Five days ago Christopher Wood, an accountant with railroad CSX, from Middletown, Maryland, murdered his wife and three children, then committed suicide (details here, here, and here, if you need them). The family will be buried tomorrow morning, the perpetrator and victims of the first homicides in their town’s 240-year history. Attending the funeral of the Woods will be many of their grieving and bewildered fellow citizens of Middletown (population less than 2,700 according to the most recent census), and a faction of protestors from the Westboro Baptist Church.
Westboro Baptist is the Topeka, Kansas-based fundamentalist Christian cult consisting mostly of founder Fred Phelps and members of his own family, which became known in the ‘90s for its God Hates Fags website and its picketing of gay rights demonstrations and the funerals of hate-crime victims.
Six years ago, with the commencement of the war in Iraq, and with their stale homophobic shtick failing to garner the notice it once did, Phelps and his band of angry zealots began protesting at the funerals of American troops who had been killed in action. The Westboro Baptists held signs bearing slogans like THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS, and shouted chants such as “One, two, three, four, God hates the Marine Corps!” The church has also launched racist attacks on the black mayor of Topeka, protested a memorial service for victims of the Sago Mine explosion, and picketed outside an appliance store that they accused of selling Swedish vacuum cleaners (Sweden, like the United States, being guilty of permissiveness toward homosexuality).
Before he died, Jerry Falwell was good enough to refer to Fred Phelps as “a first-class nut.”
As far as I know, neither Christopher Wood nor any of his victims/family were gay or war fatalities — so why are the Westboro Baptists driving all the way over here to hold up obnoxious signs in front of their devastated friends and loved ones? Well, the funeral is being held at a Catholic church, and the Westboro Baptists hate Catholics (along with everyone else), so maybe that’s it. My state was founded as a Catholic colony — is that why God hates Maryland?
I don’t think so. The real reason these lunatics are bringing their warped Christian road show back this way, why they hold such a grudge against us Marylanders, is that a year and a half ago a Maryland judge ordered them to pay the father of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, a Marine killed in Iraq whose funeral the Westboro Baptists had protested, eleven million dollars. Albert Snyder, Matthew’s father, sued Fred Phelps and his daughters Shirley and Rebecca for invasion of privacy and causing emotional distress. The settlement was later reduced to five million, due to the church’s limited resources, but the Phelps clan evidently still bears a bit of a grudge. Check out the scan of their flyer up there on the right.
Everything about these people is disgusting — their theology, their attitudes, their appalling ignorance and intolerance. But it’s nice to know they’re around, nevertheless. The mere fact of their organization’s continued existence is proof that freedom of expression is alive and well in the United States — which isn’t to say it doesn’t slip in the shower and break its hip every now and then. Think about it: if these morons can show up and picket the burial of a fucking dead soldier for no reason at all, chances are whatever you have planned to protest the guy who wants to open a porno shop within a thousand feet of your kid’s elementary school is covered.
Like Larry Flynt, that sentinel of free speech, likes to say, the first amendment doesn’t just protect the expression of thoughts you love, but also the thought you hate the most. That certainly applies to the folks at Westboro Baptist Church.