Memorial Day, for most of us, is a day to honor our fallen heroes. But for a particular hate group in my home town of Topeka, Kansas, every day is a day to despise our fallen heroes.
Yes, you may have heard of them before: It's Fred Phelps and his family, who use their Westboro Baptist Church as a front for their campaign against the people they call fags. According to the Phelps, 9/11 was caused by the fags because God was showering his wrath on the people of the United States. And people who serve in America's military are fags, and I'm a fag, you're a fag, everyone except the Phelps family is a fag, fag.
(By the way, they call their church Baptist, but they are not recognized as such by any other Baptist churches.)
I'm not going to provide a link to any of the Phelps' Web sites. You can find their crap if you want. I write this to call attention to their activities in case you are not aware of them, and because my dad served in the military and died on Memorial Day. I know my parents detested the behavior of the Phelps.
The Phelps like to protest. They go out with their signs and call people fags and blame the fags for everything that's wrong. Worst of all, they protest at the funerals of our fallen soldiers. Because of them, President George W. Bush signed a law that prohibits protests within a certain distance of military cemeteries before, during, and after a funeral. But that doesn't stop them from protesting at other cemeteries and it doesn't stop them from protesting at other venues and it doesn't stop them from protesting at other times. They also protest at the funerals of gay people. They were there for Matthew Shepard's funeral, as if his family hadn't already suffered enough.
I've seen some news clips about various ways people deal with the Phelps, and don't think the Phelps are just a Topeka problem. They show up all over the place. In one town, the Phelps obtained permission to picket on a certain corner. So, many people in town showed up and parked their vehicles near the corner so the Phelps would have difficulty getting a place to park their bus, and then the townspeople took over the corner and left no room for the Phelps, who actually gave up and left. When they protest at a funeral, sometimes motorcyclists show up and form a ring around the family and rev their engines to drown out their noise.
Yes, the Phelps family is entitled to freedom of speech. But families should be entitled to bury their loved ones in peace.
I recall Fred Phelps mostly from his days as a lawyer, when I was growing up in Topeka. His antics were always in the news, and eventually he was disbarred for unethical conduct. Some of his 13 children have become lawyers and they now fund the protests with the money they earn from the family law firm, according to an article I read in the Topeka newspaper. Although Topekans hate what the Phelps do, one person admitted that if you want to win your case, you go to the Phelps. It's a shame Kansans don't boycott the firm in a shared commitment to dry up their money.
Recently I watched a documentary about the family called Fall From Grace: Westboro Baptist Church. It was made by a young man named K. Ryan Jones, first as a short film for a film class he was taking at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, and then it became a full-fledged documentary. As Jones himself says in a DVD extra, he had to try very hard to be fair to the Phelps because "everybody hates them."
As I watched Fall From Grace, there I saw one of the boys, now in his fifties just as I am, but with the same face he had when we were in the seventh grade together. And I saw one of the girls, who was in the ninth grade. I sometimes saw the girl in the ninth grade laughing and talking with other kids, but the seventh grade boy seemed to stick pretty close to his brother, who was in the eighth grade. Those boys looked so sad, and I have never forgotten the miserable and embarrassed silence that fell over the school cafeteria the day those two boys came to school with their heads shaved. Guys did not shave their heads then, and we felt so sorry for them.
Other students who had known the Phelps for years explained to me that Fred Phelps had shaved his sons' heads to punish them, just as they were punished by having to run to Lawrence from Topeka and then back home again. They also had to sell candy for hours after school to support the church. One of them came to our door once, and my mother said NO immediately. She mentioned afterwards that she knew the money went to the church so she wouldn't buy anything from the Phelps.
What I didn't know was that the children and Mrs. Phelps were severely abused, according to two of the children who have left the family. One of them, Nate Phelps, writes a thoughtful and intelligent blog that I suggest you check out. Nate is interviewed by telephone during the documentary, and he recommends ignoring his family if you should encounter one of their protests. They are definitely attention whores, so cut them dead (figuratively of course). Don't engage them in an argument; don't give them what they want so desperately.
Why do they do what they do? Who knows why such evil lives in the hearts of humankind? Fred Phelps is a sick man and his sickness has infected most of his children. And now his grandchildren, right down to the youngest ones who are barely understandable when they speak, parrot what they hear from their parents and their grandfather, although it's obvious they don't know what they're saying. They are already brainwashed and if someone doesn't help them, it will only get worse.
I found it fascinating that in the documentary one of the Phelps daughters says, My father had 13 children. Hmmmm . . . did he become pregnant and give birth? Mrs. Phelps is never mentioned, I think because her husband's control over the family is so complete.
Thus, I recommend the documentary; I recommend Nate Phelps' blog; and I recommend ignoring the Phelps family if you should ever have the misfortune of seeing them in your town. They have fallen. Don't let them take you down with them.
Infinities of love,