Sgt. Jason Rogers, who was killed in action in Afghanistan, was buried two weeks ago in Brandon, Mississippi. As is its custom, the Westboro Baptist Church, fresh from U.S. Supreme Court-confirmed constitutional protection, was prepared to sully Sgt. Rogers’ funeral with its usual hateful chants about how God kills our soldiers to punish our sinful, homosexual-loving ways. Its plans were foiled, however, by a little bit of traditional Mississippi social control ingenuity.
A couple of days before the funeral, one of Fred Phelps’ vile cultists boasted about the upcoming protest while visiting a Brandon gas station, and the good citizenry on the scene gave him the sound beating they felt his sentiments warranted. According to a community message board, police arrived on the scene, and when the Westboro man found it hard to talk with his mouth rearranged, they spoke to the large crowd that had gathered, finding, oddly enough that nobody witnessed what had happened.
Alerted to what Phelps’ and his minions had in store, Rankin County’s officials and community leaders arranged to have Rankin county pickup trucks parked directly behind any car that had Kansas plates (the Westboro gang hails from Kansas) in the hotel parking lot, and their owners were “mysteriously” unavailable to move the trucks until after the funeral was over. Police were called again, but they informed the aggravated protesters that the tow truck was running behind schedule and—damn!— it was going to be a few hours before they could tow the trucks so the Kansas-plated cars could get out.
A few of the Phelps-ites made it to the funeral, but the police ushered them away to be questioned about a phantom crime the officers said they might have possibly know about. After a few hours of questioning, it was determined that this was a misunderstanding, but—damn!—those protesters missed the funeral too.
So Sgt. Jason Rogers was buried in peace and dignity. The price of the funeral he deserved, however, was a government-assisted conspiracy to withhold the sacred rights he had died for.
The methods used by the Rankin county authorities and the citizens of Brandon should be familiar, for they are exactly the same tactics Mississippians used to intimidate civil rights workers and stop civil rights demonstrations half a century ago. Those out-of-state “strangers from the nigger-loving North” were regarded as just as offensive, probably more so, than Fred Phelps and his wacko Westboro congregation.
The use of intimidation and illicit government power is exactly as wrong, intolerable and outrageous when used to impede the constitutional rights of the heartless, misguided, vicious, bigoted morons of Westboro Baptist as it was to harass the civil rights movement in the Fifties and Sixties. The protestors were the victims here, and nobody should give any praise or encouragement to Brandon whatsoever. What this incident means is that some Mississippi communities haven’t learned a thing from those terrible days of murdered civil rights workers and complicit juries: they still think it is justifiable to stop protests and opinions they don’t like by beating people up, abusing the police power, and concocting government-organized conspiracies with the assistance of corrupt law enforcement officials.
The self-satisfied report on Brandon’s coup over the First Amendment ends with this chilling bit of “Mississippi Burning” deja vu:
“Fred Phelps, the disbarred lawyer and Democrat activist who leads the Westboro congregation, will undoubtedly pursue some form of legal action for the way his people were thwarted in Brandon. Let him try. There isn’t a jury in Mississippi which will see things his way….This is a template for how to handle the Westboro people. If lawsuits don’t work, other means will. Whatever it takes to keep them from harassing bereaved military families on the day their fallen loved ones are laid to rest.”
No doubt about it—those Southern Klan members and lynch mobs taught their children well.
26 thoughts on “Don’t Cheer Mississippi’s Westboro Baptist Tactics Too Loudly: You Never Know Who Might Hear You”
Thanks for this, Jack, I’ve been meaning to say the same thing, but this is a crazy week and I didn’t get it done.
I’d add, as someone who once had Kansas license plates, that I’d have been pretty… erm… irked if I were immobilized in Brandon, MS because the local yahoos weren’t smart enough to notice that KS plates also include the county (and mine would have been different). Of course, there are people from Topeka–lots of them–who don’t share Phelps’s views, but those folks would have been similarly out of luck. Projecting from the specific to the general is always a risky business, whether we’re talking about Muslims, gays, Republicans, or Kansas drivers.
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I tried so hard not to be suped about this story.
I didn’t completely succeed.
Oh good, I thought it was just me!
Same here, even though that feeling of euphoria went away as soon as I saw all the people in the comments section of the site that Jack linked who thought that these tactics should be extended all over the country.
P.S. Jack, I was wondering when you were gonna say something about that link!
Like what? That it’s a lot more representative of the nation at large than any discussion you’ll see hear? That the ignorant and mistaken arguments make me want to retch? That if I read one more moron talking about “Fire!” in a crowded theater who doesn’t have a clue what the phase really means, I may run naked into RT 495 singing the second act finale to “The Gondoliers”?
I just hope that using the phrase “ on fire!” in a metaphorical sense doesn’t get me in trouble one of these days.
Suped? This story is just scary. That this wildly unconstitutional behavior and dereliction of duty is supported and trumpeted is even scarier.
I KNOW. But dammit, I have to be honest. I was like, “Good. F those guys.” I know that’s wrong, but that’s what I thought.
Good thing you don’t work for NPR, Jeff — that last thought crime could get you the Juan Williams treatment.
That, quite literally, made me laugh out loud.
Well said. It’s amazing how often you’ll hear the phrase “I’m all for free speech, but …” or (my favorite) “I’m tired of hate groups like this ‘hiding’ behind the first amendment.” without even the slightest hint or irony. Isn’t the point of the bill of rights to offer protection to those who might otherwise be silenced? Once you’ve forced someone to alter, redact, or outright censor their message to fit the sensibilities of others, then speech can’t really be considered “free” anymore. Cheers!
(PS: It would appear you have yet another “full-namer.”)
Yes! We’re getting a good collection!
At the same time, people have to do SOMETHING about this nonsense, even if the people of Brandon went out of line. People deserve peace at their funerals.
The government has its hands tied, but there has to be something citizens can do to peacefully protect the victims of these absurd protests. I know they protested at a high school near where I live, my friends who went there organized a counter-protest (read: trolling) and turned them into laughingstocks. Maybe if we do that enough, they’ll realize that they aren’t welcome anywhere. Perhaps laughter is indeed the best medicine.
I have proclaimed, in a number of conversations, the rights of Phelps and his sorry band to spew their venom in the presence of grieving families and, boy-oh-boy, did I have to work hard to supress my gag reflex. That having been said, I know whereof Jeff speaks, having had much the same reaction while reading the story. So, I guess my reaction to the incident could be “That was fun, but don’t let’s do it again,” except that it really wasn’t fun and shouldn’t have happened even once.
I’ll be blunt, Jack. Those people did the right thing. They banded together as good citizens should to protect their community from evil outsiders who sought to inflict their lawlessness and disrepute during a time of mourning for a local hero. This is no reflection at all on the KKK or civil rights activists. Nor are the good people of Mississippi the “neanderthal racists” that they’ve been continually slandered as in books and films. They’re among the finest citizens in the land. The ethical question here is not what they did, but what they had to go through to prevent these worthless fanatics of this non-church from desecrating a military funeral. I’d have done the same in a heartbeat. Without the slightest equivocation. There’s nothing unethical about standing up for your community, state and country against those who have defiled the Constitution already through their deeds and legal machinations. That includes Westboro… and those who stand behind them.
FYI: Since this was posted, there has come out evidence that it was a hoax.
Ignoring that (and taking the facts as they were supposed), you still couldn’t be more wrong throughout your entire statement.
They banded together as good citizens should to protect their community from evil outsiders who sought to inflict their lawlessness and disrepute during a time of mourning for a local hero.
Peacefully protesting is not lawlessness. Improperly detaining people and ignoring crimes IS lawlessness.
This is no reflection at all on the KKK or civil rights activists.
Or it’s identical. You know, one or the other.
Nor are the good people of Mississippi the “neanderthal racists” that they’ve been continually slandered as in books and films.
No one claimed they were.
They’re among the finest citizens in the land.
They’re no better than anyone else.
The ethical question here is not what they did, but what they had to go through to prevent these worthless fanatics of this non-church from desecrating a military funeral.
Translation: Look what you made me do! Why’d you make me hit you!
I’d have done the same in a heartbeat. Without the slightest equivocation.
I never thought you were a common criminal before…
There’s nothing unethical about standing up for your community, state and country against those who have defiled the Constitution already through their deeds and legal machinations.
Aside from this hypothetical being a counterfactual, the means used might matter at least a little. Nuking Texas might not be the best way to fight against the encroachment of religion into public school curriculum.
That includes Westboro… and those who stand behind them.
While I hate the WBC and what it stands for, I am even more strongly against bad arguments. What has WBC done that defiles the constitution? How can you defend government actors prevention of political speech?
Dear TGT: In fact, you couldn’t be more wrong… and in every particular. Since, given our evident disparity of ethical concepts, any further debate would be futile, I’ll leave it at that. I said my piece and hold to it.
I don’t think you know what “In fact” means.
Much of the disagreement wasn’t even ethics. This looks like you’re just dodging the attack instead of defending your beliefs. Granted, it’s pretty hard to defend the idea that following the law to the tee is lawlessness while breaking the law is not. Your ability to believe that directly violating the constitution is actually a defense of the constitution is also a bit problematic.
If you choose to believe so, TGT. (sigh) First, of course, you must accept the notion that what the Westboro lunatics were attempting to do was in the spirit of the Constitution. I don’t. Free speech is one thing. Inciting to riot is yet another. I don’t know of many things that would sooner constitute that than holding an anti-American demonstration at the funeral of an American soldier in his own home town. If it was my son- or any friend’s son- they were burying, I’d give such persons more than just a piece of my mind. There would be a reckoning… and there would be casualties. Need I elaborate further?
I’m not sure what your reply was to. It doesn’t respond to any of the points in my last post.
The purpose of the law and the Constitution is ultimately to protect the citizens against corruption, malfeasance and demagoguery. Sometimes, the law fails in that regard. Sometimes the legal authorities themselves become part of the problem. When the system fails, citizens must stand up for their own rights to protect themselves and their neighbors. That’s what the American Revolution was all about. It’s not the Constitution that failed, here, but the officials who- tasked with the responsibility of upholding its principles- chose instead to warp them as a protection for the malefactors, rather than against them.
No, the purpose is ” to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” That means insisting on the same rights for everyone, asshats, bigots and patriots alike. The document establishes justice and promotes general welfare when it says that local law enforcement officials can’t use fake charges and other illegal means because they have decided that they don’t like the message or the messenger. They may be right and they may be wrong, but protecting the Westboro fools also protects you and and me from their censorship when I want to produce The Mikado and “Ronbo”‘s the sheriff.
I guess no matter what state you are from you should just let these WBC guys do as they please. They aren’t hurting anyone just practicing freedom of speech right? Everyone else should just turn there head and act like its not happening as long as it’s not affecting you.
Sure they are hurting people—they are disrupting private funerals. Free speech is often hurtful. What’s your point?
Fuck you for this comparison. I know I’m coming in years later with this and I hope that others have already expressed a similar sentiment. I also understand the point you are trying to make. But still FUCK YOU.
I sincerely hope that if you ever lose someone dear to you, these fucking hatemongers show up and protest that person’s funeral. FUCK YOU
Yes they have a right to protest but this type of shit should definitely qualify as a reasonable restriction, like yelling fire in a crowed theater. FUCK YOU
This comparison is not only an insult to the Marine in question but also to the civil rights activists from decades ago that you just compared to the fucking WBC. FUCK YOU.
Once again Fuck you, you goddamn scum ass mother fucker. Oh, and FUCK YOU.
Comment of the Day! Also, you idiot, don’t try commenting again. It will be spammed. You’re banned.