. We count Beatrice Hall among our Anonymous forebears: 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.' "

The hacktivist group said that, along with looking for more attention, the Westboro Baptist Church wanted to lure DDoS attackers into a "honeypot."

"They've got their ports wide open to harvest IPs to sue. Don't DDoS, and boycott Operation Westboro," warned Anonymous.

'We're not attacking Westboro Baptist Church' - Anonymous (via /.)


  1. The free speech angle is exactly what caught my notice when I read the original story. It didn’t sound like something that Anonymous would do.

    Their beef with Scientology is not that Scientology talks, it’s that the Scientology folks abuse their members and anyone who tries to speak out against them.

  2. If they really are suing people (and that makes at least as much sense as any other motivation for their particular madness), shouldn’t there be an easily discoverable paper trail of such?

    1. Yes, there is a paper trail. It leads all the way to the Supreme Court, where Snyder v Phelps is currently under consideration.
      WBC stays scrupulously within the letter of the law. in order to keep this 20-year-old scam going.

    2. shouldn’t there be an easily discoverable paper trail of such?
      Who said there isn’t? All I see in the press is a lazy “These guys are being tools, oh what tools they are, see the inflamitory signs, I mean look at the inflamitory signs! And now for something else racy.”

      The press has little to no motivation to look closer.

      1. That kanewj.com link is all I’ve seen on the matter, and I’ve seen that pop up a few times over the past few months. Hence my skepticism.

    3. Further to the “paper trail” aspect of things, consider that a well-executed lawsuit trap would leave little or no public record. If I trick/cajole/enrage you into doing something that’s a textbook, black-and-white tort, your lawyer is going to tell you, “you’re boned. Settle.” And that would all happen out of the public view.

      On another topic–I know saying this is going to get me DDoSed and sent to hell with the sodomites and Iraq War casualties, but Anonymous and WBC do have some points in common. They both exploit the gaps between the ideal society most of us imagine is possible, and the rules/systems/procedures/traditions we make in an attempt to structure that society. Of course they do it for different reasons and in different ways, but that’s pretty basic to their respective existences. “Nice system! Guess I’ll fuck with it now.”

      Sure, maybe the average WBC henchman is just a bored grifter-in-training, and maybe your average Anonymouse leads a secret life as a suburban professional with 2.5 kids and a passion for lawn care. But the organizations themselves definitely both exist in that chaotic noise associated with sufficiently complex systems–the kind that gets louder and harder to eradicate the more you try to “fix” it.

      Which is why I’ll score this a win for Anonymous, by the way, even though they’re on defense for once. Never mind getting sued by WBC; even “defeating” them by whatever Anonymousy means wouldn’t work. It’s just part of the landscape.

      1. I think the difference between Anonymous and WBC is the following:

        Anonymous trades in lulz, whereas WBC trades in actual money.

        There’s nothing you can do to an attention whore/politician except ignore them. That’s truly the best solution.

        But if you ignore someone who’s trolling for cash, it’s no different than hoping a scammer or other professional lowlife just “goes away”. They’re pros; they’ll find another victim and you’ll be stuck with them forever whether you pay attention to them or not.

        In some senses, Anonymous is kind of outmatched here, at least as long as the “battle” is just a bunch of press releases. (although anyone who was actually paying attention to Anonymous’s MO realized that it wasn’t made by them. The topics are completely different)

    4. There is. It’s not a mystery. The press just doesn’t pay much attention to the fact that most of the WBC is comprised of Phelps family members, several of whom have law degrees. It doesn’t take much digging. These are bottom-feeders who play completely by the law. They leverage other people’s passion and emotional distress to strike first, and then hide behind the First Amendment. They are truly the lowest of the low. I don’t know why major news outlets haven’t shined the light on this.

  3. The Church of Westboro is a scam?
    The Church of Westboro exists only to draw money from lawsuits?
    Fred Phelps is a Con Man?

    What’s this about?

    1. You mean you didn’t know?

      Targeting “fags” was just a convenient excuse to make people mad and goad them into attacking the Phelps protesters.

      This has always been about lawsuit money.

      1. No, I didn’t know this, but it certainly is plausible. This makes much more sense now. I had always thought those picket signs were an internet joke, not serious – the interpretation that it is all a cynical ploy is more believable.

        My questions were an attempt to spread the phrases more than anything else.

      2. And by spreading phrases, I meant the phrases :

        The Church of Westboro is a scam?
        The Church of Westboro exists only to draw money from lawsuits?
        Fred Phelps is a Con Man?

        in case you were wondering.

  4. I always thought their tactics were strange and wondered where the financing came from to run around the country harassing people.

  5. Yet another bunch of misguides – plainly missing the point.

    A DDoS would NOT originate from the perpetrators, rather innocents that did not know of the software on their system [to do it].

    Anonymous defended innocents before – albeit putting the innocents up as shields – which proved that those looking for a fight are happy to take things at face value and blame the first name that comes into their lap: “If he’s really innocent, that’ll be decided in court”

  6. Isn’t it another possibility that Anon occasionally splits into factions as a result of their decentralized nature? Perhaps one faction ordered the attack, and the other one said no way. How do they control their message? I honestly don’t know. Does anyone know?

    1. Exactly what I was going to say. If Anonymous is really decentralized, then how can we tell which announcements are officially from Anonymous (representing a significant portion of its participants), and which denials are officially from Anonymous? Sounds like some portion of them might attack Westboro, others won’t, or either or both announcements could be pranks or distractions or “false-flag” announcements.

      1. That decision is up to the individual who is participating within the group at the time. Whether or not you act or which statement you choose to believe is your prerogative. Whichever statement the largest group embraces becomes the official one. Usually, that means the best formed statement with the broadest appeal to the base goals of the organization.

  7. Maybe I’m just slow on the uptake here, but how does a loosely-organized group fundamentally formed on a basis of decentralization without a recognized leader issue a press release?

    1. They issue a press release by putting the words “Press Release” at the top of it.

      I’ve been the sometime leader of a few loosely organized groups now and then over the years. It’s fun, because since your audience is used to interacting with hierarchical organizations, you can easily pretend to be one. Yet you can shrink back into the shadows very easily, as there’s no paper trail.

    2. Every once and awhile the guy with the head shaped like a question mark records a video in his cave, and releases it through Al Jazeera.

  8. Press Release: I am not a member of Anonymous. Or maybe this is meant to confuse you about whether I am a member!

    I am now shrinking back into the shadows.

  9. If WBC is a scam, it’ll be turning a profit from these lawsuits. What does the money say?

    (I still want to batter them to pulpy gristle, but hey, I dislike scammers almost as much as fundies)

  10. The courts are not stupid. Most jurisdictions have vexatious litigation statutes. When it becomes apparent
    There is a common litigious scheme and design, the courts will step in. It is really heartbreaking that such
    An evil miserable group can get away with what these people do.

  11. OK, for those who don’t know, here’s how the WBC scam works:

    Most of Fred Phelps’ 13 adult children are lawyers, with law degrees from Washburn University in Topeka, KS. Those that are still in the church practice in the family law firm, Phelps Chartered, LLC. Phelps himself had been disbarred in 1979 for perjury, but his children carried on the law firm.

    Over 20 years ago, they discovered that if they picketed AIDS funerals in Kansas, distraught loved ones would lose control, and physically attack the WBC protestors. They sued, and won. Sensing a major income stream, they started protesting full-time, hoping to be attacked.

    They started picketing full-time at museum exhibits, college graduations, poetry readings, rock concerts, celebrity funerals, and, of course, AIDS funerals… anywhere they could use free speech to get people to attack them.

    When soldiers started coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan in body bags, they hit paydirt: Protest *near* (not at) funerals of soldiers, blaming America’s decline on “fags,” and wait for the attacks.

    They raise at least $200,000 a year doing this, and probably more. They fund the picketing business with lawsuits.

    There is always a family lawyer at every protest. Every protest is videotaped, so they have rock-solid evidence when attacked. They target the highest-profile events they can, and make sure the media knows they are coming, so people are all riled up. They always protest on public property, sidewalks, and rights-of-way, so that they can’t be charged with trespassing. If there’s a legally-imposed “no protest zone” around funerals, they obey it. They are very clever to stay within the letter of the law.

    And angry people fall for it, all the time. And the media never bothers to investigate how this scam works.

  12. I don’t see any reason to posit the notion that this was a false threat that came from within the WBC itself. They have

    Also, I hear a lot about the WBC funding themselves through lawsuits, but I haven’t seen any citations that point to lawsuits where the church actually receives money. I know they’ve sued cities for their right to protest, but I don’t know of any suits in which their have been financial settlements.

    This urge to believe that WBC is somehow funded by lawsuits seems to accompany the tendency to want to believe that the WBC is somehow an elaborate street theater troupe, and that these people don’t really believe what they’re saying and doing. I take them at face value and don’t really see any reason not to. They’re just assholes, straight up. Their regimented behavior and refusal to step outside of legal lines is just as likely because they know that they have a big legal bullseye painted on them as it is that they are trying to provoke people to attack them so that they can instigate legal action.

    The best thing to do is ignore them. The best counter-protests have not been the ones that engage them through direct confrontation (which is of course, exactly what they want), but rather, the ones that dis-engage them. The Patriot Guard is one example. They shield the funeral attendees from seeing the WBC protesters.

    If anyone has any actual citations on how the WBC is funding themselves through lawsuits, I’d really like to see them. I don’t rule it out as a possibility, I certainly don’t think they’re above that sort of behavior. It’s just that I’ve only seen that theory postulated as a hypothesis so far and haven’t seen any hard evidence of it.

    Don’t feed the trolls.

    1. No one normally posts citations about the WBC lawsuit machine for the same reason that no one normally posts citations that Rush Limbaugh is full of crap – its a well known fact.

      That being said, in 0.15 seconds you could have some google results of your own. Heres the first one that jumped out at me:

      Also, see Hagrid’s post immediately before yours.

      1. Hagrid’s post only makes the assertion that WBC uses this as an income stream. He doesn’t cite any cases.

        The Snyder case that you point out is a case where Snyder sued WBC and won. WBC only sued him to recoup costs once the initial case was overturned, so this link does little to prove the point

        Saying that it’s “a well-known fact” does not obviate the need for citations. The idea that the WBC is making their money from lawsuits filed when they manage to entice someone to violence just isn’t borne out by any evidence I’ve seen. I’ve only seen it expressed as opinion and hypothesis.

        This writer at the Stanford Review blog did some research and concluded that that the WBC uses lawsuits primarily as a weapon, not as a substantial income source:


        And this article from the Wichita Eagle newspaper indicates that at least three of the Phelps family are on the state payroll. So at least some of their income is coming from (state-funded) employment:


        The Phelps family is legal-savvy, no doubt. And they are certainly not above filing frivolous lawsuits. I’ve just still yet to see any tangible evidence that indicates that lawsuits form a substantial portion of their income.

  13. Re: Scam?
    Last month Xeni linked to an anonymous Nashville TV journalists’s theory (originally posted to Fark but Xeni linked to it here: http://kanewj.com/wbc/) that WBC is all a scam. This journalist makes a pretty convincing case.

  14. I’m not sure it is a scam, they have tried to enter Canada on occasion to protest similar high-profile funerals here (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/story/2008/08/08/westboro-protest.html) – but we don’t “free” speech, we have reams of law on prohibiting hate-speech which they may run afoul of, further even if they did provoke a physical attach the attack would have happened in Canada, and thus the civil suit would be subjected to our civil proceeding which are:
    a) extremely slow,
    b) extremely low damages wise – our damages for physical injuries are not significant certainly not worth suing anyone over as a business.

    Perhaps there, like in Anonymous, they have off-shoots within the organization that are doing what they do for entirely different reasons (i.e. hatred and bigotry, rather than profit).

  15. Someone should make a documentary of Anonymous and WBC – the opposite of anonymous. That would be fun.

  16. As other pointed out – they make their money suing people and govs. If you are ever at an event and wonder why the fuck there are so many police officers there, it is because they will sue the city if they feel under protected.

    Nate Phelps is his son and has a book and does tours. He used to have a long essay on his site – but it looks like it has changed since the last time I was there.

    I think this is the same one I read and tells you pretty much all you ever wanted to know about that asshole.

    Back in the day I used to argue with one of his racists sons on IRC.

  17. In regards to the WBC, isn’t there anything in the RICO statutes that can be used against these clowns? Frankly, they scare the crap out of me. Kinda like the RIAA.

  18. I don’t understand. If this is a honeypot and Anonymous (or some subset thereof) takes the bait and DDoSes Westboro, who does the WBC expect to sue?

  19. As a /b/tard, I have some doubts about the original letter supposedly from Anon to WBC.

    I wont go into reasons why, as that could help “false flag” attacks in the future, but this looks like it is either WBC baiting, or some idiot new*** trying to steer the amorphous vapor that is Anonymous.

    If you want to destroy the WBC, you need to hit it where it hurts: The pocketbook. Recognize how these Godtards make their money, and remove that revenue stream.

  20. All their ports are open and “Anonymous” issued a “press release”?

    This definitely sounds like something the Phelps would do. Why DDOS their website anyway? It’s funny. There are perfectly legal ways of causing them to eat up more bandwidth costs if you wanna screw with them.

    Wonder how many people are gonna show up with “God Hates Fred Phelps” signs at his funeral? :P

  21. So how about people start picketing the WBC’s protests with signs stating plainly and clearly that WBC are trolls, and the best way to hurt them is to leave them alone. They’re worse than Sarah Palin. We’ve absolutely got to stop giving these people what they want.

    (Really, I’m more offended that WBC are scammers and trolls than I would be if they were legitimately crazy fundies. They make everyone look bad.)

  22. Surely in all this trolling, even if the WBC isn’t breaking the law, there must be plenty of torts against them?

  23. People who call everybody fags aren’t actually upset at homophobia?? I’m shocked to hear that the first press release might not be legit. shocked, i tell you.

    The problem with the theory that Phelps is just pretending to be anti-gay is that he’s been doing it so long. It’s always been distasteful to protest at funerals, but back when he started picketing funerals of those who had died of AIDS, the public thought he had bad manners, but did not largely disagree with his assertions that gay people were going to hell and were morally defective.

  24. I have an idea! I don’t think anyone’s done it before…but..I COULD be wrong! (it could happen, LOL) How about gathering together people from all walks of life…Christians, Jews, Muslims, Freaks, Gays, Soldiers, all the people that these poor misguided SOB’s seemingly “hate”, and picket their church! Organize a march in Kansas…and do it continuously. But do it differently. We can all dress up the way we want, showing them the multi-way we all live our lives, paint our signs with whatever we’re feeling about them, whether it’s anger, hate, mockery or yes, even love, and just march up and down in front of their church…the proverbial fire with fire…
    Sure it’ll give them publicity, which is what they want, but the tables will be turned…especially if we do it on a Sunday during services, where you can see that most, if not all of their members are related.
    And then…to further OUR crusade, whenever they’re going to picket, (and they ALWAYS LET US KNOW, they need to have the media there), anyone who can be there, do the same thing. But instead of spreading their type of venom, everyone dress up like clowns and just laugh at them. One of two things might happen. Phelp’s posse will eventually realize that no one is going to take them seriously anymore, OR, the public will stop taking them seriously and stop giving them ANY publicity. In other words, when they see that their antics are just a joke, they’ll have to give up. Then they’ll just fade away into another lost page on Wikipedia.
    Whaddaya say?

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