Beast of the Month - November 1998
Reverend Fred Phelps, "Christian" Minister, Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
Actual quote from Godhatesfags.com
It is ironic that perhaps the most anti-human of groups over the past two-thousand years have been those who label themselves "Christians". More than Marx, more than Mao, more than Hitler, the name of Christ has been invoked more in bloodshed than any other. This should be unsurprising: Christianity has been the most powerful philosophical movement over the past two millennium, and where there is power, death is almost certain to follow.
And so, it is also equally ironic that, in the same month Congress passed the Community Decency Act 2 (an internet censorship bill to "protect children" from indecent material - amusingly passed by the same branch of government that released the stroke-worthy Starr Report), along comes in the headlines a fellow trying to unwittingly make a strong case for internet censorship.
The man's name is Fred Phelps, a charmless Baptist minister from Topeka, Kansas with an obsession with homosexuality and sexual activity that goes beyond even the normal name-calling and gay-bashing that is unfortunately common in much of fundamentalist Christianity. His church has a site, in fact, devoted to the cause, with the easy-to-remember title of www.godhatesfags.com. "Fags preach tolerance but practice intimidation," according to the site, which then proceeds to unleash a ranting assault on homosexuals. The site includes a picture combining a pink triangle with a swastika. In another section the site argues that homosexuality is the equivalence of Nazism, so therefore to punish gays is then morally appropriate. Amazingly, the site also insists that all Jews who aren't Christians are not saved either, which leads one to wonder what their problem with Nazism is in the first place. Their goal doesn't even appear to be to "cure" gays: when asked if any "fags" have repented as a result of their site, they replied: "Who cares?"
To debate whether Godhatesfags.com is a hate site or not is unnecessary, since they even admit it in the title. The justification they use sounds more like a condemnation of Christianity than a defense for their beliefs: "Because the Bible preaches hate. For every one verse about God's mercy, love, compassion, etc., there are two verses about His vengeance, hatred, wrath, etc." Since hatred is not an issue, the only question then is whether the hatred they spew, no matter how odious, is legitimate. Indeed, there was some controversy as to whether "Godhatesfags" should even be allowed to be used at a website. Showing a wisdom that Congress and Klinton appear lacking in, it was decided that as repulsive the views are endorsed by Phelps' "church", to silence them would be even more repulsive.
Still, as a Salon article entitled "Web of Hate" asks, there are many who are exploiting the detestable level of wrath on sites such as Phelps' to encourage "liberals" to favor censorship on the web. Utilizing statistics provided by the always helpful to freedom of speech suppression Southern Poverty Law Center, the article includes Phelps' site first in a list of hate-monger sites. Mark Potok of the SPLC then states that internet hate sites are "the main culprit" in the rise of hate groups and hate crimes in America.
The sites mentioned are pretty hard to defend. However, the rhetoric seems to be a tiny echo of the intolerance spewed by Congressional leaders such as Trent Lott (who compared homosexuality to alcoholism and kleptomania in June), Bob Barr, Jesse Helms and Dick Armey (perhaps the most ironically-named gay-basher in history) and religious leaders such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed, Gary Bauer & James Dobson. These are not fringe outsiders, these are the establishment. Which shows the hypocricy of speech restriction laws: that they are always aimed at the least powerful, even when they repeat the words of the mighty.
Even harder to defend is the behavior of those involved in hate-spewing sites, which often is arguably (and in some cases, certainly) criminal. Had the Salon article been written later, it would have included www.christiangallery.com/atrocity/aborts.html, which includes a "hit lists" of doctors, judges, Hollywood celebrities and others who perform abortions or defend them. What is most disturbing is that those on the list who have been killed remain on the list, albeit with their names crossed out as "fatalities." One name on it was Dr. Barnett Slepian, a New York doctor targeted by abortion protesters and slain late October by a sniper with a single shot while at his home.
No one has appeared to be inspired to kill thanks to Phelps' site - at least not yet. But his behavior in response to death leads you to wonder how long that will remain, or if he even cares. When Matthew Shepard died last month after being savagely beaten in Laramie, Wyoming, his response was swift. Shepard, an openly gay University of Wyoming student, had been left dangling from a ranch fence for 18 hours in near-freezing weather, his nearly lifeless body pistol-whipped, battered and burned, the predators leaving with his wallet and shoes. His frail 5-foot-2, 105 pound body looked like a scarecrow from the bicyclist who discovered him. But there are even better descriptions of what the scene looked like after his victimization: a lynching of a black man, or (to keep in the ironic mood) the crucification of Christ.
Phelps' response to this tragedy? Naturally, the only Christian one: he traveled with members of his congregation to Wyoming for picketing and demonstrations at the funeral. Phelps, in true Christian spirit, stated he was unconcerned about upsetting Shepard's family and friends. "They frittered away the opportunity to raise up a child in the nurturing admonition of the Lord," he stated. While Phelps' freedom of speech is important, his disrespect for the rights of others to assemble in mourning of Shepard merely underlines Phelps' contempt for liberty. Bracing for Phelps' demonstration, the Casper City Council passed an ordinance banning people from picketing on sidewalks, streets and other areas next to the memorial service, prohibiting protesting on public property within 50 feet of the service. "It's sad that we have to do this - that the sanctity of a funeral is not upheld," Councilman Tim Monroe said.
Yes, it is sad, and even sadder is that ultimately the behavior of Phelps and his "church" paradoxically promotes all that he opposes. Not that all effects of his actions are bad: Shepard's fatal beating happened just before National Coming Out Day, for which gay rights groups had already planned rallies and media events. The death - and the hysterical reaction by Phelps and others - sparked attention to it and turned it into a powerful rally cry for those trying to promote gay rights, as Shepard has become a more powerful icon than Ellen DeGeneres.
However, as the Salon's article makes clear, some are using the vile behavior of Phelps for more sinister purposes. Besides it being used to promote restrictions of the internet, by framing the question of whether the murders of targeted gays should be made a federal hate crime or not as a statement on whether hatred of homosexuals is justifiable - rather than the more important question of the dangers of promoting Federal government involvement in law enforcement - Phelps is actually helping promote the idea that those who are against the FBI and the federal government are racist and homophobic hatemongers.
This final irony is overwhelming, and again not surprising. The truth is, Reverends Phelps' church of mindless drones is very small and pathetic. So why the hell was anyone writing about him in the first place? The simple fact of the matter is his cause is being publicized specifically to demonize dissent against the federal government. One wonders if Phelps is an intentional provocateur due to his senseless babbling: more likely, he is a useful idiot, in this case very useful and very idiotic.
So thanks a lot, Reverend Phelps, for screwing it up for all the rest of us with your inflammatory blather. And feel good in knowing that you are quite safe from harm, and that we'll be hearing from you again real soon, no doubt, due to a korporate media who loves to promote mouth-foaming moronics that you spit out. They know a gravy train when they see one, and baby, you're one that they'll be taking multiple servings of.
In any case, we salute you, Reverend Fred Phelps, as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Freddie!!!
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