While actual Baptists celebrate Easter today, the family cult that calls itself the Westboro Baptist Church is celebrating the death of American soldiers—and the federal court which washed its hands of its responsibilities and turned a fallen Marine's father over to this rabid mob.
A District Court had hit the Westboro cult with a multi-million dollar settlement on behalf of the Snyder family who sued when their son's funeral was disrupted by this mob. That would have crippled their operations; but a simplistically absolutist approach to the First Amendment by an appeals court has them back on their feet– and the Marine's family footing the bill.
Sgt. Joshua Youmans
Just over 4 years ago, Joshua Youmans, a 26 year-old National Guard sergeant from my home town of Flushing, Michigan was killed in Iraq by an IED. This was a cause for celebration by the Westboro "Baptist Church" (they are neither Baptist, nor a church) and brought the sociopathic members of 81 year old Fred "Only the Good Die Young" Phelps and his 90-some member extended family cult to my very street.
For a long time, I thought that the actions of the Phelpses constituted the most cold-blooded act of cruelty I had ever seen. But this week, a federal court of appeals decided that the Phelpses not only have the right to interrupt the funerals of veterans, their litigation costs to protect that right should be paid by Al Snyder, the father of a fallen Marine, Matthew Snyder.
And while I share Joseph Klein's hope that the Supreme Court will reverse this horrible injustice, I find it unlikely than an institution that considers flag burning "speech," will restrict actual speech—even though allowing this would seem to nullify all disturbing the peace, parade permits, and noise ordinances nationwide. (In Flushing, you can get a ticket for playing your stereo too loud.)
Had the Phelpses not telegraphed their intention to bring their hatefest to Flushing, and not knowing the Youmans family (other than an uncle), I probably would have limited my involvement in paying respects to Sgt. Youmans to flying my flag at half mast. Funerals are for the family and friends.
But knowing these bastards were going to be on my street, when the call went out for real Americans to get between the Phelps clan and the Youman family, it was an easy decision—as it was for hundreds of other local people.
Besides the crowds of people who lined the sidewalks along the funeral route, and put our bodies between the monsters and the mourners, and flags in the line of sight over signs about "fags," we were joined by Rolling Thunder, the veterans motorcycle group, who used their (mostly) Harley engines to drown out the Phelps's caterwauling. Without the media amplifying their presence, I'm not sure the Phelpses would have been seen OR heard.
Freedom of speech cuts two ways, baby.
But therein lies the rub. Media coverage is the oxygen that keeps the Phelps clan's foul breath going. They thrive on condemnation. They live for your outrage. Would they show up for military funerals if they were ignored?
Of course, the Phelpses choose this method because it is inevitable that it will be covered. And, I'm not sure it shouldn't be, even in a perfect world. Evil should be exposed, condemned—and countered.
The media coverage is interesting at all levels. Locally, a Michael Moore-wannabe for the Flint Journal named Andrew Heller wrote a column that provoked a lot of community blowback for his struggling daily paper when he accused local Christians of not counter-protesting the Phelpses.
Flushing is a community of about 17,000 people outside Flint, with 3 major Baptist churches, and the county's largest Catholic parish with several thousand members. St. Roberts Catholic Church was packed for the funeral with about 500 people and the streets were crowded. We showed up as Americans; but my guess is that about 99% of the day's attendees would self-identify as Christians.
It never occurred to anyone that they needed to publicly do so, however– except for the columnist in his cubicle who could not be bothered to attend, but wrote his moronic screed by noting the lack of "I'm a Christian here to say the Phelpses don't represent me" signs—at a FUNERAL! (This got Heller his one and only shot at national coverage when I tipped James Taranto at OpinionJournal.com, and a typically brilliant mockery of Heller—which no longer seems to be in their online database– was the result.)
Chris Matthews has put a lot of energy into expressing outrage since the court decision. In the segment below, he is overly congratulatory of radio host Michael Smerconish for being on the "right side" of this issue—perhaps the easiest moral stance in history, at least no one out here in the hinterlands agonized over it.
But Bill O'Reilly put his money where Matthews's mouth is, and said he would cover Mr. Snyder's legal expenses. (Perhaps the only time I will take Bill's side against Megyn Kelly on a legal issue.) Click Newsrealblog link above for video.
So Chris followed up with another segment—in which he commended O'Reilly but the famed motormouth seemed to need an unusual effort to force the words out—in which Chris put out an appeal for his viewers to contribute. (click NewsRealBlog link above for video)
I don't know if Rolling Thunder still makes the Phelpses their priority. I hope so. But this cult's grim determination and sociopathic singleness of purpose can wear people with actual lives down. Hopefully, this case will resurrect the determination of patriotic Americans to confront them at every turn.
This verdict, the victory and publicity– there have been more national news stories about the Westboro Cult than the "church" has members– is likely to lead to a bit of a resurgence of this disgusting activity. So keep an eye out for military funerals in your area, and an ear to the ground as to whether these creeps are likely to show up.
If so, here are my suggestions:
1. Contact Rolling Thunder and see if there is a possibility for a Patriot Guard presence– if the family would like
2. Do NOT bring counter signs about the Phelpses. Save those for other demonstrations. Bring flags.
3. Do not counter-chant or shout them down. Sing God Bless America or another patriotic song as the funeral process nears to drown out the cultists.
4. Get between the cult and the family with the flags as the procession nears.
Finally, a note of caution for those who might plan to show up and counter the hate: I will confess that the Phelps clan's steely emotionlessness probably saved me years in court. After about an hour of this, I was looking for a fight, getting too close, and hoping one of them would lay a hand on me. Perhaps the scariest thing about seeing the Phelpses up close, was the utter cheerful calmness about them as they go about their awful business. But as a friend told me later—and as the Snyder case proves—part of the Phelps MO is that a lot of them go to law school, so even though no jury would convict me, my life would have been a constant nightmare of civil court dates.
On this Easter Sunday, I feel compelled to point out that yes, Jesus died for Fred Phelps. So did Joshua Youmans and Matthew Snyder. Phelps is spitting on BOTH sacrifices.
(Author's note: I have been around a couple of these events, though this was the only one where I played an active—if insignificant—part. Because of the lousy online archive of my local newspaper, I am relying solely on 4 year-old memories. If I have conflated any events, that is the reason—along with the onset of middle age–DF)