I have devoted a short rant here and there at the 'Reverend' Fred Phelps Baptist Church' in Topeka Kansas. He is the patriarch of a large brood of hateful children/lawyers best known for picketing at the funerals of famous gays and more recently, dead U.S. servicemen and women. His trademarks are the brightly colored "God hates Fags", "God Hates America" and "Thank God for IED's" signs.
His actions so outraged veterans that the Patriot Guard Riders were formed. They are motorcycle enthusiasts, many veterans, who show up (if invited) to funerals targeted by Phelps. They gun their engines to drown out the Phelps clan and hold up large American flags to obstruct the view of the hateful signs.
Recently the Phelps clan was forced to make a hasty retreat when a large crown turned hostile. They were ushered away in a van to the taunts of the crowd, a window broke from some object thrown at the van. You can watch the video here.
In reading about the story at Fark.com I scrolled through the comments section. The reactions ranged from the logical "Ignore him, its what he wants" to the "Someone should kick the crap out of these asshats" to the defenders of free speech "He isn't breaking the letter of the law and the Bill of Rights specifically protects unpopular speech". The debate is heated, and like most Internet discussion, it did nothing to change the facts of the event. Just as I was about to click away I saw a post:
If you want to learn about what a psycho Fred Phelps is, and how horribly abusive he has been to his family (who constitute his entire "Church"), read Addicted to Hate, a journalist's account of life growing up with Phelps, based on the testimonial of two of his estranged kids.I clicked the link and spent the next few hours falling into the dark pit that is the story of this mans life. I want you to read it. It's long. I know that I try to keep things pretty light. I enjoy talking about gadgets and travel intermixed with humor and occasional witty observations. Not this time. This is a journey into the Heart of Darkness. Into the life of a deranged and abusive man of god. How he came to be and how he twisted his faith. How he created his own world with himself at its center and how he abused his wife, his children, his community, the legal profession and the name of the civil rights movement all in the pursuit of his sick, hurtful, greedy desires. My words cannot begin to describe how fucked up this man is and what he has done to his own family and to those around him.
The whole thing is online.
It will send chills up your spine.
The man is Satan incarnate.
I tend to fall pretty strongly into the "Rule of Law" camp. Several states have tried to create laws that are targeted directly at Phelps group and the ACLU has filed several suits challenging the constitutionality of these laws. The part of my brain that lets me walk upright understands that you can't just make up a law because you don't the message of a particular group. A lot of whites didn't like the message of Martin Luther King. To paraphrase Voltaire:
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"
But I ask you, would our founding fathers have considered the words and actions of Fred Phelps even remotely defensible? If, in the time of Lincoln, a proto-Phelps had stood at a street corner as the assassinated president's funeral procession passed and held up a sign that said "Thank God for John Wilkes Booth!" Would his message have been very vigorously defended? I doubt it. In fact I suspect that such a man would have been roundly thrashed for such a horrid breach of common decency. But we have become somewhat immune in our modern age to outrageous displays in public. And in many ways it is better that way.
But there is another part of the brain, the primitive little lizard part. It is a part that many pretend doesn't exist. When man reflects of the barbarity of War, when he thinks about it he sees its futility. he understands that violence is not the answer. But it isn't the higher brain that makes war. It is that lower, baser part. And pretending it isn't there doesn't make it go away. I understand and accept that it exists. I believe in civility and acting civilized, but I know that we as a species are not even close to civilized.
And what if he showed up and the funeral of a friends kid, killed in Iraq? A kid I saw grow up? What if he protested daily at the small shop where our surrogate daughter Lindsey works? What if they showed up at my parents funeral? I do not think that I could 'just ignore them'. And despite all the pleading of the higher brain functions I think that I would be sorely tempted to strike out at these brainwashed morons. Their twisted bible-hate is enough to make even me ignore my upbringing and my moral code. And that says a lot.