'Plaint of the Playwright

'Plaint of the Playwright

[ Monday, December 06, 2004 ]

Now, here's a snapshot from hell:

Was it something I said?

Yes, that's right. Kathy and I went to protest a Phelps Compound rally on November 20th.

Fred Phelps, for those of you lucky enough not to know, is the founder of the Westbor: Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. He's also the creator of the infamous website GodHatesFags.com. (Which I am NOT going to link to. However, I will link to GodHatesFigs.com.)

Phelps' people, and not Phelps himself, came to protest East High School's production of "The Laramie Project," a popular dramatization of the effects of Matthew Shephard': murder on the small community it happened in. Phelps himself is a character in the show.

Some of you may remember, that Phelps has been using Matthew Shephard's murder for years. These are the guys that picket his memorial, picketed the funeral, as well as demonstrate at the funerals of other gay men and women, insisting that they are burning in hell.

Phelps insists that he is a champion of the first amendment.

I love that.

It totally sidesteps the fact that he and his group are a bunch of fucking assholes for protesting funerals.

Anyway, Kathy and I show up, with the F.A.Q. from their website. The idea is that we're going to do a dramatic interpretation of the tenets of their church. It's our basic belief that you can't say anything worse about them than what they say about themselves every day.

The Phelps Compound hasn't arrived yet, but there's already a ton of people in front of the school. We run into a group of people holding signs and say hello.

They tell us that Phelps hasn't arrived yet. His group had been here earlier, for the 2:00 show, but saw there were anti-them protestors already there and left.

"That's good to hear," Kathy said, "that people were already showing up to deal with this guy."

"Well, we've been to a lot of these," one of them tells us, "whenever Phelps shows up, we try and be right there."

Kathy mentions that earlier, we'd been reading the God Hates Fags F.A.Q., and that she'd been checking all his quotes in the bible, to see how accurate they were.

Yeah, I said, he's extremely liberal in his interpretation of the text.

For example, his favorite quote, from Leviticus 18:22, he quotes on his site as: "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it [is] abomination."

But in context, the full chapter says a great many things are wrong, including: "None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am the LORD." (Leviticus 18:6) If you know anything about the Phelps family, they're breaking this one left and right. (There's a certain amount of inbreeding within the Phelps Compound.)

Oh, and before you bring up the argument that the bible says a lot of things, like how you can't wear two types of fabric, or be within fifty feet of a menstruating woman, be advised that Phelps has an answer for that one, too:

Finally, people ask this question to try to prove a point. And the point is "the Mosaic Code contains lots of stuff that we don't follow anymore--why should we still follow the verse that forbids sodomy?" For example, "if it's OK to eat pork, why isn't it OK to commit sodomy?" I believe I've answered this above, but I'd like to point out that the above statement makes about as much sense as "if it's OK to eat pork, why isn't it OK to murder?"

Take a moment to recover from that. I'll wait.

Anyway, I said that if it ever came down to bible quotes, I was totally ready to throw down Leviticus 11:38, "Fear leadith to anger. Anger leadith to hatred. Hatred leadith to...THE DARK SIDE."

From here, I run into my friends Scott and Frannie. We talk for a few seconds when someone ahead points at an approaching car and yells "That's them!"

Slowly, the car goes by.

Good evening, Mr. Phelps, I say. Scott laughs.

The crowd is huge, and there are only about twelve of the Phelps people.

What's really odd is the way they enter. The Phelps people walk right through the middle of the group and hold up their signs, just outside of school property.

The police are standing around, generally looking grim.

The large group of us move to follow. I see different signs, like:

Leviticus 11:9-12: God hates shrimp, too!


God Loves Diversity


Go back to Kansas!


All Your Base Are Belong To Us.

I tell the guy holding that sign that I debated bringing a sign that said:

if I looking for frog. him name is hopkin green frog. P.S. I'll find my frog.

Now, I haven't been to a lot of other protests, but usually, when one group is protesting another, there's a designated distance both groups have to stay from each other. But this is one big huge group, with opposing forces just thrown in the center. What's the deal?

I walk up to one cop, and ask, hey, is there a specific distance we're supposed to stay back?

The cop doesn't look at me or acknowledge me, and I don't really expect him to. He does turn to the cop next to him, whispers something in his ear, and then turns to the group of us, saying that we just have to make sure we're not on school property. I look down. We're all standing on the front lawn.

"Where do we go, then?" Kathy asks.

"The sidewalk," we're told.

The dynamics of the group change somewhat, as Scott and I are suddenly separated from Kathy and Frannie by a couple dozen people.

We walk around, but we can't get through.

"Where are they?" Scott asks, "Do you see them?"

Nope. I think they're near the front of this big crowd.

Scott suggests we cross the street to get another look, so we do.

We see that the Phelps guys are basically just pin-pointed within the crowd, holding up their signs.

The crowd chants at them: "PRAY! YOU'LL NEED IT! YOUR CAUSE WILL BE DEFEATED!"

One guy screams this through a bullhorn directly into the ear of a guy holding a sign that says "AIDS IS GOD'S CURSE." The AIDS guy leans over to the cop who's standing a few feet away, and I hear the cop tell him, "Sorry, we can't do anything unless he touches you."


We cross the street and make our way back into the crowd. Scott goes to look for Frannie, I keep on looking for Kathy.

As I go in, I walk by two little kids, a girl and a boy, about eight and ten, both by themselves, both holding a sign that says "GOD HATES FAGS" on it. As I pass them, I hear the girl tell the boy, "We're the only ones in this whole crowd who know what's really going on in the world."

I contain my sadness and keep moving.

I find Kathy in front of a guy holding a sign that says: "MATTHEW SHEPHERD 6 YEARS IN HELL." She's got her bible out, as well as the printout.

"God hates fags!" the guy yells, with this beautifully pathetic look of self-righteous determination on his face.

"Is that all you've got?" Kathy asks him. "That's all you've been able to say. Do you have any other material?"


"Seriously," Kathy says, offering the printout from the God Hates Fags site, "do you need to borrow this?"

A group behind Kathy laughs, and slightly--just slightly, the guy's resolve cracks a little as he looks in Kathy's direction. Kathy smiles at him and holds up the bible. "Should I read some more?" she says.

Nearby I see a woman holding a "GOD HATES FAGS" sign in one hand and a camcorder in the other. She's a young woman who looks familiar to me.

Later, Kathy tells me her picture is on Phelps' site. This is her on the Howard Stern Show. She's the one on the right, with the big grin and good posture. (And have you ever seen anything scarier than the kid on the bottom middle of the screen? Holy crap, it's the Children Of The Corn!)

The camcorder, I'm told, is so they can record any violence done to them by the protestors.

A woman suddenly gets in the face of the Phelps guy Kathy's reading the bible to. The nearby cop steps up, ready.

This woman's a bit more confrontational, and is very much in this guy's face, and suddenly a member of the group walks in, gently pushing her back.

This guy, Kathy tells me, is from one of the gay protest groups.

This is how the Westboro Baptist Church makes their money: by showing up, pissing everybody off, waiting for someone to hit them, and then suing the shit out of them.

The guy defusing the fights is on our side--in general, he's just trying to keep people from getting sued.

THis is the incredible thing about the Phelps family--Phelps will talk the live-long day about how they're a non-violent group, and yet they'll use the most amazingly insulting and violent language possible. They'll hold up signs that say "Thank God For Sept. 11," or "Fags are worthy of DEATH," and then get all pious and superior when someone hits one of them.

Now, if some white guy went to South Central L.A., and started calling everyone niggers, chances are, he'd get beat up.

Would the people doing the beating be in the wrong?

Yyyyyyyyyyyeah, but the guy would still be an asshole.

If anyone reading this ever does go to one of their performance pieces, I should let you know a few things:

1) No matter how tempting it is, do not hit them.

2) SEE RULE #1.

3) As the old saying goes, the tyrant fears laughter more than the assassin's bullet. Don't hit. Ridicule. They hate it--hatehatehatehateHAAAAATE it--when someone seems more clever than they are. Be creative. Bring an audience.

4) Know your bible. They certainly don't. Not if you really press them on the issue.

5) These people only date their cousins. Ultimately, they will die out because THEY HAVE NO DATING POOL.

Soon, the camcorder girl leans over to a cop. It looks like they're leaving, and need a safe way out.

They start to leave, and people cheer.

Kathy's about to yell something to a group of Phelps people when she sees the same two kids I saw earlier, and stops. "Just get these kids out of here," she says to a female officer, who's escorting them.

"Thank you," the cop whispers to her.

"DON'T COME BACK!!! DON'T COME BACK!!!" the crowd chants.

Everyone follows them to their car.

As they walk past house after house, the people in those houses boo them.

Funny, I think to myself, they don't seem to like dealing with the treatment that they've openly wished on gays and lesbians, and they're experiencing it for just a few minutes. And gays and lesbians have been dealing with this same treatment for years. Hmm.

They get into their car, and do a particularly awkward job of pulling out.

The drive off.

I say to the car as it peels away, Your mission, Mr. Phelps, should you choose to accept it, is to pack up your shit and get the fuck out of my town.

Before we go home, we're told that the Phelps Compound was only here for a total of thirty-seven minutes.

I say, Thirty-seven?

In a row?

posted by Rob on 3:26 PM | link



Post a Comment