Understanding the Westboro Baptist Church

Hilary Sargent, master chartmaker and explainer of complicated things, has totally outdone herself with a massive explainer on Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.

By Xeni Jardin

Hilary Sargent, master chartmaker and explainer of complicated things, has totally outdone herself with a massive explainer on Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.

Link to large image.

Link to PDF.

Published 10:31 am Wed, Dec 19, 2012

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About the Author

Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email: xeni@boingboing.net.

81 Responses to “Understanding the Westboro Baptist Church”

  1. Mitchell Glaser says:

    I would enjoy participating in a discussion about whether it was right for somebody to run them down with a truck at one of their protests.

    • Brainspore says:

      This chart makes a compelling case that most WBC members are actually victims of a generations-long pattern of serious child abuse. So that’s one counter-argument, I guess.

      • Mike says:

        End parental ownership rights over children, allow all children free access to a secular education in an environment that is universal and integrated by race, region, and class, and watch religion die in a generation.

        Religion is only able to perpetuate itself because parents indoctrinate their children. Imposing ignorance on the young should be considered a form of child abuse. Parocial and home schooling should be illegal.

        • Brainspore says:

          Unfortunately historical precedent suggests that “the state will assume responsibility for all decisions regarding child rearing/religion” usually doesn’t work out that well either.

        • Lobster says:

          A lot of good comes from religion.  A lot of pain, yes, but there are reasons we still have those social structures, and there are reasons to believe beyond mere historical fact. 

          I say that as an agnostic who has never accepted “because God says so” as an answer, and who always gets a little disturbed when a religious person asks me, “if you don’t believe in God, what’s to stop you from going around murdering everyone?”

        • mauifitz says:

          I prefer the education system of Alitar G-6 in the spectral transference region of Bh-1152-a(3).  There the children are fed diets that automatically determine their academic or p[rofessional expertise.

    • EH says:

      OK, I’ll start: it’s always wrong to use violence against someone who offends you.

      • Mitchell Glaser says:

        No, you guys are missing the point – I want to have the discussion after somebody actually does it, not that I would suggest that anybody use violence. No, never that.

        • C W says:

          The WBC is only saying you’re going to hell. You’re endorsing their murder. Way to be worse.

          • Hark Dachter says:

            they also endorse murder. I’m not sure being a murder advocate is, over a long enough period of time, all that much worse than being a murderer. and they’ve been at it for a long time.

      • foobar says:

        Always? I’m offended by people actively and currently trying to murder myself or others.

    • niktemadur says:

      No no no.  What needs to be done is to put large speakers and point them into these peoples’ homes, then blast Monty Python’s “Sit On My Face And Tell Me That You Love Me” in a 24-hour loop.

    • Harrison Lane says:

      It is.

  2. Brainspore says:

    Less than half a dozen “church” members who aren’t related to Fred Phelps. I wonder why they seem to have such a big problem with recruitment?

    • Christopher says:

      I know that’s a joke, but if they’d stuck with limiting their “protests” to funerals of people who died of complications from AIDS and just went around saying “God hates fags” they wouldn’t have a problem with recruitment. Their only problem would be figuring out what to do with the truckloads of donations they were getting. 

      • Brainspore says:

        Maybe… but it’s not like they were being overwhelmed with converts and donations before they expanded their “God Hates F**s” schtick to include soldiers’ funerals and the like.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      I wonder why they seem to have such a big problem with recruitment?

      That documentary from 1979 really helped to stop people from poking these things when they run into them.

    • kmorgana says:

       number one is the whole Westboro thing is a fraud. I’d like to give everyone an old adage to go by for reference: “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is” and the whole Westboro thing is one of those. There is some info on that for those who care to research, but if you’re happier beating a (fake) dead horse go right ahead.

      • Brainspore says:

        Please elaborate. In what way is “the whole Westboro thing” either fraudulent or “good” in any way, shape or form?

  3. CastanhasDoPara says:

    One thing is bloody obvious. We should look into ways to stop these fuck-wads from breeding so much, or at all ideally. 

  4. Really, why should we even care???  I would be perfectly happy if the media and the rest of the world totally ignored these nut jobs forever.  Let them languish in obscurity where they belong.

    • Mitchell Glaser says:

      That would make them easy for you to ignore until they showed up at your child’s funeral.

      • I bet they’d stop going to funerals if no one covered them going.

        • s2redux says:

          I’ve been to two (military guy) funerals where WBC had scheduled itself to appear. The first, several years ago, was a small burg, no media larger than an AM station and a weekly shopper. WBC attended, Patriot Guard stood watch, and disruption was minimal. The other funeral was recent, in a locale skirting a Top 100 market. Massive forewarning led to streets lined with citizens…WBC was rumored to be in town, but for whatever reason did not attend the service or procession.

          • C W says:

            They’re actually more likely to show when there are large counterprotests and media attention to their PR bait.

      • phuzz says:

        The WBC turning up to your funeral is the sign of a life well led.  And I agree with the OP, don’t bother giving these people the oxygen of publicity.

    • Ian Wood says:

      That doesn’t work for school massacres. Why would it work here? It’s the same media dynamic.

  5. Ian Wood says:

    My prediction for the denouement is Jonestown-style, rather than Waco-style.

    • Mitchell Glaser says:

      Or possibly Gangnam style.

    • Petzl says:

      Fred Phelps is the only thing keeping them together.  When he’s gone and, lacking a dynastic successor, there’s no strong patriarchal figure to bind them together, it will die out eventually. In FSM’s name we pray.

      • Aaron Pflumm says:

         No.  Shirley is poised to take control, I think.  She has been the one who’s most in the media’s eye.  All of the interviews are sent to her.  When Fred goes, Shirley will be there.

  6. capnmarrrrk says:

    I’ll post it again Xeni, just for you (ah who am I kidding, it’s for me)…Personally, when I’m an old man, I will look back on this and cackle. 

  7. SomeGuyNamedMark says:

    One thing this chart shows is that birth control (13 kids!?) should be mandatory for some people.

  8. Jardine says:

    I’m pretty sure the first time I heard about these pricks was on Michael Moore’s show The Awful Truth. Presenting: The Sodomobile!


  9. As a general rule, I try not to pay attention to attention whores.

    And making a chart documenting their whole family, in a way immortalizing them…is definitely paying attention to them.

    On a side note, I find it a bit funny how many commenters I’ve read over the years who would defend free speech to the death, except with regards to these guys. The measure of how free speech is in a society is how free the most universally deplored are to express their opinions.

    • ChicagoD says:

      Wow. So America is doing wonderfully on the free speech front. Because I am guessing that thousands and thousands of people would have literally no problem with these people being killed, and yet . . . they’re still protesting at the most inappropriate places.

      • unit_1421 says:

         The operating theory is that another even worse group would just replace them (like Wal-Mart replacing K-Mart). What’s likely is that they will be slaughtered by one of their own in an internal power struggle.

        • Ipo says:

           “The operating theory is that another even worse group would just replace them.” 
          Another theory is that this has already happened. 

    • IronEdithKidd says:

      Generally in these threads I see a lot of advocating for media blackouts of their “protests”, anything more is you inventing a narrative to fit your worldview.  The 1st amendment doesn’t guarantee media coverage for anyone.

  10. MurasakiMadness says:

    A friend and I were consulting the Wiki-gods and contemplating that perhaps the way to shut these cranks down is to end the flow of $200ish K they need each year to travel and harass.  They don’t seem to accept outside money, so it must be coming from “church/family” member’s income. Who hires these folks, and why don’t they just fire them? Many places are at-will employers, and  you can get fired for being seen on Facebook drunk, or any number of things that could embarrass an employer.  I’d think a way to rout the WBC “protests” would be to highlight and embarrass their employers. Non-violent, and legal.

    • Dan Oelke says:

      They “earn” their money by being lawyers.
      They stir controversy enough to get the local policitican to lean on the police to “do something” about these protestors.  Then when “something” is done they file suit for having their first amendment rights violated.

      I wish more judges would bar them from filing lawsuits.

      • Robert says:

         I’ve seen this claim, and I can’t find enough evidence to fully buy it yet.  Wikipedia and other sources mention them winning some legal fees once ($16K) and they are pursuing another $100K.  That is it.  Years of $200K in travel adds up.  Do you have any evidence of your claim?  If not, I think this idea still stands.

        • Jeff Friesen says:

          Almost 100% of their suits are settled out of court. The threat of court action (civil) triggers the insurance companies who almost settle 100% of the time. Thus no public record because of no public trail. And judges can’t prevent anyone from filing, but they can toss the case out after it is entered into the docket and after the discovery or grand jury. Occams razor. 

          • Itsumishi says:

            The threat of court action (civil) triggers the insurance companies who almost settle almost 100% of the time.

            Sorry, I was just imagining insurance companies who would pretend to settle, then somehow not quite do it at the last minute, every single case.

  11. carbakka says:

    I’m not sure why the cousin thing is brought up – they’re not actually related by blood.   Jennifer is Samuel’s aunt Rachel’s nephew, through marriage.

    • TacoKnight says:

      I too spent about five minutes (scrolling was too hard as the cursor only embiggened and ensmallened) trying to figure out how they could be cousins.
      If they’re related off the chart it should be explained.

  12. Boundegar says:

    Zombie redneck torture family is actually worse, despite being fictional.

  13. Daemonworks says:

    I hope the petition to have them classed as a hate group goes through.

    • C W says:

      I hope it fails, it’s an absolutely stupid idea. There’s no such thing as a official “hate group”.

      • foobar says:

        Yes there is. They’re already classified as such in Canada.

      • vesey says:

         I have to agree with you on this. As repellant as this bunch are , the whole “hate group” thing becomes a very easy and dangerous way to silence and even prosecute anyone or group that is’nt in vogue at a given time….

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          If you can’t understand the difference between hate speech and being out of ‘vogue’, I can only assume that you’re too steeped in your own privilege to understand how the rest of us very understandably associate hate speech with the credible threat of violence.

      • GeeOPee says:

        Check out the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Anti-Defamation League.  They classify and track hate groups.  I don’t know if that is “official” enough for you, but Homeland Security tracks Hate & Militia groups too.  DHS wrote up a report on these Right Wing groups and the Right Wing media entertainment industry threw a tizzy over it. 

        • C W says:

          “Check out the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Anti-Defamation League.  They classify and track hate groups.”

          Yes, I’m a big fan of the SPLC. The WBC doesn’t fit into any of the Federal Government’s categories for dangerous/violent hate groups.

          “I don’t know if that is “official” enough for you, but Homeland Security tracks Hate & Militia groups too.”

          Because they are dangerous domestic terrorists, not because they’re distasteful bigots.

  14. That_Anonymous_Coward says:

    Id it just me or were you expecting to see it be a way more straight line?

  15. gwilliker says:

    I can’t seem to find that one kid who won all those gold medals at the olympics on the chart anywhere…

  16. Lena Wolf says:

    Their law firm is NOT respected in Topeka! I live in Topeka and everyone outside of their family hates and/or willfully ignores them. Also, whenever they protest around town, there is only one or two adults and like 5 young kids.

  17. SedanChair says:

    All those Phelpses…all interconnected…writhing strangely, as if, some unseen, controlling force, some otherwordly intelligence of pure horror and evil– MASTER! I’VE SEEN YOUR FACE IA! IA!

  18. Nell Anvoid says:

    Just stop giving these publicity whores the attention they crave. It has nothing to do with the Lord, that’s for sure. Turn the cameras off and tell everyone to just pretend they aren’t there. 

    • Wampus Kitty says:

      Does “everyone” include a family at a funeral of their child? One of the reasons they attract a counter protest is to shield families from having to see/hear these throwbacks.

  19. GeeOPee says:

    Read Addicted to Hate an expose on the Phelps family written by a local journalist.  The reason four of the Phelps children left the family was due to severe psychological, emotional, physical and most likely sexual abuse.  The Department of Human Services should investigate and determine if any more children are being abused within the church.  Put all those minors in foster care or protective custody if need be.   

    The local and state government needs to stop being so afraid of the Phelps family.  If they wanted too they could destroy this family with every kind of code violation or traffic violation that crosses their mind.  Why play fair the Phelps family does not.  They have victimized a lot of people including their own clients.  Just keep hitting them with fines until they can’t pay any longer. The local municipality can put a lien on their property foreclosing on their home/church, Eventually they will lose everything, (hopefully their children as well), They won’t be able to travel and make a nuisance of themselves.

    All it takes is courage by local and state officials to stand up to authoritarian thugs.  That’s a lesson for all Americans to learn at this point. 

  20. Tyler Lathrop-Allen says:

    I live in Topeka.  I have stopped and attempted to converse with the Phelpsians on a number of occasions.  You get absolutely nowhere.  Sometimes I like talking to them just pointing out some design problems with their signs or ask for clarification.  For example:

    They had a sign for a while that said “It’s too Late to Pray.”  Now, bizarre theology aside, lets say I read that sign and believe it is true, what do I then do?  Well it’s too late to save myself, even praying won’t help so why shouldn’t I run them over with my car?

    My favorite sign of theirs is one that says “you’ll eat your babies.”  I had to ask them about it.  They pointed me to some verse in the bible and through some weird tortured logic they got to that pronouncement.  

    The strangest thing, or maybe it should be obvious, is that when you talk to the people you realize that they either don’t understand the “logic” and rhetoric behind their own signs or don’t seem to really care very much about it at all. It’s often made me think that it’s a simple money making scheme.  They go out with their offensive signs, someone punches them, they sue.

    One final comment and clarification.  I loathe their viewpoints and I loathe their theology and tactics.  But free speech is free speech.  Shirley gave a wonderfully constructed defense of free speech in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. 

    It’s all well and good for us to make snide comments about running them over etc.  And people seem all too happy to tell stories about folks in a town getting together to blockade them out of their town and cops turning a blind-eye or not towing the blockaders cars.  And Anonymous decided to earn some brownie points by targeting them.  But free speech is free speech is free speech.  No one ought to infringe upon their right to say the horrible things they say.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      But free speech is free speech.

      Then you won’t object to them picketing outside of grade schools with sexually explicit signs and chants begging the children for blow jobs, right?

    • Wampus Kitty says:

      If I could stand talking to them at all, I’d want to ask if they have any good recipes for baby.

  21. Tyler Lathrop-Allen says:

    Here’s a paraphrased conversation about this sign:

    “The Coast Guard?  Really?   You’re going after the Coast Guard?”

    uh, like, I guess, yeah

    “Doesn’t that seem pretty lame considering we live in Kansas?  We’re pretty safe here without the coast guard.”

    um, i dunno, 

    “Why are they playing leapfrog?”

    um, like, it’s not about leapfrog…. leave me alone would you?

    “could I take a picture of your sign?

    i guess, (full of teenage gawkiness) um well, like, this is awkwaaaaard  (her friends sidled away

    “I think the butts on your pictograms are too low.  Your stick figure guys all have very short legs.  I don’t think they could play leapfrog”

    I didn’t make the sign!