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 Extremism in America
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Westboro Baptist Church
A publicity-hungry group

The primary goal of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), led by Fred Phelps, appears to be garnering publicity for itself and its message. For this reason, the group directs its efforts at events that have attracted heavy news coverage, like the deaths of soldiers killed in wars or the victims of well-publicized accidents, or at venues, such as high schools, which are likely to generate large counter-protests and community outrage. Many of its protests are held in response to events that have generated at least local media coverage, as in an April 2009 protest of the staging of the musical “Rent” at a high school in Newport Beach, California, which had been the subject of local controversy. The group also announces plans to picket at locations abroad (many in locations WBC is not likely to be to travel to, such as Sri Lanka, or cannot travel to, such as Great Britain, where the government has formally banned members of the group from entering) in the hopes of generating foreign press coverage.

To create further attention, the group produces music videos with titles like “God Hates the World” or “Santa Claus Will Take You to Hell” and maintains Web sites with names like GodHatesAmerica and GodHatesFags, all designed to inflame the passions of viewers. One of these Web sites includes a “media room,” with links to “broadcast quality resolution video files of our picketing ministry.”

WBC protestors

In a telling comment, after Shirley Phelps-Roper, a leader of the WBC, had screened a documentary about the group in her home prior to its debut on Showtime in December 2007, she said, “The content was good. Anytime we get the word out there that we are a doomed country - a doomed generation it's a good thing.” Every mention of WBC in the media is considered a victory by the group.

 

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