If religion is the opiate of the masses, then the Westboro Baptist Church is the bad acid of the few. Founded by Fred Phelps and composed primarily of members of his family, the Westboro Baptist Church protests at the funerals of soldiers. They have somehow arrived at the idea that God is killing U.S. service personnel because, in their words, “God hates fags”.
What, exactly, the connection is between U.S. military casualties and God’s supposed hatred of homosexuality is unclear. But Phelps and his kin are so passionate about their “cause” they are willing to make complete asses of themselves and traumatize the families of the deceased through loud chanting of their hate-filled slogans and display of their hate-filled signage. Media coverage of their extreme behavior has given the group a public profile far exceeding their size or importance.
At this Memorial Day’s ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery the bad acid that is the Westboro Baptist Church may have had us hallucinating: were those Ku Klux Klan members counter-protesting the Phelps clan?
Yes, they were.
It was not a figment of someone’s drug-addled imagination. But it was irretrievably surreal. The Klan group and their leader Dennis LaBonte were making the point that it is our military personnel that ensure the Westboro gang’s right to free assembly and free speech. They were distributing small American flags. They were also expressing their opinion that white people are somehow being oppressed by non-white people. So they are sort-of the paraquat-laced marijuana of free speech.
Both these groups have the right to exist and to express themselves under the laws that define our society. It should be that way, no matter how hard it is to take at times. One just prefers to think the members of such a free society wouldn’t be such fools.
The 21st century is shaping-up to be the century that enfranchises more of the disenfranchised than any other period in history. The rights of all kinds of minorities are being recognized not just in the United States but all over the world. A big part of the so-called “Arab Spring” rebellions in the Middle East is the desire to bring about fairness to some of the most unfair societies on the planet. The recent “Teach Me How To Drive” movement in Saudi Arabia shows that women in the Arab world are ready for emancipation – are demanding it. In the West the rights of gays, undocumented workers, and even socialist pinko bloggers are being fought for every day, and the fight is being won. Slowly.
But so much change drives the people who can’t abide change crazy. In their desperation, and in the case of the Westboro clan and the Ku Klux Klan, in their hatred they are driven to extremes. Crazy people have always been with us. The Jared Loughners of the world will always find a way to inflict their illness on others. I’m not even sure we can blame the truly insane for their crimes. But crazies like Fred Phelps and KKK “Imperial Wizard” Dennis LaBonte are merely examples of those who can’t adapt, who can’t move with the times and see the benefits of a truly fair and open society. Right now, in this instance, they are mere background noise. But the KKK has been known to slip into psychosis in the past. What will happen to the Phelps clan when it becomes apparent God isn’t listening to them, just as no one else with a brain is?