The bigots are back in town

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church – y’know, those “God hates fags” folks – were outside Palo Alto’s Gunn High School this morning, according to my Bay Area News Group colleague, Lisa M. Krieger:

The traveling members of Westboro Baptist Church stood on Arastradero Road to flay the most unlikely victims: school children already traumatized by the five recent suicides of Gunn-associated students.

“You’ll be in front of the train next! God laughs at your calamity!” shouted Margie Phelps, wearing an American flag as a skirt.

The daughter of Westboro Church founder Fred Phelps, she said that the Gunn students died because they failed to obey God, and now live in hell.


The protesters, who are loudly anti-Semitic, then went to Stanford University, where several hundred students gathered in front of the school’s Taube Hillel House, holding signs, singing and chanting, despite the fact that 8 a.m. isn’t an hour most college students are used to seeing.

It almost felt more like a party than a protest, as the Stanford band played and the Stanford Tree danced across the lawn, made muddy by thousands of feet. At one point, a bagpipe player performed “Amazing Grace.” The small Westboro group stayed at one corner, and some students posed for pictures with them, holding signs like one that read “Gay for Fred Phelps.”

This is exactly what I’d hoped for when I heard on the radio this morning (h/t to KFOG) about the Westboro people’s visit. Nobody should go argue with them, or worse yet, hurl invective (or objects) at them – to do so only indulges their martyr status, confirming their twisted worldview that they’re persecuted for their views. They have a right to speak, and to be ignored.

But hey, go see ‘em because they’re dinosaurs, doomed to extinction. Go marvel at people who’ve taken a faith based on love and twisted it into an industry of hate in which they crisscross the nation, whoring themselves for publicity by shouting inanities at children, fallen troops’ families and others in hope of raising enough donations to support themselves. And most of all, go have a laugh at people so clownish in their tactics that they’ve become a punchline to a vast majority; to most, their arrival is like having some perverse circus come to town.

I actually find their naked hatred quite comforting; if these stooges are the face of bigotry, what hope could bigotry ultimately have?

(And no, journalistic objectivity doesn’t extend to granting moral equivalence to bigots.)

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    Josh, for once we agree. If there is a God and there is a hell, the hottest part of it is reserved for the Westboro gang.

  • Ralph Hoffmann

    Thanks Elwood. That makes us a Menage a Troix.

  • Josh Richman

    Ralph, I’m sure the Westboro folks assume that of us, anyway. 😉

  • steve weir

    Guys, thanks for the laugh.

  • When you see things like this the first reaction is often “what are these people thinking of?” then you shift to the non-sequitur aspect focusing on “thinking”, eventually you shift the disbelief further back in the phrase to the use of the word ‘people’.

  • RR, Uninvited Columnist

    Where do these Kansans get their travel money?

  • John W.


    I’ve had the same question. How have they supported themselves and their good cheer tours all these years? Are they tax exempt, as both a church and a nonprofit? Expect so. No Kansas wisecracks, please. Spent my formative years there.

  • Josh Richman

    (Boo, jayhawks.)

    As for the Phelps’ financing, see here.

  • John W.

    Re #8,

    “Boo, Jayhawks.” No problem. I have family members who were KSU Wildcats, but no Jayhawks.

    Interesting factoids about the Phelps clan. They may be twisted, but not dumb. Many are practicing attorneys. One daughter worked as an attorney for the Kansas Corrections Dept., and won an award for her work a couple of years ago. Fred Phelphs was an Eagle Scout and moved from Mississippi to Topeka the same year that Brown v Topeka Board of Education was decided. After getting a law degree at Washburn Univ. in Topeka, he handled a number of civil rights lawsuits and even won recognition from the NAACP. How he journeyed from there to world class bigotry against just about everything and everybody is unclear.

  • steve weir

    I had the honor of having this family trek to Martinez in 2009 to protest my legal marriage to my partner of 19 years.

    I say honor because I knew that for a brief moment, they were not terrorizing the family of one of our fallen service members.

    We were told that they come into a community, warn the local police that they fear for their lives, and that they expect protection. While I don’t have proof, it is my understanding that they are willing to sue the localities if their Constitutional rights are not protected. This might explain their confrontational and offensive posture.

    The three of them who came to protest our marriage were isolated by 70 plus counter protesters while my partner and I, along with some 150 family and friends, experienced one of the most moving moments in our lives.

    I hate to say it, but maybe we are defined by our friends and by our “enemies”.

  • Ralph Hoffmann

    I’m boycotting the “Super Bowl.” Are Sponge Bob and Square Pants on then?

  • John W.

    # 10

    Yeah, from what I’ve read, they are well-practiced at the suing thing. They were sued by one of the military families and lost — $11 million worth — but I’m not sure where that stands. It should be enough to put them out of business if it stands.

    Jeez, they only sent three to the wedding? What an insult!