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September 01, 2009

Hatin' with the Phelpses: Epilogue...

...wherein Lauren waxes philosophical and crap about hanging with the haters.

Now that the charming and affable Phelps clan of Westboro Baptist Church infamy have finished up their whistle-stop tour of hate here in Vermont and have zoomed out of the state in their peppy little Kia minivan, it might be appropriate to reflect on the day. Other people more introspective and cerebral than I might offer some sort of analysis about hate and peace and love and all that junk, but I can only tell you what I took away from the day. And in order to tell you what I took away from the day, I have to tell you what the day entailed. So here goes. Apologies if you nod off.

I hauled my fanny out of bed at 6 a.m., which for a reporter is like being asked to do math or not make stuff up. I hit the road to Montpelier by 6:45 a.m. so I could make it to the high school in time to watch the Swiss Family Bonkers picket students as they rolled into school for their first day back from summer vaykay. Of course when I arrived I was the last media person on the scene. Everyone was there- radio, TV, the daily print papers from around the region. No one was going to miss the most exciting thing to happen to sleepy Vermont since gay marriage.

Everything about the scene was predictable. The signs the four adults Phelpses waved were the same ones they trot out for every soldier's funeral, football game and Catholic church they picket. They read "God Hates You," "Fags Wed," "Antichrist Obama" and "Mourn for Your Sins." I quite liked the sign that read "You Will Eat Your Babies." Still not sure why I might be inclined to eat my babies, but I truly hope it never comes to that; I'm a vegetarian.

My personal favorite was the sign that read "Bitch Burger" and showed a picture of a hamburger with a baby making up half the bun. When I asked Shirley Phelps-Roper, the multi-childrened daughter of church founder Fred Phelps — Shirls to me — what that meant, she broke into some tirade about people in California eating baby eyeballs. Right, then.

The hate clan was smaller than I expected. It consisted of Shirls, her oldest son, Sam; her youngest son, 7 y.o. Luke, her sister Margie and a granddaughter of the "Rev." Phelps, Jael Phelps, who was actually sort of cute in that "I'll eat your young and poop on your doorstep" sort of way. I guess it's good that their numbers are so small because that means their atonal singing could be drowned out by the counter-protesters.

Erin McDermott, my new bestie in Montpelier, said it was like watching the bad kid who feeds off of negative attention. Too right. Why else would they make a sign depicting Rosie O'Donnell as Jabba the Hut and Ellen DeGeneres as a pig in shit? And why else would they force little Luke, who was freezing his little fingers off, to hold that sign in the face of counter-protesters wearing clown suits, smashing cream pies in their own faces and heckling the family?

Simpson's fans might have taken issue with the Phelpses representation of Santa's Little Helper on a sign that read "Fags Wed." I asked Jael (pronounced J.L., not Jail), why put such a sweet, innocent cartoon on their signs and she told me, matter-of-factly, that fags are beasts and dogs are beasts, so fags must be dogs. Um, my dog might take issue with that, thanks very much Jay-L.

Through the course of about four hours, Team Hate hustled to six different spots including the Statehouse, UVM and Ohavi Zedek Synagogue. Hate apparently waits for no man. At each location they were greeted with sign-wielding counter-protesters, gawkers and drive-by horn honkers. One angry motorist screamed out the window of his truck "Fuck Jesus and fuck you, too!" Not the kind of peaceful response the counter-protesters were looking for, but it added some aggression to the day that matched that of the Phelpses Hate Force.

Hundreds of people, both in Montpelier and in Burlington, greeted the Phelpses in different ways. In the preceding weeks, there has been much discussion over what to do when they arrived. Ignore them and instead focus on acts of kindness and peace throughout the day? Show up to one of the locations and kill them with love? Engage them, despite the inherent futility, just because it's fun to have an excuse to shout in someone's face?

Outside of OZ, Laura Merit, of Burlington, passed out instructions to counter-protesters asking them to leave and not give the clan any more attention. After spending hours with these vitriol-spewers, I tended to agree with Merit. What if no one showed up to watch them? What if we acted like they didn't exist? Would they still picket? It's like the tree falling down in the woods question. If the Phelpses squawk about eating babies and no one is around to hear it, are they still making any noise? I don't know. I for one feel it's important to bear witness to this kind of activity, but perhaps that just because I'm a nebbie rubbernecker.

There's something scandalously thrilling about watching a man wearing a T-shirt that says "Super Jew" standing his ground as the hatemongers scream in his face and talk about what a blessing the Holocaust was. While I am not an advocate of violence, I will admit that it was equally thrilling watching a UVM student throw a small book at Margie Phelps that hit her right in one of the nine dozen signs she was holding.

And I have to say, I felt a little jolt of adrenalin when Shirls called me a brute and a dyke because I wasn't walking fast enough on the sidewalk. That jolt quickly subsided when she threatened to push a cyclist off the sidewalk if she didn't move out of the way. Now she's messing with the gays and the cyclists! Oh, it's on.

Regardless of where you fall on the issue of nutso engagement, it's undeniable that the whole show was great theater. At least that's what this "unprofessional", "dyke" reporter with an "agenda" who works for a "fag paper" thinks. Thank god for the First Amendment.    

Video 1: Shirley Phelps-Roper, of Kansas, singing outside of Montpelier H.S., 9/1/09

Video 2: Shirley Phelps-Roper, of Kansas, explaining why she hates Jews, on the UVM campus, 9/1/09

Video 3: Rick Ames, of Burlington, counter-singing during the Westboro Baptist Church picket at UVM,  9/1/09

Video and photos by me, Lauren O.

What a fellow "unprofessional", "non-dyke but dyke-friendly" reporter with an "agenda" who works for a "fag paper" thinks: You ROCK, Lauren, and so does your coverage of the Hate-a-palooza!

So many awesome insights, but of course this is the one I identified with the most: "I hauled my fanny out of bed at 6 a.m., which for a reporter is like being asked to do math or not make stuff up." What is this "6 a.m." of which you speak? And this "math" thing...I vaguely remember it from elementary school, I think.

I pray to my God (who LOVES fags, BTW) that these evil people never come our way again. But if they do, you're on the Phelps beat now, Lauren!

Sad to say, but the "eyeball eating" thing is an actual news story from a few months back: (What that horrific incident has to do with the Phelps clan's LGBT/liberal/Jewish/Obama-hatred, I don't know...)

Thanks for your great coverage of these loons and their ugliness--it won't prompt them to give up and go home, but it makes their continued lunacy a little more bearable.

Alright, all-ready, enough about the whackos from Kansas!! Let's get back to Vermont politics!

This IS Vermont politics! These are the politics of freedom, the politics that prove that the power of love and the effectiveness of humor will overcome hate and fear every time. This was a great opportunity for kids to get involved in a first-hand experience of what it's like to stand up for people who have been oppressed, and how to do it peacefully and effectively. Vermont has been a leader in supporting civil rights since this country was born, and I hope we will continue this legacy forever!

How come if the plan was to ignore them, all we did was talk about them for weeks and put them on the news? I don't get it.

Events like this only remind us of how close we can be as humanitarians. I think its great. Dont fear the reaper.

The book-thrower isn't a student or affiliated with UVM, but you may be tickled to know that the small book she threw at them was a New Testament Bible, courtesy of the Gideons.

I'd like to contact these guys and tell them just how mistaken they are. For everyone out there who has suffered their tyrannical rants and barbaric attacks on minorities, I feel for you and want to let you know that God DOES love you, no matter what. these so-called "baptists" give the real baptists (of which i am one) a very bad name, and don't show the Christlike love that the Bible commands that we all show. they are a cult full of haters and don't let anyone tell you differently. these monsters must be stopped!

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