The Westboro Baptist Church Meets Newton’s Third Law

Even the children hate

What are we to do with groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, which has been designated a hate group by both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, and who seem intent on testing the limits of free speech?

They’re an obvious choice. Look at their web address – their url. It’s not, as you might expect, but But at this point that may not surprise anyone. They’ve made themselves well known in recent years.

And God does not just hate fags, he apparently hates fag enablers. That covers a lot of ground, but never fear, there is plenty of hate to go around.

Where does one draw the line? And there have to be lines. There have to be limits. Certain things, for example, are terroristic threats.

Legal or no, hate has consequences. The other day a man drove by and sprayed mace on the Westboro protesters. He was arrested.

Nobody should be shocked. It’s a simple enough rule, Newton’s Third Law: To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.

People don’t want funerals to become sideshows. They don’t want Westboro people there and they don’t want counter-protesters. But if you protest or if you allow protests, you have to expect the opposite force to make its opinions known as well.

But my real question here is this: what if the next time a man in a pickup truck drives by, he is armed not with mace but with an assault rifle?

This seems like an extreme reaction to what some would say is a non-violent action, but we have to consider a couple of facts here in our deliberations. And one of these is that speech itself can be a form of violence.

There is a line between words and deeds. Hate speech straddles that divide and blurs those distinctions.

WBC claims (emphasis in the original), “WBC took her ministry to the streets, conducting 44,017 over 34,000 peaceful demonstrations (to date) opposing the fag lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth.”

But are they peaceful? It’s not an easy call if hate speech blurs that line.

Another thing to consider is that the people having violence used against them are more likely to perceive the violence than the person directing it. And those are the people most likely to be engaging in the predicted opposite reaction.

A further complication is that extremist groups like the Westboro Baptist Church feel exempt from the normal rules of human conduct. For groups like this, the Bible takes precedence over the Constitution. We see this on a daily basis, where Christian groups feel their beliefs should be privileged on the basis that it is the True religion. It is a violation of their worldview to level the playing field.

“God wills it!” Is the cry, an excuse for every sort of atrocity. If God says so, then they have an obligation to carry out his will.

Of course, nowhere in the Bible – Old or New Testament – does it say to protest soldiers’ funerals or to carry signs saying “God hates fags” everywhere they go. One could argue that God can fight his own battles. We certainly have the examples of Sodom and Gomorrah to look back on. God has ultimate sanction on the acts of humans, if we are to believe the Bible. He hardly needs a ragged band of bigoted haters to work his will on the world.

But there is no crime for those who have Christ as one ancient monk put it. They believe they have righteousness on their side and so they can do anything and the rest of us be damned – and will be, according to their understanding.

It’s a win/win for groups like Westboro Baptist Church. They are trying to provoke a response. If they succeed, they are validating their own views. If they can force us to act like they say we act, then they can point their fingers and say that we have confirmed their suspicions.

And they, making a mockery of a soldier’s funeral, will play the martyrs.

What then, are our options?

Lady Gaga, recently confronted with protests by the church’s members, told her own flock to not respond: “Pay these hate criminals no mind. Do not interact with them, or try to fight, Do not respond to any of their provocation.”

You don’t have to be a fan of Lady Gaga to see that this was a clever move. This isn’t what they want, to be ignored. They want to make a splash, they want someone to hate. It’s hard to act out your hate on somebody who is ignoring you.

Using Facebook as her forum, Lady Gaga told her fans:

I would like to make my little monster fans aware of a protest being held outside the Monsterball in St.Louis tonight. Although we have had protesters before, as well as fundamentalists at the show, this group of protesters are hate criminals and preach using lewd and violent language and imagery that I wish I protect you all from. Their message is of hatred and divisiveness, but inside at the Monsterball we preach love and unity.

Lady Gaga is aware of the blurred line between language and violence. Her crime? The “proud whore Lady Gaga teaches rebellion against God.”

And here I thought she made music.

President Obama is equally guilty: “Keep your eye on this silly woman, as she and the Beast Obama are good examples of what you all love most about this vile nation.”

Another solution used recently was that of political satirist/comedian Dave Sirus (aka “Brick Stone”) who responded by harassing the harassers – through humor.

Brick Stone’s weapons were not mace, but words:

–If you hate gays, why are you holding the sign that way?

–If a woman dressed as a man has sex with a guy with a vagina, can they still get into heaven? Or, are they already there?

Wit-wielding Brick, unlike the mace-wielding driver, did not get arrested. A safer response and he managed to disturb the protesters enough that they left. Safer, and more effective than mace. And less a use of brute force than an assault rifle.

The folks at ComicCon used humor as well, in greeting the Westboro folks.

Counter-protesters at ComicCon

There were all the usual suspects there in San Diego, “robots, magical anime girls, Trekkies, Jedi and… kittens?” Their message to WBC?:  ”What do we want? Gay sex. When do we want it? Now!”

Words are more powerful than bullets. But who knows if the next group will respond with silence, humor…or gunfire?

15 Replies to “The Westboro Baptist Church Meets Newton’s Third Law”

  1. How timely, Hraf. Hate speech is a form of violence. I love watching Brick confuse them with his inane wit. You can see the smug satisfaction on their faces as they think they’ve gotten another victim.

    I do wonder how some of those folks who were commenting here over the weekend feel knowing that they share beliefs with the WBC. That should give anyone pause. It certainly does me.

  2. this sounds like the tea party freaks who went to approach rails of the lies of our founding fathers and asked the actors about Jefferson and Washington and expected them to go along with their constitutional agenda.

    First of all these people would not be doing this were it not for the publicity in my opinion. If the media would grow a pair and not recognize them as an entity that is newsworthy these people would not be out protesting that people’s funerals. As far as I’m concerned the media is guilty by association. They make this movement what it is, and it is a very sick thing.

    I guess in these days of boycotts, it’s hard to organize a boycott against the news media who reports on this church’s actions. But the only way to put these people back into their sanctuary is to totally ignore them..

    I am afraid that I have not studied these people as well as I should have, but it appears to me they are led by people who must have some kind of charisma to get people to actually go to a soldier’s grave in protest against gays. There are many many things wrong in the society, as far as I’m concerned people who are gay are about the least of them.

    There is absolutely nothing legally that can be done against them as they are totally within their rights. Unfortunately their message is completely hateful. I guess the only thing you could really do is try to get together around 500 people to march around their church in protest the manner in which the Westborough church protests. Maybe if you turn the tables on them and then give him that type of media attention you could get them to stop

  3. Shiva, I saw a story this weekend about a church protesting a strip club next door. The strip club owner responded by bringing the “girls” out and counter-protesting, sitting there in their swim-suits with signs.

    I have mixed feelings about the publicity issue. Some people say Palin will go away if nobody talks about her. But at the same time I feel that if we surrender the terms of the debate we also surrender its outcome. I feel compelled to speak out.

    Bertold Brecht, when the Nazis spoke out, did not speak back. He ran away. I never approved of his decision, and I don’t want to be like him, because if Bertold and others had spoken out when the Nazis were still being laughed at, the Third Reich might never have happened.

  4. Thanks, Sarah. I am in agreement with you and wonder too about some of the folks commenting here over the weekend.

  5. As much as we hate WBC, they really are stupid. They couldn’t be performing a greater service to gay people; uniting conservatives and liberals in the defence of them!
    Thanks WBC for allowing us all to come together and unite, hands held over our loath of you!

  6. Yes, I am sure that is one result they do not look for and never intended, but it has been noted by several commentators recently that acceptance of the LBGT community is trending towards acceptance nation-wide. A choice between hate and intolerance and a policy of exclusion looks pretty bleak when put next to love, acceptance, and inclusion.

  7. Hey, Hraf!

    Beautifully written.

    If I weren’t at work, I’d write more. I can’t seem to keep
    Up with my blogging due to us cutting off our internet. The
    Least I can do is comment:)

  8. I read a year or so ago of some college frat men who, when facing the WBC, came out of the house and sang and danced to show tunes. Lotta laughter there, too.

  9. Thanks, Crys, that’s nice to hear, and it’s nice to hear from you. I hope the Internet exile is not permanent!

  10. That’s what I like to hear, Ivytree, something that brings laughter out of hatred. I’ve always said if somebody comes by to protest me, waving their Bibles, I’m going out in a lawn chair with the Poetic Edda and wave right back while I sit under an umbrella and sip my lemonade.

  11. While groups like this have always existed in some form or fashion, from the beginning of our history, we have been alble to ignore them most of the time due to a lot less publicity. Now that these groups are being used by mental patients parading around as our wanta-be leaders. When do we start questioning them when we can NO Longer ignore them? When DO we start questioning the mental fitness of these people who think they know what We, as a Country, need to do? Of Course, I don’t believe their reverse-decrimination, hate-filled ideas on how We need to “Fix” our Country and I do question their mental state. How CAN a Major News Network owned by a foreignor can be allowed to be backing these people. Shouldn’t we all continue to ask these questions? If us, than WHO WILL? That is my Only Question. Any Answers????

  12. Kids holding signs that say “God Hates Fags.” Now that’s good parenting. Finally, Americans showing they still have good, family values.

  13. I saw this bunch at the Ronnie James Dio funeral. They’re actually kind of pathetic; I’m more intimidated by PeTA than I am by them (PeTA has a genuine, card-carrying terrorist operation — ALF — at their beck and call).
    Westboro Baptist are trolls and hooligans. The only way they’re really dangerous is to their children, who are being raised in an environment of hatred. That’s not good, however way you slice it.
    Pepper spray? Yeah, I’d draw the line there. There are better ways to stick it to the Westboros, there’s nothing in the rule book that says you can’t heckle them back. That was the response at Dio’s funeral: you’d think fundies vs. headbangers would be a recipe for hectacomb but the Dio fan force limited their opposition to in-kind heckling. 2,500 against 12? Yeah, I’d say they were pretty well outnumbered and outclassed :)

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