The Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is a small virulently homophobic, anti-Semitic hate group that regularly stages protests around the country, often several times a week. The group pickets institutions and individuals they think support homosexuality or otherwise subvert what they believe is God’s law.
Incorporated in 1967 as a not-for-profit organization, WBC considers itself an “Old School (or Primitive)” Baptist Church. WBC’s leader is Fred Phelps and several of his children and dozens of his grandchildren appear to constitute the majority of the group’s members. WBC has no official affiliation with mainstream Baptist organizations.
While WBC members have protested at Jewish institutions over the years, such institutions were not a major focus for the group until April 2009. Since then, WBC has targeted dozens of Jewish institutions around the country, from Israeli consulates to synagogues to Jewish community centers, distributing anti-Semitic fliers to announce planned protests at these sites. WBC has also been sending volumes (in some cases dozens over the course of a week) of faxes and emails with anti-Semitic and anti-gay messages to various Jewish institutions and individuals.
In addition, in April 2010, the group began mailing a virulently anti-Semitic DVD to Jewish organizations and leaders. The DVD also attacks President Obama, describing him as the anti-Christ, and is filled with anti-gay and anti-Catholic vitriol.
Other WBC targets include schools the group deems to be accepting of homosexuality; Catholic, Lutheran, and other Christian denominations that WBC feels are heretical; and funerals for people murdered or killed in accidents like plane crashes and for American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, a tactic the group started in 2005. Though the group's specific focus may shift over time, they believe that nearly all Americans and American institutions are “sinful,” so nearly any individual or organization can be targeted.
In fact, WBC members say that “God’s hatred is one of His holy attributes” and that their picketing is a form of preaching to a “doomed” country unable to hear their message in any other way.
Additionally, the group has tried to stage protests in foreign countries. In February 2009, the WBC announced plans to travel to Great Britain to protest the staging at a school there of “The Laramie Project,” a play about the vicious murder of a young gay man, Matthew Shepard, in 1998. (British government officials barred the group from entering the country.) The group made it to Canada in August 2008, where they picketed the funeral of a young man who was the victim of a brutal murder on a Greyhound bus, which was national news in that country. Authorities there reportedly tried to prevent the group from entering their country, but the WBC claims it was able to evade Canadian border patrol agents to stage the protest.
Next: A Publicity-Hungry Group